The Rewards, Challenges, and Opportunities
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.
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!