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?

I’m excited to tell you that our kids/family music group “Debbie and Friends” has been nominated to the top 5 for the Nickelodeon Parents’ Pick Award for Kids’ CD of the Year! WE NEED YOUR VOTES TO WIN!

Please click the link below to register to vote. You can vote once a day through Aug. 30!

Nominated for best kids’ music cd. Vote now!

To hear the music, please visit

Thank you from all of us at Debbie and Friends!

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?

videoplay
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.

Picture 8
Debbie and Friends Remix Contest Site

Berkleemusic is THE place to learn about what’s happening in the music industry and how to effectively leverage the tools available to today’s musician to market music both online and via traditional outlets. We have courses on the Future of Music and the Music Business with Dave Kusek, Online Music Marketing with Mike King, Concert Touring with Jeff Dorenfeld and John Czajkowski, Music Industry Entrepreneurship with George Howard, and the list goes on and on.

I often say that in addition to being the dean of continuing education at Berkleemusic, I am also a student. I’ve learned so much from the curricula and instructors listed above, and I’ve have the good fortune to be able to apply this knowledge to my own kids/family music project, Debbie and Friends.

The most recent outgrowth of my music business education with Berkleemusic is a fan-engaging remix contest for kids and families. As our courses teach, visionary artist managers such as Terry McBride of Nettwerk have been doing this kind of things for years with mainstream artists. I’m hoping it will be successful for kids/family music and with our fan families who want to engage in musical activities beyond listening. My producer, Michael Carrera, prepared a GarageBand version of one of our new songs that was originally produced in Logic. There are a lot less tracks than the original version, but we wanted to make the GarageBand file manageable for our young producers. The contest is now live and can be found here.

The contest just launched and already we’ve been able to monitor interest and excitement from our fan families and people in the Remix world. Remix Comps not only embraced the idea that’s outside of their genre, they also made a special effort to convey this is a contest geared towards kids/family music.

It will be interesting to see how the contest unfolds. I’ll report back on April 5, to announce the winner and share the experience.

What kind of fan-engaging ideas have you been able to try with your music as a result of your studies with Berkleemusic?

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.
CASTLE INT-0001
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!

BNL for Kids

May 07 2008

Everybody’s doing it. Crossing over to the kid’s music scene seems to be a right of passage these days for rockers with a toddler or two at home. Dan Zanes (formerly of the Del Fuegos), They Might Be Giants, and many others have made the leap. On May 6, the Barenaked Ladies joined the fray and released their debut children’s record, “Snacktime.”

“Our collective kids now outnumber the band more than 2 to 1,” explains vocalist/guitarist Ed Robertson. “We set out to make a record that would be entertaining for them…not strictly a children’s record, but a record that children would really enjoy. Making the focus about what our kids like was a truly liberating process and fun for the whole band.”

Here’s a music video based on their kid’s song entitled “7, 8, 9.”

I’m a big fan of BNL and also of high-quality music for children. To me, this album represents the best of both!

The Rewards, Challenges, and Opportunities

Debbie and Friends, Halloween Sing Along

Throughout the course of my 25-year career in music and music education, I’ve been a music educator, choral director, arranger, author, publisher, and college administrator. I recently entered the world of children’s music and have added children’s recording and performing artist to the roster with Debbie and Friends. The rewards, challenges, and opportunities are among the greatest I’ve encountered in my entire musical career.

A Rewarding Experience
The rewards of a children’s music artist are incredible. The feedback from your audience is real; children have not learned the fine art of being “polite” when they don’t like something. So, if they don’t like your music, you will know right away. But, if they are into your music, it’s real and they will relish and participate in the musical experience with reckless abandon!

The other reward is fostering an environment where parents, grandparents, caregivers, and children engage in musical experiences together. I’m often told stories of how my songs are an integral part of a family’s routine and they enjoy singing the songs together.

The Challenges

Performing music for children and their families has some inherent challenges. Here are some practical tips to ensure a successful program.

1. Know Your Audience!
Don’t ask a group of two year olds what the opposite of “hot” is, or the opposite of anything. It’s beyond their skill level. For audiences with a mixture of age ranges, I have something for everyone and tend to dedicate a song to a given age group and invite the others to join in and help the younger ones, for example. This seems to work very well.

