Podcasts for Kids

"Why aren't there more podcasts for kids?" is a question that to my ears sounds like a close cousin to questions in the kids music world -- "Why isn't kids music as popular as children's books?" or "Why don't more people know about all this great music?"

It's a question that's been getting some attention recently.  This morning, The Atlantic's website published "Why Aren't There More Podcasts for Kids?," an attempt to answer that question.  The piece echoes a lot of the discussion that Nicholas Quah tackled several weeks ago for his essential weekly newsletter Hot Pod.  (Yes, you should totally sign up for the free newsletter.)  Quah's piece, in turn, was inspired by articles that podcast producer Lindsay Patterson (more on her in a minute) wrote asking that question for Current.  (She expanded a bit in a piece on Medium.)

No, I'm not going to make you read all those links, though if you'd like to -- original source material being important for some of us -- please be my guest.

And before I go any further, let me just say that if you found this piece because you're looking for recommendations for podcasts for kids and don't care about the existential issues facing this category of audio entertainment, go to the very end of this piece, and I'll give you several recommendations.

Basically, the theories outlined in articles thus far come down to these two following:

1) Lack of historical precedent: Patterson, in particular, subscribes to this theory -- as a relatively new format in which to present entertainment, there haven't been many examples of podcasts for kids.  Perhaps this is because podcast makers started off making podcasts for others like themselves, and since relatively few 7-year-olds had microphones and editing software, there weren't many podcasts for kids

2) Sponsorship issues: I think Quah gravitated more to this explanation, proffered by Guy Raz, he of NPR and Mindy Thomas' best bud on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live Breakfast Blast Newscast.  How do you convince sponsors to underwrite programs for shows when parents might feel a bit queasy about advertising?  Where is the value for underwriters in that equation?  And if you have a reluctance to invest in advertising, that's going to make it difficult for producers -- individuals or institution -- to invest the time and money to produce a high quality podcast.  (Until kids start demanding to run Squarespace sites or send MailChimp newsletters.  Then all those problems are solved.)

Quah and I exchanged a couple e-mails on the topic when he first broached it a few weeks back, and at the time I thought that both explanations had merit.  I also thought that it'd be interesting to see whether the moves toward acquiring kids' content by entities like Netflix and Amazon would be duplicated in the on-demand audio field -- will Spotify, Audible, and Rhapsody get into the game beyond music?  Are parents going to prefer their podcasts sponsored or paid upfront, buffet-style?  (Notable for being left unstated in all these discussions, nobody's considering whether parents will want to simply purchase individual or season episodes of a podcast.)

But as I've thought about it further, I'm more convinced that something that's been touched on briefly, particularly by Patterson, is just as important, and that's how [expletive] hard it is to find good, new podcasts for kids.

3) Discovery issues: This is not a problem just for podcasts for kids, but I think the relatively small universe of quality kids' shows makes the problem that much worse.  Let's start with the worst offender: the iTunes Kids and Family podcast chart.  Imagine, if you will, that the iTunes music charts folded all songs about kids and families into the iTunes Kids and Family music chart, thereby including, perhaps Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" and Lukas Graham's "7 Years."  That would be pretty silly, right?  But that's exactly what the podcast chart reflects -- by my count, of the top 30 podcasts in that list as I'm checking on it, 20 are targeted specifically at the parents and not for the kids.  It's not like the ratio seems to get much better as you roll down the next 170 podcasts in the chart.  (Waves hi to friends of Zoogloble fighting the good fight Spare the Rock Spoil the Child and Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl.)

What are the other ten podcasts specifically for kids in the top 30?  One Taylor Swift podcast, a Sesame Street video podcast, a Nickelodeon video podcast, and 3 story podcasts.  That leaves 4 podcasts in the top 30 that are full-fledged audio productions that don't echo something you (or your kid) might find elsewhere: a Focus on the Family-produced podcast that "combines the faith lessons parents appreciate with characters and stories that kids love!," something from the Story Pirates, and 2 science podcasts: Lindsay Patterson's podcast Tumble, produced with her husband Marshall Escamilla, and Brains On!, the brainchild of 3 public radio producers and released via NPR.

Compare that list with other top-podcast charts in iTunes for other genres, which are filled with podcasts I've heard of (and, in some cases, actually heard) and it's clear that people are doing a terrible job finding and spreading the word about good podcasts for kids.  And it's not like there are other sources filling the gap.  NPR?  Their NPR podcast list suffers from the same definitional issue iTunes has, with only Brains On! being specifically for kids, and their fancy earbud.fm podcast recommender doesn't even have a kids and family subcategory.  Googling "best podcasts for kids" yields a dispiriting short list of lists, and a dispiriting number of distinct, made-for-kids podcasts on those lists.  Patterson's newsletter for Tumble does occasionally feature podcast recommendations for kids, but it's fairly new.

