Today more than ever, video is an essential way to break through the noise and reach new fans with your music. For Debbie and Friends, cartoon music videos are a great vehicle for this.

I’m always pleasantly surprised to learn that families from all over the world discover Debbie and Friends music every day through our YouTube channel and various cable outlets.

Many of our songs are based on classic tales, and therefore well suited for visual presentation. Some of our songs, however, are not based on stories and I was always convinced those songs were not good candidates for video. “Wendell,” for example, is a cumulative movement song about a boy who finds a toy Robot. The Robot adds a new physical challenge with each verse. It’s fun, but I couldn’t imagine it as a video. My amazing animator, Goichi Hirata from Planet Sunday, had another idea. He suggested that we approach it differently than the others and tell the story from the perspective of Wendell’s imagination. For children, the Robot can represent hope and a doorway to, literally and figuratively, scaling walls and overcoming life’s obstacles. Needless to say, I was thrilled with Goichi’s idea and excited to move forward with the project!

To further fan engagement and help with some decisions about the piece, we even hosted a “pick Wendell’s hair color” poll on Facebook. (Purple won) Here are some initial images Goichi designed for the cartoon.

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Wendell finds the Toy Robot.
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Wendell and the Robot flying.
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Wendell and the Robot at the Toy Fair parade.

And, here’s the storyboard version of the animation.

The “Wendell” cartoon music video will be finished in June. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with such talented and creative people as Goichi Hirata and Greg David at Planet Sunday.

How have you used video to expand the reach of your music-related projects?

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I’m happy to announce that our new CD, More Story Songs & Sing Alongs has been honored with a Parents’ Choice Award! Here’s what Parents’ Choice reviewer, Lynne Heffley had to say:

“I Think I Can” (a song version of “The Little Engine That Could”) and “Rosie Wrong Rhyme” exemplify the child-savvy, play-along spirit that singer Debbie Cavalier brings to her music for the preschool and little lunchbox set. “I Think I Can” echoes the gentle encouragement that is Cavalier’s trademark. “Rosie,” a little girl who can’t get her rhymes right, gives young listeners the comical context that allows them to anticipate the right answer. (Written by Norman Martin, “Rosie” is one of only two songs that are not Cavalier originals here). She is well-accompanied by a host of adult musicians and vocalists of all ages, including “Sesame Street’s” Bob McGrath, who helps out on the mellow, harmonic good-bye song, “Until Next Time.”

For more information, or to read about some of the other great award-winning CDs, visit the Parents’ Choice Fall 2010 Audio Awards Web site.

Fan Concert Memories

Jul 11 2010

Debbie and Friends is a kids/family music project I started a few years ago. The project has grown and it’s been great fun and extremely rewarding. The concerts are all about interacting with the kids and families at our shows. The following is a “thank you” slideshow I put together for our fan families to show my appreciation for their support. They are at the heart of our success. I think the same keepsake can be done for fans of any genre.


What kinds of memory keepsakes have you put together for your band’s fanbase?

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Debbie & Friends in Concert with Video.

As a kid’s/family performing group, Debbie and Friends are always looking for new ways to actively engage our audience. A typical D&F concert includes our fan families doing everything from starting up the band with a clapping beat, to fixing rhymes, playing the “Simon Says” song game, dancing, singing, and interacting with all five members of the band.

Our good friend and booking agent for the Midwest region, Jeni Cosgrove, challenged us to find a way to to incorporate our animated cartoons into our live show format. It sounded like great fun so we decided to give it a try!

How?
First, we created a version of one of our cartoon music videos without recorded music. Then, we added a click track. During the performance, the click track is sent to our drummer, Bill D’Agostino’s wireless earphones so that he can lock in with the click and remain in sync with the video from start to finish. The band plays along with Bill so that we are all in sync playing, singing and dancing along with the video.

The Result?
The families in our audience LOVE it! And we do, too. In addition to adding a multimedia dimension to our show, we’re promoting our music video catalog and visits to our Web site, You Tube channel, and Jitterbug.tv. The cartoons all contain movement parts, so the families in our audience continue to be active participants throughout the show.

I highly recommend giving live performance with a music video a try! (Thanks Jeni!) I’d love to hear from other bands doing this sort of thing. Please share your experience.

The following is our “Little Red Riding Hood” animated music video. This is one of the animated music videos that families sing and dance along with during our shows.

It’s an exciting time to be a musician. There are so many new channels of distribution, new formats, and new delivery options that can help you expose your music to potential fans. I have found animated music videos to be an excellent platform for reaching new fans and reconnecting with existing ones.

The three main ingredients needed to produce an animated music video are:

1. A fully produced song that lends itself to visual representation. Although the example that follows is for children/family music, animation can work for any genre or age demographic.

2. A graphic designer to create compelling characters and imagery.

3. An animator who can storyboard the project and create the animation.

The entire process can take 6 to 12 weeks.

