Thursday, September 30, 2010

Local Hero

The greatest myth in the kids' music world is the worn-out adage... "Finally, a kids' musicians that makes music that parents enjoy too!" This was my mission ten years ago when I started bringing my guitar into my first classroom. I thought I was special, and I thought that what I was creating was rare. A decade later, and two years of reviewing fabulous music in almost every genre imaginable, I realized that the pond I was swimming in may be small, but there are hundreds of little fish just like me making an impact on families with their music.

I guess what fooled me into thinking that I had stumbled upon something unique is the responses from parents I have received from the moment I release my first album in 2002. "I can't tell you how happy I am to have your CD. I am sick of listening to Barney (the Wiggles, Elmo, you name the Disney/PBS sensation)." "I listen to your music in the car when the kids aren't with me!" "My son slept with your CD cover on his pillow last night."

When I started out, I was as ignorant of the many, many people making fabulous kids' music around the country as the families at my school. Over the past decade there have been a great deal of advances in promoting, distributing, and learning about "Kindie" artists. Shows like, Jack's Big Music Show or Yo Gaba Gaba have shed a spotlight on some up and comers. Mainstream artists like Jack Johnson, Bare Naked Ladies, Lisa Leob and They Might Be Giants have made "slumming it" in the kids' scene cool. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, iTunes and Amazon have helped my music reach the UK, Australia and Japan. Still, each week I will inevitably hear from parents that are shocked to hear a song like "Punk Rock Vowels" and even more shocked when they hear their kids singing every word.

The sad news for the independent kids' musician is that we are competing with the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon. Their model for kids' music skips from toddlers to "High School Musical" with no stops inbetween. Shows like "Fresh Beats" and "The Imagination Movers" that have a bit more substance than "The Wiggles" still present "bands" where instruments are more like props and the sounds that accompany these groups are largely synthesized. Even "Sesame Street" (the originators of kids' music that adults enjoy) is being eclipsed by "Elmo's World" where actual sets are replaced by virtual backgrounds and digital music.

This fall has ushered in a new phase for In The Nick of Time. After a VERY slow summer, I am finding myself booked solid with new calls coming in each week. I am catching glimpses of what a successful career in this industry could look like. Yet, I still get discouraged now and then knowing that great music that I have reviewed here at Singing In The Bathtub is still being outsold a thousandfold by what I consider to be lousy mainstream kids' music. When close friends will spend $15 on a Wiggles DVD when many of the albums or DVD's reviewed here are better and cost less!

Whenever I have those moments of self doubt, I will inevitably have an experience when a parent will stop me in the parking lot of school and say, "My son/daughter comes home every day that she/he has music and talks about Mr. Nick. You are her/his favorite part of school." Would I love to have a TV show? Would I love to see my name in lights? You're darn tootin'! Would I trade that for those one-on-one moments where I inspire and invigorate young children? I'm not sure. For now I'm happy to be the local hero!

Kid Quote of the Day: As we sang the "Rainbow Song," I stopped to ask one young boy which color and object he would like to sing about in our song. "An Orange," he replied. "And what color will your orange be?" I asked. "Green!" I guess every orange starts out green! ~Quinn (age: 4)


Ali said...

You are our hero here! We sing your songs every night. After stories, Miles and I (or Eric) sit in the dark and sing for 10-15 minutes. Currently, I start and finish each night with "Seven." Other stand by songs are "make new friends" (I'm apparently raising a Brownie), "Rainbow," "The Autumn Song," "African Alphabet," "I Love you A Bushel and a Peck," "Sneakers," "The Bear Went over the Mountain," and "Scrub a dub a dub."

Although we are loving all of your music--both your own and the stuff you endorse...we are still holding out for a lullabye CD. (In all that spare time being a local hero!)

Anne Deysher said...

I hear you and share your frustration on your behalf and on behalf of other wonderful independent musicians. I hope all of you keep at it enriching music for children and adults who love them. There are no children here, but we love your music, too! My problem is at my age that I can't remember all of the lyrics....

Anne Deysher said...

I keep thinking about your essay, and I agree fervently with the distressing gap between music (clothing, tv shows, etc) for very young children and preternaturally young adult fare. Counter that with the rich pool of talent out there to remedy that gap.
I know that you independent musicians are used to working solo (even when they are members of a group), but wouldn't it be fantastic if somehow Public Broadcasting could develop a television show that would feature the best of children's musicians? It would be intrinsically educational as well as highly entertaining.Such programming could be sponsored by "green companies", those companies which are creating engaging, safe, healthy, ecologically responsible products for children. It would be a perfect match, I believe!
I think it would be well received by young families!
Just a thought. I have way too much time for thinking these days....

Nick! said...

Your the second person to request a lullabye CD recently. I'm starting to work on the new album and it's going to rock hard. I hope I can get to a lullabye CD while it's still of use to you!