Archive for July, 2010

Mainstream To Kindie… Not Such A Bad Idea

By: Dot Rust

I said this five years ago to a lot of bands and artists: When bands go into the studio to work on their next project, they should consider doing one family-friendly track. It could be a song in the public domain, such as a folk song, a nursery rhyme or any traditional song, or even an original song of their own (one that is appropriate for the youngest members of their audiences’ families). Then they could get together with other artists and put together a nice compilation record.

Many – OK, all – of the artists I said this to looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Kids music? WTF? Are you…what? Nah, we’d never do something like that, man.” I kept at it, saying, “Mark my words – this is gonna happen”, at which point they thought I was a straight-up loon.

OK, so fast-forward to now and, lo and behold, regular bands, bands of great fame and not-so-great fame are looking at – you guessed it – family music as an adjunct to their regular gigs. I’m not talking about rockers whose fame is on the wane, or who are desperate to get something going. It seems these days many who enjoy a busy career are looking at the verifiable trend that is the kindie music movement and saying, “Well, whaddayaknow? I guess it’s not such a bad idea. Sign me up.”

Not that I have any Schadenfreude about it (well, maybe just a bit of “I told you so…”). I’m really very happy that artists are now considering fans and their families when they plan new projects. It seems the younger family members are traditionally an afterthought and not included as an integral part of their fans’ lives.

From an industry standpoint, it makes total sense. Why not include the very young? Why not acknowledge that part of their fans’ lives (fans’ families), so that your music is inserted into the soundtrack of their kids’ lives, as well? Here’s a hint: it makes more fans for you…

I don’t think that was a part of the initial thinking behind Brian Vander Ark’s decision to do a family album called, appropriately enough A Family Album, but it may have occurred to him at some point. No, as he stated in a recent conversation I had with him, “The idea was to do a Verve Pipe album but with silly lyrics. We already had something like 4 tracks. And we decided to do a whole album. We hadn’t put out a full-length record in something like 11 years. And it just made sense. We were never a typical angst-ridden “I hate my dad” band – we’ve really always been a family band.” So that’s what they did, the result of which I reviewed here a couple weeks ago. And he said it was a blast to make: “The silliness factor was a pleasure for me. Coming up with ideas to way overproduce the album in a really fun way. There was no chasing trends or arguing over which songs were radio tracks. We could do anything we wanted. Verve Pipe in the past was done by committee. It’s too much fun to not play around with.” Mostly it’s for kids aged two to nine – Verve Pipe songs with silly lyrics.

Promoting a family music record is the same as promoting a grownup record, really, with a few minor adjustments in your live show. Vander Ark says, “They’re pretty much the same as our regular shows, but with slightly adjusted lyrics. “We try not to do anything typical for school shows. For example, I play “Cereal” with a guitar full of cereal and dump it over my head at the end of the song.”

Kids love that. “Kids jump up on the stage and eat this awful cereal off the floor.” Parents, uh, not so much, but, Vander Ark says, “the parents were laughing and joking, trying to get the kids to stop eating the stuff.” I was surprised at how many small school and library gigs they’ve done so far – shocked, really – sometimes four or five shows in a weekend. That’s a lot of work. Dedicated family acts like Recess Monkey or The Not-Its often do the same thing, so just because you’ve been around a while, doesn’t mean the game changes – you still have to promote, promote, promote.

During the shows they have some funny/educational bits they do – like Donny Brown singing flat, causing a rift amongst friends or Craig Griffith losing his instrument, and trying to find a substitute instrument – to teach kids about working together, doing your best, and trying all kinds of instruments, urging kids to “Put down the video controller and pick up a real instrument.” “We want to show kids that hell yeah, the clarinet has a place in rock n roll. There’s a place for every instrument as long as it’s not contrived.”

On kids’ reactions to their shows:
“The visceral response is they jam their fingers in their ears – that happens every time – some kid have never heard live drums.”

Here they are playing “Suppertime” at a recent concert:

“Kids come up to us and are happy to see real instruments. Kids get really into when they see an instrument on stage that they’re currently learning like a sax or a trumpet.” In the end, Vander Ark says, “Music lovers are music lovers.”
Verve Pipe is scheduled to appear at Kidzapalooza, a festival run simultaneous to Lollapalooza in August, so I asked if he was ready for a big sea of wiggly kids: “I hated radio festivals with a passion so this is also a vindication [of past experiences with Verve Pipe tours] – we’re looking forward to it!”

I asked about the business side of releasing a family album, how sales were, and the reaction from friends, fans, and colleagues in the business when it was released. On sales:
“We’re constant – sales are great in the context of the kids album. This one’s in it for the marathon. The themes are timeless.”

True enough – good kids albums sell steadily for years and years – Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal, Marlo Thomas and Friends, anyone? Those albums have sold steadily for over four decades.

On the reaction to the new album:
“ First from the fans, we got a lot of WTFs, but the big one was when we saw members of our old RCA family order the record – after being dropped – it was great vindication. I really loved seeing the order for four copies from the A&R guy who dropped us.”

When we talked a bit about the Kindie movement and how this addition to the kindie library has been received, Vander Ark was surprised: “Any time you have a group of musicians helping each other out, instead of thwarting the competition, and working toward the greater good, it’s always a good thing. I was just prepared for cold-shoulders, but we were embraced, which was surprising. I predict other 90s bands doing the same thing.”

So do I Brian, so do I.
Enjoy “We Had To Go Home”

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