Start with a Song
All Debbie and Friends’ animated music videos are based on the original songs that we perform from our CD, Story Songs and Sing Alongs. The final mastered version of the song is used for preproduction planning purposes only. The audio mix is somewhat different in the animated feature to best support the visuals.

Our most recent animated music video was based on our “Jack and the Beanstalk” story song.

Jack and the Beanstalk by DebbieandFriends

Main Character Design
A creative brief is sent to the designer, Robert Heath at Barkley Studios who designs the main characters and elements of the story.

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“Jack and the Beanstalk” main characters by Rob Heath.

Backgrounds and Scenes
Next, the designers and animators at Planet Sunday create backgrounds and scenes to support the characters and the overall storyline.

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Jack and the cow.
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The Giant taking a nap.

Storyboard Sketch
Once the characters and background scenes are developed, a storyboard movie is created putting rough action sketches to music. We typically do two or three iterations of the storyboard movie before locking it down and going into production on the final movie.

“Easter Eggs”
Al Hirschfeld, the visual artist best known for his cartoon-like line renditions of musicians and actors, always hid his daughter’s name “Nina” in his artwork. Along this line, all Debbie and Friends’ music videos have a “Spider” that drops down and makes a brief cameo at some point during our cartoons. It’s become a fun activity for our fan families to “find the spider” and write to tell me where it is. This is another example of how the music videos help us stay connected with our fans.

Final Movie
The finished movie is uploaded to our You Tube channel and related children’s music video sites such as jitterbug.tv and totlol.com. They are promoted to our fan families via our Debbie and Friends email newsletter, Facebook posts, and blog posts, etc.

The animated music video becomes a viral marketing tool as our fan families share the links and embed codes with their friends. The videos have proven to be great market research tools as well. We are receiving lots of requests to turn the music videos into a DVD product that can be played at home or in the car. Individual music video downloads can be made available to purchase as well. And, the animated music videos can serve as licensing vehicles for film and TV placements.

Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be a musician!

Stefan Shepherd is the man behind one of the most popular and well-regarded “kids and family music” blogs in the industry called Zooglobble. I highly recommend following Zooglobble whether you’re a parent looking for music for your family to enjoy, or a musician interested in keeping your finger on the pulse of this thriving genre. Here is recent Debbie and Friends interview on Zooglobble.

Interview: Debbie Cavalier (Debbie and Friends)

DCavalierWeb_01.jpgDebbie Cavalier leads a double life — not only is she behind Debbie and Friends, which offers a bunch of songs (and animation) squarely aimed at preschoolers (and maybe their older siblings), she’s also the Dean of Continuing Education at Berklee College of Music’s online division. So she’s got a pretty broad perspective on life as a musician, educator, and entrepreneur. (She’s also a really nice person.) Read on for her inspiration for Debbie and Friends, some music education tips, and the worst part about playing keyboards.

Zooglobble: What music did you listen to growing up?

Debbie Cavalier: My mom always played a lot of Tom Jones and Neil Diamond in the house when I was a kid. She also played my grandfather records a lot: The Marty Gold Orchestra. My grandfather has been a huge influence on my musical life. I just wrote a blog post about this.

Upon getting my own record player in elementary school in the mid 70s, my favorites rotations up were Elton John, Carole King, Billy Joel, the Bee Gees, Carly Simon, and Bruce Springsteen. Elton John definitely got more airplay in my room than anyone else.

What was the path that led you to your current job at Berklee and what does that job entail?

I was a music education major at Berklee and had a wonderful time as an elementary music teacher and choral director for a several years. During that time, I became involved with music education publishing and developed some music methods and choral arrangements for CPP/Belwin and Warner Bros. Publications. After a few years, they offered me a full-time position as an education editor to develop music education publications. I had the wonderful opportunity to develop music education publications with authors such as Shari Lewis and Buffalo Bob Smith before they passed away. I also did a lot of work with Bob McGrath from Sesame Street. Those experiences have had a tremendous impact on the work I do with Debbie and Friends.

After about five years at WB, I was hired by Berklee as the managing editor for Berklee Press. Shortly after that we started to develop plans for an online school, Berkleemusic.com. We became accredited in 2004, and now five years later we have the largest online music school in the world serving 30,000 students from more than 80 countries. Berkleemusic.com is the online continuing education division of the college. We have 100 fully-accredited online courses and certificate programs in music production, music business, songwriting, film scoring, arranging, and more. I’ve been the dean of continuing education at Berklee for the past five years. My job entails working with Berklee’s esteemed faculty in developing new online courses to serve a global community of musicians with music education opportunities. We have a team of 30 people at Berkleemusic and our enrollment is growing each semester. Our students tend to be adult learners who have a passion for music and want to further their career opportunities by studying with Berklee faculty and other students from around the globe. I love my work at Berklee and am very thankful for the flexibility it affords me with Debbie and Friends. Most of Berklee’s faculty and staff are involved in one kind of music project or another in their own musical lives. It’s a wonderful environment filled with opportunities to collaborate and grow.

