Why Read Music Reviews?

I started this website in part because when I was a new parent looking for music to listen to with an infant Miss Mary Mack, all I could find were 50-word blurbs (not much more than a couple tweets, long before "tweets" were a thing).  They almost uniformly said that the albums were great.  I had no idea what they sounded like, and I didn't trust those reviews At All.

It was the turn of the century, and while I suppose I could have used Napster or other file streaming sites, I was never much of a person for illegality, and besides, it's unlikely there would have been much kids music on there.  Even more importantly, even if I had found kids music on there, I would have had no direction to find out what I should start out with.

So when I started writing reviews at the request of my wife, filling out a page or two of her parenting group newsletter, I was conscious of filling a need, not through blisteringly funny or devastating or inventive narrative, but through simple information -- who did the artist sound like (often meaning an "adult" artist), what was the best age range, even where somebody could purchase the albums, which was not so easy to find fifteen years ago.  (Thankfully, that last point is something I've dropped over time in my reviews.)

I gradually copied those interviews over to this website when I started it in 2004, and I suppose if I had stuck with just reviews, I might have tired of the website fairly soon.  But a little website called "YouTube" got its start in 2005, and gradually over time it became easy to embed videos, and then songs and albums into website posts.  What could easily have become a website filled with nothing but words about music became something that mixed those words with the music and images featuring that music.

And people responded.  Not in throwing fistfuls-of-money-at-me ways, but parents and artists responded with words of thanks and requests for advice.  I knew I had an audience and figured I was having some sort of impact -- it seemed like there were others that were looking for the same I had been looking for a few years earlier.  I never wrote for the adulation or attention, but it was useful to know that my desire to find a somewhat more fully-rounded approach for music for kids and families -- kids music worth sharing, to coin a phrase -- was not some crazy approach that I, and I alone, sought.


I wrote a review about Red Yarn's newest album Born in the Deep Woods last week.  It's an excellent album, and I had a lot of fun writing the review.  Really, how often do you get to make a "More cowbell!" reference that makes 100% sense in the context of, well, just about anything you write?

But writing that review helped me see in even starker contrast how writing a review has been a comparatively rare event for me over the past 6-12 months.  For someone who's written reviews of maybe 750 albums, of maybe 50 albums a year or more, to slow down to maybe a dozen over the past eight months or so is a pretty big reduction, and I've been spending a lot of time thinking about why I've slowed down.

Some of it, to be sure, is just capital-L Life.  Kids get older, you get older, and the amount of time and energy it takes to put family and personal responsibilities front and center increases (or, at least, it has for me).

But some of it is also recognizing that the impact of any one particular review is not what it once was.  That's a result of many factors, including how social media seems to drive a lot of discovery these days.  Eight or nine years ago, a good "feed reader" took care of notifying the devoted audience, with Google and other search engines informing the rest.  These days, social media coordinator is a job, and one that I'm not willing to fill (nor do my family and personal responsibilities let me) more than on a cursory level, letting my audience know there's a new piece available, and maybe a (comparatively small) percentage will see the link.

Also, did I mention roughly 750 reviews?  That's a lot of words, and there is no small amount of effort that goes into making sure I'm not repeating myself, and trying not to bore myself.

Sometimes I don't always succeed in not boring myself, and if I'm boring myself, then I'm probably boring the reader, too.  That's one of the things, I think, that struck me about that Red Yarn review -- it was fun to write and craft in a way a lot of my reviews recently haven't been.  And while I probably can't expect to write a Snail Song & Magic Toast review or a review of a Recess Monkey album done entirely in limerick form every time, I probably need to figure out how to improve my batting average, as it were.


I've got maybe a couple dozen albums that have been released over the last 8-12 months that I want to write some sort of review on, and my goal is write those reviews in the rest of March and April.  After that, however, I think I need to take a break with reviews as I currently conceive of them.  It doesn't mean that I want to stop writing about kids music, but I'm not sure that the review model works anymore, or at least works for me anymore.  I need to figure out a different way to write about kids music (and kids podcasts) that interests me and interests readers, and going back to the days of 50-word blurbs 15 years ago is not the answer (for me anyway).

So for those of you who read the title of this post and thought that I'd posit an answer to that question, hopefully by now you've figured out that this is not that post.  Rather, I'm asking you to answer that question for yourself -- and share that with me.  What do you get out of album reviews?  Anything?  Do you ever read them?  That question can apply to this website, but I'm interested more broadly -- what do record reviews do for you?  Do they help at all in the world of kids music?  How about more broadly than that -- any form of entertainment, for any age?  What convinces you to take a chance on an album, a movie, a book, a podcast, a play -- you get the idea?  Is it because somebody wrote an album review so eloquently that you couldn't wait to listen?  Or did your friend whose musical tastes you trust say, "You have to listen to this?"  Or did Spotify's all-knowing brain figure out exactly what you'd geek out over.

Sorry for getting all meta in this post, it's not something I typically like to do.  And to be clear, I am most definitely not looking for praise or attention with this.  I'm doing this because I think the creation of music and audio (and culture generally) specifically for children is something worthy of more praise than any form of kid culture (save for books) gets, but I think the way I've been doing this for about 15 years is no longer particularly effective.  That could be the result of my own limitations as a writer and site administrator, but regardless it's time to figure out a new approach, and I'd like your help.  Thanks in advance.

Podcast Reviews Are Now A Thing Here

I've spent more than a dozen years reviewing kids music on and offline, but starting today I'm going to expand slightly into reviewing podcasts for kids.  (Think of it as kids audio worth sharing!)

