If there was a theme to 2013, it was that of collaboration. Most of the news I was excited about revolved around kindie artists reaching out. Oh, sure, I've been talking about collaborations for a while now, but it seemed like every week news of a new partnership was announced -- Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell, for example, or Todd McHatton and, well, everybody in the kindie world. And it wasn't limited to fellow musicians. Laurie Berkner, Lunch Money, and Melissa Levis (AKA Moey) made musicals; Alison Levy is working on one and Justin Roberts might be. Recess Monkey finished their second circus show. And there are plenty of kids musicians who are still seeking that brass ring of TV.
To me, that's a sign of a couple things, one slightly worrisome, one not. The worrisome thing is the sense that people are worried about making a living just from music. Not those particular artists necessarily, but if artists in this age of Spotify are worried about making a living from selling their music to just their fans, then one way to respond is to sell their music to (hopefully) a broader audience. Or to bring their music to different audiences altogether. Given the risk of not making their money back after investing in an album (why do you think Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites hit a tipping point in the kindie world this year?), artists are looking to diversify and spread that risk around.
The non-worrisome thing is that artists are looking for different challenges to keep themselves interested and their creative juices flowing. That sort of risk-taking may not (heck, will not) succeed every time artistically and commercially, but for an ecosystem as a whole, that's a good thing.
In the end, though, no matter how many different people musicians reach out to, as a listener I'm still focused on the music itself. This year's list of top albums was every bit as hard to select as in prior years. Looking back at calendar year 2013 (which is different from the year that I've defined for this exercise -- Nov. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013, to match Fids & Kamily), I reviewed more than 80 albums and I would guess that that reflects barely a quarter and certainly less than one-third of what I received. So that means these albums reflect the top 10%, maybe even less, of what I heard this year.
In talking with someone the other day, I said that I didn't necessarily think the very top albums -- the top 5 or 10, perhaps -- were significantly better in quality than the same albums 5 or even 10 years ago. It's the depth the "bench," so to speak -- the 25th best album of the year is better than the 25th best album probably 5 and definitely 10 years ago.
With all that said, it's time to list my 25 favorite kids music albums of the year. These are listed in preference order, starting with my very favorite, though as you'll see, my interest in making fine distinctions was… diminished from prior years. Thanks to these artists (and many others) who made music for families worth sharing this past year. Onward to 2014!