There could be more great podcasts for kids and kids and families (two separate categories) out there, but it's incredibly difficult to find them.  And without the critical mass that might propel them into slightly broader consciousness -- only the top 4 in the Kids and Family charts place in the top 200 of all podcasts at the moment -- it's going to be hard to get more folks to think of "kids podcasts" as a thing, as something to recommend to families and as something to think about creating.

Thinking of "kids _____" as a thing is one of those concepts that kids music as a genre struggled with for a long time.  Ten years ago, when there was a wave of attention to the artists who started around the turn of the century -- Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner, Justin Roberts -- it seemed like not a week would go by without a newspaper article introducing the genre as if somebody would say, "Did you know there are people who make music for kids?  And it's good?"

Thankfully, kids music is mostly beyond that, even if the genre hasn't fully punched through to the national consciousness in the way that the general public accepts without question the existence and usefulness of books and TV made for kids.  Podcasts for kids are at an earlier development stage.

4) Podcasting tools: Again, this is not a problem limited to podcasts for kids, but I think that the target audience for kids podcasts suffers this problem even more.  It is not necessarily easy for adults to figure out how to listen to podcasts or any on-demand (non-music) audio in the way that adults know how to find TV or books.  (I know -- this is not news to anyone.)  That obviously puts some pressure on the parents who are looking for something to listen to with their preschooler as they're driving around town.  But presumably a parent who's interested in podcasts for kids knows how to get podcasts generally, so this is no greater technological problem for this genre than for podcasting generally.

Imagine how hard it would be for an 8-year-old, though.  The 8-year-old probably doesn't have their own iPhone, but if they did (or their own iPod touch, etc.), no doubt their parents don't want to be constantly checking different websites or podcatchers to try to find a podcast for their kid.  And the kid, who wants some degree of autonomy, particularly as they reach double-digits, age-wise, may not get that autonomy.  It's the walled garden problem of video -- I've seen plenty of startups attempt to create a safe kids-only video area, but I'm not sure that any of them have been fully successful, or at the very least, none that don't have some tie to a broader entity (a "Nick" app or Netflix's and Amazon Instant Video's kids' sections, for example).

Beyond these other problems, I'm not sure that there's enough variety in kids podcasting.  As I read these kids-podcasting articles, I kept thinking about Ear Snacks, a delightfully loopy series of shows from kids musicians Andrew & Polly.  Sure, there are the occasional science-based conversations, but it is the closest thing I know of to a half-absurdist podcast for kids.  And it's totally unique.

Where are the kids comedy podcasts?  Why in the world don't The Listies have a podcast?  Why in the world isn't (wasn't) there a Chicken Weebus podcast?  Where are the actual kid-friendly radio hours like the Radio Adventures of Doctor Floyd?  (There are good, specific reasons for those, to be sure, but those are examples.)

Having said all that, I've written a lot here, and I should really press "Publish" on this piece and get into the world.  Two additional thoughts:

1) Once kids music became a "thing" again, there were a lot of folks who got into the genre who made music that was, well, not very good.  Assuming that kids podcasts take the same route, we may see a bunch of crappy podcasts for kids over the next few years (along with a bunch of really good podcasts).  That's why discovery tools are going to be so important -- nobody wants to hear their first podcast for kids and have it be a boring guy droning into a microphone or conversing with middling audio quality over Skype.  (I have experience producing some of those myself.)  One of the difficult things musicians have to learn is that not everybody is good singing songs for kids, and I have no doubt that some podcasters will learn for themselves that they're not very good making stories for kids.

2) These days, recorded music is mostly the calling card to get fans interested in seeing live music or supporting the musician in some other way.  Musicians are, generally, not pleased with this development, but I don't think Spotify or Pandora or Rhapsody et al. are going away.  Podcasts are even more isolated.  So if I have one piece of advice for kids podcast makers is that you have to get out in the world and do live shows.  Other podcasts for adults have done this - Radiolab, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Song Exploder, the list is long - but it's time that kids podcasts enter the fray.

If you've read this far, thanks.  Really.  If you have any thoughts or responses, please please please offer them below or send me an e-mail.  I'm intending to keep listening to podcasts for kids and continue to think about the kids' media space and would love to hear other perspectives.