What made you decide to do a kids’ CD?
As a music educator, I’ve always enjoyed sharing music with children. As my career path development and opportunities came my way, I found myself further and further removed from children. Debbie and Friends brings that back. But I have to say it was my nephew Will who inspired me to write my first children’s song just a few years ago when he was only 3. He told me the story of the Three Little Pigs one day with such enthusiasm that it sounded just like a song form. It occurred to me that the Three Little Pigs story would make a great song, and it just grew from there. I began writing “story songs” and other music for children, then performing, then recording, and I just loved it! The fact that Debbie and Friends started with my nephew Will makes it extra special to me. And whenever we play shows in Boston or Philadelphia, Will comes up on stage with his brother Ronnie and sister Rebecca to join us on a few songs. They and their brother Teddy are a constant source of inspiration for me!

I made a little Web site for Will about the inspiration he provided. (I just happened to have a handy cam while he told the story to my mother — his grandma). Here’s a link to the story and the song on Will’s site:

DebbieLogo.jpgWhat group of kids are you targeting with Debbie and Friends?
The target age is pre-school and kindergarten children ages three to six. However, we have lots of fans at our shows who are seven, eight and even nine years old. Babies and toddlers seem to enjoy themselves too. But, the songs, activities, skills, lyrics, and interactions are targeting 3-6 year olds and the grownups who love them.

Which main aspect of the music process (writing, recording, playing live) do you enjoy the most? The least?
Playing live! I love the interaction and connection I share with the kids and families through live performance, and the shared musical experience the concerts provide for families. I believe children’s music is not about performing for kids, but rather, interacting with them and I enjoy that aspect so much.

My other favorite thing is collaborating with my producer Michael Carrera and all of the wonderful musicians who contribute to the Debbie and Friends recordings. They take an idea and make it better. Making music with others is a wonderful experience.

What do I least enjoy? That’s easy… carrying equipment before and after a show. My keyboard is very heavy!

Your videos are pretty high-quality — is the video-creation process something you enjoy, or do you just have lots of talented friends?
Thank you! It’s both. I love the process and I have wonderfully talented friends who have been very generous. My dear friends Amy Schrob and Sharon Lynch made the “Hangin’ Around” movie for me as a gift. I also discovered a terrific animation company in the UK through Craigslist. The owner is Greg David and the company is Planet Sunday. They produced an animation based on the “Three Pigs and a Wolf” and just finished another one based on “I Got a Laugh.” They are starting to work on a third. The videos have been a wonderful way to reach new fans and has even opened some doors in licensing and TV placements.

Have you learned anything from making and playing the first album (Story Songs and Sing Alongs) that’s affected what you’re doing for the second album?
Oh yes! I learned that the story songs concept is a big hit with families. There is something about the familiarity of a well-known storyline set to music that makes for a fun interactive experience. The kids know where the story is going and are excited to assume the parts and roles throughout. So, there will be more familiar stories to sing about, including “I Think I Can” from The Little Engine that Could. That particular story is not in the Public Domain, but we were able to negotiate a fair license.

I also learned that stylistic variety is enjoyed by families. I feel very fortunate to have my Berklee colleagues to call upon to record and perform in a variety of styles. We recorded the rhythm section for five new songs in a Boston-based studio last week (piano, organ, bass, drums, and guitar) and I’m more excited than ever about the second album CD.

Having been a classroom music teacher and choral director for many years, there weren’t any huge surprises. Interaction and active participation for kids and their families seems to be most important and so all of the songs are written with a collective music making experience in mind.

DCavalierWeb_02.jpgIf you had one piece of advice for parents wanting their kids to develop basic music competency, what would it be?
Make music a natural part of your every day. Don’t be afraid to sing in front of your kids. Studies show that a parent’s voice is a baby’s favorite sound. Sing with your child every day, and don’t worry about how you think you might sound! The important thing is that you are modeling a love of music and a non-judgmental approach to making music.

Play music-related games such as:
– Make Up Your Own Songs (Parodies): Make up new words to familiar songs. Make up songs about a pet, friends, family, the morning routine, school, putting toys away, or anything at all.
– Name that Sound Game: Play a sound from the kitchen and have your child name it while listening from the next room. You can play sounds that are as easy as running water and as challenging as pouring cereal into a bowl.

Also, participate in Kindermusik and other early childrood-related music programs in your area. And, go to concerts, recitals and other musical performances whenever possible!

What’s next for you?
With Debbie and Friends the next step is to write, record, and make more music, play more concerts, and reach as many kids and families as possible. We’re working on new songs, booking more shows in different areas of the country, and having lots of fun!