Goodbye Raffi, hello hipster!
Kid's music gets a rock 'n' roll makeover that soothes adults.
Courtesy of Desperation Records
Parents who once rocked their little ones to the dreamy "Twinkle, twinkle little star" are changing up baby's bedtime listening selection. And Rockabye Baby! record label, whose 24 albums offer lullaby renditions of popular rock band tunes, is on the leading edge of that trend.
It all started, says Rockabye vice president Lisa Roth, when she went shopping for a baby-shower gift only to be disappointed with the selection of music. She decided to fill the gap herself. "We wanted a product that parents could enjoy and feel comfortable sharing with their little ones – something that was entertaining to listen to for an adult and soothing for a baby," Ms. Roth says.
Her idea met a need. In a market once dominated by Barney anthems and ABCs, there is a flood of new products getting the chic rock 'n' roll makeover.
Independent record labels and marketers are tapping into the children's music market by appealing to adults, prompting some parents to say goodbye to Raffi and wave hello to hip, trendy independent kid's music or "kindie."
Kindie is bridging the gap between Generation Xers and their young ones, allowing both parent and child to share a musical experience where parents won't be tempted to rip their hair out after listening to "The ABCs" ten times on repeat.
"[Children's] music has grown tremendously in the last six to seven years," says Craig Balsam, co-owner of Razor & Tie Entertainment and cocreator of the Kidz Bop series. "Certainly, Disney has become very aggressive as has Nickelodeon because they realize there's an opportunity."
Disney banked on the success of High School Musical soundtracks. The first copy sold 3.7 million albums in 2006, claiming a spot as the top musical album of the year and surpassing Raffi's 3 million album sales, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Disney had similar success with Hannah Montana and the Curious George soundtrack, powered by the mellow tunes of surfer-turned-songwriter Jack Johnson.
Kidz Bop, the series that recreates Top 40 hits with the voices of children, released its 14th album last month. The album sales, which total 9 million, sparked a national tour – what Mr. Balsam calls a "children's rock show" – complete with a live band and child performers. Balsam says that parents who bring children can expect a family-friendly atmosphere: The volume is turned down and kids can dance in a tame mosh pit near the stage.
But what's fueling this change in children's music?
"It's a function of there being more music available that's interesting and exciting to kids," Balsam says. "If you look at the Billboard charts and the relationship between children's music and its audiences, there's a very energized audience. Sales are much higher than they have been."
Independent record labels see the potential for growth and creativity. Rockabye's Lisa Roth notes that children's music is "broadening its horizon in that it's appealing to adults as well.... I think it's becoming slightly more sophisticated and respectful."
That's why Kevin Salem, CEO of Little Monster Records, tinkered with the idea of releasing a jazz album by Medeski Martin & Wood trio for the kid set. The record "Let's Go Everywhere" sold about 15,000 copies in nearly a year, Mr. Salem says. Among the label's other projects: a Beatles cover album featuring the voices of The Bangles, Rachael Yamagata, and kids; and a release from lead singer Robert Schneider of the indie band The Apples in Stereo who goes by the nickname Robbert Bobbert.
In a world of emerging children's music, Salem says, the quality of that music should measure up. "You wouldn't feed your children [at] McDonald's every day any more than you would want to play bad music every day."
Creating quality music drove The Barenaked Ladies into the studio to record their first children's album, "Snacktime," last spring. After 20 years of playing together, band members have 11 offspring of their own, and BNL's bassist Jim Creeggan says a children's album was a natural progression. The album, now No. 16 on the kid's Billboard chart, has forged an avenue for BNL fans to share the band's music with their children.
BNL was inspired in part, Mr. Creeggan says, by They Might Be Giants, an indie band that catapulted onto the kindie scene with three albums singing about the alphabet, grammar, and numbers. In the future, BNL hopes to combine their two genres on tour, Creeggan says, playing kid's music in the afternoon and more grown-up hits at night.