2. Attention Span
No matter how well your show is going, there will come a point where the “natives get restless” and the meltdown begins. You can postpone the inevitable for a while by keeping everyone actively involved and participating. Be sure to have a great deal of variety in your set…mix it up. Some songs standing and moving, some songs sitting, all songs should contain active participation. Any combination of movement, dance, call-and-response, and lots and lots of singing will do! Young children love the variety and they need to be free to move!

3. Boundaries for Safety (The Baby Mosh Pit)
If you lay the ground rules from the beginning, kids and parents will follow them. During set up, I place a line of colored masking tape on the floor in front of me, parallel to my keyboard and my percussionist’s set up. I usually start the program by saying, “We have just one rule. Please don’t cross the “safety line” (pointing to the tape) because there is a lot of equipment back here and things could topple over. We sure don’t want anyone to get hurt! Parents, thanks for helping to make sure everyone stays safe. Now let’s have some fun!” Setting this one rule enables you to remain focused on the music and interaction with the children, and puts responsibility on the parents to help. Before I had a safety line my shows were often filled with me having to redirect kids throughout the performance.

4. Logistical Considerations
Movement activities can be a challenge in a tightly packed room full of kids and adults. Provide verbal cues that help to keep things safe. For example, when you need everyone to stand up or sit down, try saying: “Stand up right where your feet are.” Or, “Sit down right where your feet are.” For songs with gross motor cues, ask them to run in place, walk in place, carefully do the “hokey pokey” and turn themselves around without bumping into anyone. Also, give fun verbal cues: “When you hear me clap three times, “freeze like a statue.” Another device that works is to describe what’s coming up with a very soft voice. This makes everyone work hard at listening. The key to logistic considerations is anticipating what effect your activity may cause, and create strategies that provide a safe environment.

Opportunities: Show “Business” Tips
Performing is your best opportunity to establish a relationship and make long-lasting connections with the parents/caregivers in your audience. In addition to putting on a great program, you should tend to two very important aspects of your business: 1. Promoting your CD(s), and 2. Adding families to your email/mailing list.

1. Sell Your CD(s)
Mention your CD throughout the program. Point out that song you all just had so much fun singing together is on your latest release. Tell a quick anecdote about the recording project. Did neighborhood kids sing on some of the recordings? Are there lots of different styles or instruments represented? Did something funny happen on the way to the recording studio?

Have a table set up with copies of your CD prominently displayed. Mention you will be selling the CDs after the show, price and the form of payment you’ll take. Cite quotes and endorsements from parents and kids. You have a captive audience and if they are loving the program, they’ll want to recreate that experience for their family at home.

Be sure to have some sharpie pens handy for autographs!

2. Build Your Mailing List
Your fans are your lifeline. It’s important to grow and maintain your email/mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet at your program and mention it a few times. Be sure to tell parents that you will not share their email address with anyone, and that you will only be sending out email updates once a month regarding shows, CD releases, and related news. Send an email later that very day, thanking them for being at the show, and for signing up. If you have anything special you can give them, do it! Examples include: a PDF coloring page based on one of your songs, an mp3 of a new song in progress, music activity page, etc.), and a reminder of where they can buy your CD.

Of course, everyone has to find their own way and some of the suggestions contained within may not suit your personal style. Please take what works for you. Performing music for children and their families is one of the most rewarding musical experiences I’ve ever had. I encourage anyone interested in exploring this wonderful genre to give it a try!

The Rewards, Challenges, and Opportunities

Debbie and Friends, Halloween Sing Along

Throughout the course of my 25-year career in music and music education, I’ve been a music educator, choral director, arranger, author, publisher, and college administrator. I recently entered the world of children’s music and have added children’s recording and performing artist to the roster with Debbie and Friends. The rewards, challenges, and opportunities are among the greatest I’ve encountered in my entire musical career.

A Rewarding Experience
The rewards of a children’s music artist are incredible. The feedback from your audience is real; children have not learned the fine art of being “polite” when they don’t like something. So, if they don’t like your music, you will know right away. But, if they are into your music, it’s real and they will relish and participate in the musical experience with reckless abandon!

The other reward is fostering an environment where parents, grandparents, caregivers, and children engage in musical experiences together. I’m often told stories of how my songs are an integral part of a family’s routine and they enjoy singing the songs together.

The Challenges

Performing music for children and their families has some inherent challenges. Here are some practical tips to ensure a successful program.

1. Know Your Audience!
Don’t ask a group of two year olds what the opposite of “hot” is, or the opposite of anything. It’s beyond their skill level. For audiences with a mixture of age ranges, I have something for everyone and tend to dedicate a song to a given age group and invite the others to join in and help the younger ones, for example. This seems to work very well.