Why start reviewing podcasts for kids now?  As I noted in a piece on the kids podcasting world a couple weeks ago, the scene feels fragmented, in part because discovery is reeeeeally difficult at the moment.  I'm hopeful that adding my voice to those (very) few who are attempting to chronicle the field qualitatively will help in some small way in creating some sort of coherent core from which creative podcasts for kids can leap out of.  Also, I think there is some small boom of podcasts focusing of kids about to happen (waves hi at Todd McHatton, for one).

As for my general podcasting tastes, I think they're broadly reflective of the NPR/Gimlet nonfiction world, with a broad appreciation for reported and assembled shows like This American Life, Radiolab, and Serial, with some discussion/interview shows like Dear Hank and John, Bullseye, Another Round, and Back to Work mixed in.  That's definitely not a complete list -- I probably listen to a couple dozen podcasts at least semiregularly -- but it gives you a good idea where I'm coming from.  (In other words, not from the comedy podcast world.)

So, don't worry, musicians, I'll still be reviewing music, and at a greater frequency than podcasts, to be sure.  But I also think the shifting landscape of the recorded music business and the non-music recorded audio business is changing, and more of you are going to be recording these things soon enough.

Reminder: I Podcast. Quite A Bit, Actually

Do you know I spend some time talking into a microphone?

No, not just an NPR microphone -- a much cheaper one.  It's the microphone I use to record 3 different podcasts, and if you haven't checked them out, now is the perfect time as new episodes of each have gone up in the past 48 hours.

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For My Other Other Gig, I just posted an interview with Molly Ledford from the band Lunch Money about the space puppet musical Planet Hopping she's helped create with the South Carolina puppet duo Belle et Bête.  The 33-minute conversation is lots of fun and, as always, gets into issues of stretching yourself creatively.  (Subscribe to the feed here: iTunes / http://zooglobble.com/my-other-other-gig?format=rss)

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For Bake Sale, I posted an interview I conducted last week with Brady Rymer.  He was prepping his Kickstarter campaign to produce his seventh album for families, Just Say Hi!.  That project went live this week, and so did the interview. It's an 18-minute conversation about Kickstarter and community.  (Subscribe to the feed here: iTunes / http://zooglobble.com/bakesale?format=rss)

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Finally, just about every week I give you the Kindie Week in Review -- "all that's news in the world of kids music and beyond," and do it in less than 10 minutes -- maybe 5 if you're listen on double speed.  Tons of news in this week's review -- album releases, Kickstarters, and chart news, plus more.  (Subscribe to the feed here: iTunes / http://zooglobble.com/kindie-week-in-review?format=rss).

If you're interested in kids music, I think you'll find at least one of these podcasts worth your time.  Thanks for listening.

 

A Brand New Feature: iOS App Reviews

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I've reviewed a handful of iOS apps over the years here, but I've received and played with enough of them, especially over the past year, that I think it's time I pulled them out into a separate page and dedicated some (occasional) time to them. 

So I've set up a brand new page (accessible through the "Discover Kids Music" drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the page) called iOS Apps (Music & More).  As the name suggests, it'll be a lot about music-based apps, but won't be totally limited to that.  They'll all be kid-friendly, though.

Right now, there's just one review -- of the new app from the Pop Ups and Mibblio called Miss Elephant's Gerald -- but I'm aiming for a weekly review.  Read the introduction to find out more, and if you've got an app you'd like to share, you know where to find me.

Hey, Podcasts!

Apologies for a moment of self-promotion where I remind you that if you want to hear my radio-ready voice on NPR more than once every three or four months, you are welcome to sign up for any of the three Zooglobble-related podcasts as noted below.  Listen to them here on the site, put them into your RSS feed, or download 'em via iTunes.

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Kindie Week in Review - The original Zooglobble podcast, and the fastest six (to ten) minutes in kindie music (faster if you listen at double speed!).  Listen to me give you some highlights from the week's kindie news and other news from kid-friendly media, along with a discussion of chart news.  Airs weekly (usually).

Subscribe to podcast: iTunes / http://zooglobble.com/kindie-week-in-review?format=rss 

 

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My Other Other Gig  - This podcast features conversations with kids musicians and others in the kindie world about non-kindie topics.  Inspired by conversations I've had with kindie musicians about stuff that had nothing to do with kids music, MOOG lets you know what (else) makes kids musicians tick.  Or ticked off.  Airs a couple times a month (I hope).

Subscribe to podcast: iTunes / http://zooglobble.com/my-other-other-gig?format=rss 

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Bake Sale  - Finally, the newest podcast features Kickstarter and other crowdfunding projects while  they're in the process of seeking funding.  Not just for kids music, but for any project seeking to serve kids.

I'd also note that because Kickstarter and crowdfunding projects sometimes operate on a limited timeframe I'm not always able to interview everyone I'd like for the podcast, so I've started highlighting other projects exclusively on the website.  (I'm calling them "Non-Casts.")  Airs a couple times a month (with Non-Casts more frequent). 

Subscribe: iTunes / http://zooglobble.com/bakesale?format=rss  

May Z7: You Can Still Get These Awesome Songs (Today)

Here is my occasional reminder for you to sign up for (or open up) the Zooglobble newsletter.  Newsletter recipients get the occasional Z7 newsletter featuring 7 tracks from 7 artists, downloadable for free for just 7 days.

The May Z7 was sent out last weekend, and I'll be removing the links for these songs today:

Dean Jones: "Snail Mail"

Owen Duggan: "The Rhino Song (Nobody Knows What a Rhino Knows)" 

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Underbirds: "Moth" 

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band: "Gato Astronauta" 

Lesley and the Flying Foxes: "What's Gonna Happen Today?"

Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke: "Raised By Trolls" 

Toronto Chamber Orchestra / The Secret Mountain: "Toy Symphony" 

If you sign up today (Sign up today), I'll make sure you get the links for these.  And even if you get to this late, there will be more Z7s.  Do