So, as promised, let's end these rambling thoughts with a list of recommended podcasts for kids.  I'm excluding podcasts that may have some interest for those listeners who don't yet have their drivers' license or who may even be in elementary school -- certainly Welcome To Night Vale, Radiolab, This American Life, and 99% Invisible all could attract the interest of a certain (brainy) youthful audience.  But they're not made with kids in mind.  These are.  Also, I've excluded items you can't find via iTunes' podcast link.  I know that the on-demand world is a big one -- you can listen to those Guy Raz Breakfast Blasts, for example, via the Soundcloud website (and presumably their app).  But that seems like an awful lot of work, and, as should be fairly obvious, making it even more work is not what we're going for.

Anyway, if you've got more suggestions, please leave 'em in the comments, or send me a direct e-mail -- I'm always happy to expand this podcast world a little wider...

Brains On! and Tumble: It doesn't feel quite right combining two podcasts together, but the truth is they're both science podcasts that take kids' questions about science and get kids to answer them.  They're both very good, so if you're looking for science-based podcasts, particularly for older elementary school students, try 'em both.  My sense is that Tumble is the slightly more informal-sounding, the Radiolab to Brains On!'s This American Life, but, like I said, try 'em both. (Also note: I threw in a token donation to Brains On!'s recent Kickstarter campaign, which had more than 1,000 supporters.)

Ear Snacks: this, by the way, is excellent for preschool listeners, an area served very well by kids music but very poorly by kids podcasting.

Short & Curly: ethics for kids, a description which sounds like it could be bland or didactic (or worse: both), but which this new podcast from the Australian Broadcasting Company, makes fairly entertaining and not didactic at all.  Appropriate for elementary schoolers of all ages.

The Radio Adventures of Doctor Floyd: Like those radio serial adventures of yore, these are entertaining, pun-filled, and with a bunch of funny voices.  Think of it as The Thrilling Adventure Hour but targeted at 8-year-olds and without the in-joke learning curve that made (to me, at least) Thrilling too much of an effort.

Music discovery: Spare the Rock Spoil the Child, Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl, OWTK Kid's Music Monthly: Regular readers don't need any introduction to these podcasts, but if you're looking for the kids music equivalent of the indie-attitude podcasts plugged here, these will fit right in.

Kindie Week in Review Podcast

Hey!  Did you know I have a podcast?

You probably didn't, because I didn't promote it, due in no small part to the fact that I couldn't get the thing into the podcast directory in the iTunes Store.  But that problem is now solved, and since I've got six podcasts under my belt and a seventh set for release later this week, I think it's time to make sure you all know:

I have a podcast!

It's called Kindie Week in Review, and it's a quick rundown of the week's kindie chart news and other kindie news of note.  That's right, now you can hear me talk about Kidz Bop and kindie-friendly SXSW showcases in the same podcast, and all in about ten minutes (less if you like listening to your podcasts at faster than normal speed, as I do).

You can download and subscribe to it in iTunes here or just plug this link into your podcast app of choice: http://zooglobble.com/kindie-week-in-review?format=rss.  And any reviews and ratings of the podcast in the iTunes store -- even poor ones -- would be greatly appreciated, as would comments directly to me.

Hope you enjoy it.

The Pause and What Follows

CanYouCanoe.jpg

In many sports -- or at least those featuring a ball -- there's a gap between the initiation of action and the result.  The ball leaves the attacker's foot, and it takes a second for the ball to reach the goal.  The quarterback heaves the ball to the wide receiver streaking down the sideline, and 4 or 5 seconds later, we find out if it's caught, dropped, or intercepted.  Or think of basketballs in their arc-ed path to the basketball.  The crowd may be cheering wildly, but there is usually a bit of a pause, a collective intake of breath, as they wait for the result.

I'm thinking of this today as I continue to process the meaning of The Okee Dokee Brothers' win in the Best Children's Music Album category at the 2013 (55th) GRAMMY Awards Sunday.  It was for their album Can You Canoe?, an album that inspired, and was inspired by, a trip the duo made by canoe halfway down the Mississippi River.

There's the announcement of the nominees, and then the pause while the presenter takes a moment to open the envelope.  Unlike many of those sporting gaps, the result is set -- there's nothing that could have happened between the announcement of names and the uttering of "The Okee Dokee Brothers" that could have changed the fact that Joe and Justin would be walking onstage -- but there's the same intake of breath for a certain percentage of the audience.


At this point, dear reader, I'm sure you're wondering exactly what the Okee Dokee Brothers have to do with sports?  Is their next album going to be sports-themed?  (Answer: unless their trek along the Appalachian Trail is part of some timed event, then, no.)