2. Attention Span
No matter how well your show is going, there will come a point where the “natives get restless” and the meltdown begins. You can postpone the inevitable for a while by keeping everyone actively involved and participating. Be sure to have a great deal of variety in your set…mix it up. Some songs standing and moving, some songs sitting, all songs should contain active participation. Any combination of movement, dance, call-and-response, and lots and lots of singing will do! Young children love the variety and they need to be free to move!

3. Boundaries for Safety (The Baby Mosh Pit)
If you lay the ground rules from the beginning, kids and parents will follow them. During set up, I place a line of colored masking tape on the floor in front of me, parallel to my keyboard and my percussionist’s set up. I usually start the program by saying, “We have just one rule. Please don’t cross the “safety line” (pointing to the tape) because there is a lot of equipment back here and things could topple over. We sure don’t want anyone to get hurt! Parents, thanks for helping to make sure everyone stays safe. Now let’s have some fun!” Setting this one rule enables you to remain focused on the music and interaction with the children, and puts responsibility on the parents to help. Before I had a safety line my shows were often filled with me having to redirect kids throughout the performance.

4. Logistical Considerations
Movement activities can be a challenge in a tightly packed room full of kids and adults. Provide verbal cues that help to keep things safe. For example, when you need everyone to stand up or sit down, try saying: “Stand up right where your feet are.” Or, “Sit down right where your feet are.” For songs with gross motor cues, ask them to run in place, walk in place, carefully do the “hokey pokey” and turn themselves around without bumping into anyone. Also, give fun verbal cues: “When you hear me clap three times, “freeze like a statue.” Another device that works is to describe what’s coming up with a very soft voice. This makes everyone work hard at listening. The key to logistic considerations is anticipating what effect your activity may cause, and create strategies that provide a safe environment.

Opportunities: Show “Business” Tips
Performing is your best opportunity to establish a relationship and make long-lasting connections with the parents/caregivers in your audience. In addition to putting on a great program, you should tend to two very important aspects of your business: 1. Promoting your CD(s), and 2. Adding families to your email/mailing list.

1. Sell Your CD(s)
Mention your CD throughout the program. Point out that song you all just had so much fun singing together is on your latest release. Tell a quick anecdote about the recording project. Did neighborhood kids sing on some of the recordings? Are there lots of different styles or instruments represented? Did something funny happen on the way to the recording studio?

Have a table set up with copies of your CD prominently displayed. Mention you will be selling the CDs after the show, price and the form of payment you’ll take. Cite quotes and endorsements from parents and kids. You have a captive audience and if they are loving the program, they’ll want to recreate that experience for their family at home.

Be sure to have some sharpie pens handy for autographs!

2. Build Your Mailing List
Your fans are your lifeline. It’s important to grow and maintain your email/mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet at your program and mention it a few times. Be sure to tell parents that you will not share their email address with anyone, and that you will only be sending out email updates once a month regarding shows, CD releases, and related news. Send an email later that very day, thanking them for being at the show, and for signing up. If you have anything special you can give them, do it! Examples include: a PDF coloring page based on one of your songs, an mp3 of a new song in progress, music activity page, etc.), and a reminder of where they can buy your CD.

Of course, everyone has to find their own way and some of the suggestions contained within may not suit your personal style. Please take what works for you. Performing music for children and their families is one of the most rewarding musical experiences I’ve ever had. I encourage anyone interested in exploring this wonderful genre to give it a try!

iMix for Promotion

Oct 27 2007

How can you put your music in front of people who are searching for better-known artists of your genre? Create an iMix with their music and yours combined!

What is an iMix? Think of it as a playlist that you share with the entire iTunes community. It’s designed to help the listener, but it is also a wonderful promotional vehicle for artists.

I am a children’s music artist under the name of Debbie and Friends and have a new CD that needs some buzz. Part of my marketing strategy includes creating iMixes that combine my music with better established, highly-searched children’s music artists that, like me, cater to the pre-school demographic.

Here is my first kid’s music iMix (my songs are listed on tracks 4, 7, and 12):

Higher-rated iMixes get more visibility, so it’s important to send it to as many folks as possible! For example, promote the iMix link on your blog… ; )

I’ll report back on the results after a few weeks. In the meantime, I’d love to know how some of you are planning to use iMixes to promote your music.

Good luck!