The answer lies within the result.

In 2001, I had the good fortune to be an Arizona Diamondbacks fan.  And I had the great fortune to be at the ballpark for Game Seven of the World Series against the New York Yankees.  I know what the gap is.

I have a friend's home video from that game -- and that clip doesn't do the gap justice, nor does it fully capture the bedlam after the bloop just outside the infield and over the heads of the Yankees' drawn-in infield.  But you get the idea -- a huge celebration.  Didn't matter where you were -- I was sitting about as far from home plate as you can get in that park -- there was a full-throated roar and wailing.  The walk back to the car in the parking garage was as good-natured a crowd as I have ever been in -- random high-fives with strangers, "Woo hoos!" everywhere, and slight disbelief that this 4-year-old team had somehow managed to beat baseball's most historically accomplished team, the New York Yankees.  Not only had they beat the Yankees, they beat them in playoffs coming less than a couple months after the September 11th attacks made most of the rest of the country Yankees fans for a time.

Of course, it was a fairly even matchup, and with two of baseball's best pitchers at the time, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, pitching for the Diamondbacks, Arizona's eventual victory wasn't considered an upset.  There was no reason to think that the Diamondbacks wouldn't be competing for the World Series trophy in 2002 as well.


A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post expressing some disbelief at the entire slate of the 54th Grammy Award nominees for Best Children's Album.  When this year's slate of nominees was announced in December 2012, I outlined why I thought it was a better slate, completely setting aside whether I liked the slate as a whole better than last year's.  But I also made the erroneous assumption that the nomination process was unchanged from the year before, when participation in Grammy365, the Recording Academy's social networking site for members, appeared from the outside to be a major determinant of who was nominated.

I heard shortly after that piece that no, in fact, the nominating process for kids' music had changed for the 55th Grammys.  Nobody seemed to want to discuss it very much, and I can't say that I blame them -- a select group of Academy members going through the first round of voting and selecting nominees from among them?  That would raise questions in the minds of a lot of folks (including me) -- who were on the nominating committee?  What albums did they choose from?

I chose not to write about the process at the time because I didn't think I'd be able to get much information.  But NPR last weekend aired a story on an issue I'd heard about before -- how an dance music artist with little popular notoriety snagged a Grammy nod amidst some much larger names.  And in that piece, a Grammy official noted that other genres -- including kids music -- used an intermediator, the nominating committee.

When I wrote my piece on the nominations 14 months ago, there was dissatisfaction on my part, but undergirding my words were the feelings of lots of other members who felt that something was amiss with the process.  And clearly those feelings translated into a changed nomination process -- if everyone had been totally satisfied, then nothing would have changed.  And the result?  The Okee Dokee Brothers won -- for an album that also happened to win the 2012 Fids and Kamily Awards.  And a couple other albums in the top 15 for F&K, The Pop Ups' Radio Jungle and Elizabeth Mitchell's Little Seed, appeared on the nomination list as well.  Previous Grammy winner and longtime kids musician and storyteller Bill Harley joined the group.  And while none of those artists approach Taylor Swift-ian sales level, they are, within the genre, popular artists.  Can You Canoe? sold about 10,000 albums, and Elizabeth Mitchell consistently ranks amongst the KidzBop-ers and Spongebobs on kids music album charts -- she is a superstar of kindie.


What followed for the Diamondbacks?  A decade-plus of middling success.  Sure they got back to the playoffs, but they've never made it back to the World Series and have had some poor seasons as well.  In part, they've been a victim of their own success, with a not -insubstatial portion of their payroll going to pay deferred salaries from that 2001 squad.  Would I trade that 2001 season for more consistent success subsequently?  Nah.  But it did prove to me that success in these sorts of fields are, if not totally random, at least fleeting.

The question for this site is what follows for kids music.  This year's slate of nominees was picked -- in part -- by a small group of people in a secret process.  I understand why it's secret, but I am sure some musicians don't like the change.  In the end, the final answer will be provided by the Academy members themselves.  If a sizable number feel bamboozled by the change, then they will pressure their representatives, and the process could go back to the old way.  (This would not be the first time we've switched between methodologies -- the nominating committee was used for awhile in the '90s, too.)  If, however, the majority likes this year's results, then the new process will stay.  It may mean that bigger stars like Elizabeth Mitchell (for Blue Clouds) and Justin Roberts (for Lullaby and possibly Recess) show up on next year's nominated albums list, and more consistently on future nominee slates.  Kids musicians who are members of the Academy will be the final arbiter of whether that's a good thing, not me.

55th Children's Music Grammy Nominations. And the Breakfast Club.

Last year, when the 54th Grammy nominations for best children's album were announced, I couldn't help myself and wrote a piece on the results that very night.  Clearly, I was stunned and I needed to write something to get all the thoughts bouncing around my head out of there and onto the page.

This year?  Well, it's been two weeks, and I'm finally finding the time to write about the 55th Grammy nominations for best children's album.  Why the difference?  Well, first let's list out the nominees themselves:

Can You Canoe? - The Okee Dokee Brothers [Okee Dokee Music LLC]

High Dive And Other Things That Could Have Happened... - Bill Harley [Round River Records]

JumpinJazz Kids - A Swinging Jungle Tale - Featuring Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws And Dee Dee Bridgewater - James Murray and Various Artists [JumpinJazzKids]

Little Seed: Songs For Children By Woody Guthrie - Elizabeth Mitchell [Smithsonian Folkways Recordings]

Radio Jungle - The Pop Ups [The Pop Ups]

It's true that I like the list of nominees more than I like last year's list.  (Note: I haven't heard the JumpinJazz disk, so am totally clueless regarding that nomination, though I recognize a few of those artists in the title of the album, which in my less generous moments I feel cranky about.)  But that by itself shouldn't make this list better than last year's.  Just because I like the Pop Ups (fairly new on the scene, this is just their second album) a lot more than Papa Hugs doesn't make the list better or more legitimate.

I think more importantly, for people who follow the kindie scene, four of those five nominees are going to be very familiar.  This in itself is a big change from last year, when a couple of the nominees drew a collective "who in the world is that?"  Is that an improvement?  I would say that it is.  I think in order for the category to have any legitimacy, it's important artists recognized as very longtime participants and artists recognized as among the most popular be represented in the nominee list.  They shouldn't be the only artists represented, but the presence of Bill Harley (a former winner and nominee with more than 30 years of experience in the field) and Elizabeth Mitchell (recording on the venerable Smithsonian Folkways label and a major, popular star) gives credence to the slate.

I'd seen some statistics from last year's nominees that suggested membership and participation in Grammy365, the Grammys' own social networking site for its members, significantly drove the nomination results last year.  Nominees last year had literally hundreds times more members than well-known previous nominees.  I would hesitate to attribute causation, but without a doubt there was correlation.  The Grammys have always been at least in part a personal popularity contest; Grammy365 just made it that more obvious.

So in the wake of the nomination list, I wondered how the kindie community that didn't get nominated would react.  Would they decide to completely abandon the Grammys?  Or would they embrace the social networking that clearly is now required in the niche categories.  It seems like the answer is clear.  Folks looking to grab a nomination next December, your path is now set -- make a really good album and prepare to spend more time at your computer.

***

OK, enough faux-serious consideration of the Grammy nomination process.  What you really wanted to know is why I threw a Breakfast Club reference in the title of this post.  Well, as I was thinking about the "gang of disparate outsiders" that a nominee list in niche genres like this one can sometimes feel like, my thoughts turned fairly quickly to the John Hughes teen classic about 5 (ding! blog post!) kids from very different cliques brought together in detention one Saturday.  So, without further ado: How the 55th Children's Music Grammy Nominations Are Like Characters from the Movie The Breakfast Club.

Okee Dokee Brothers: If you canoe halfway down the Mississippi River, then you clearly have some sort of athletic ability, much like Emilio Estevez's wrestling character Andrew Clark.  Joe and Justin are rebels against the idea of kids spending their time indoors, but they are, without a doubt, the nicest rebels you will ever care to meet.  (Also: not that Charlie Sheen is in the movie, but I find it amusing that you'd never really know that Sheen and Estevez -- two guys with different last names -- are, in fact, brothers while you could totally believe that the brothers-in-band-name-only Joe and Justin are also brothers in real life.)

Bill Harley: The veteran (in the kids' music field), Harley is clearly the John Bender of the group, the slightly older kid (let's face it, Judd Nelson didn't look like a kid at all), delivering sage advice.  And just like Bender and the school library, this is likely not his last trip to the Grammy breakfast club.

JumpinJazz: I haven't heard a peep out of this album, the folks behind this album, or, well, anything.  I didn't know this album existed until it was nominated.  They're even more unknown than Ally Sheedy's basket case Allison Reynolds.  I am, however, looking forward to whatever musical collaboration the Okee Dokee Brothers and Jarreau and Bridgewater and the rest provide us when they hook up at the end of the Grammys.

Elizabeth Mitchell: Elizabeth Mitchell is as close to kids music royalty this field gets (I tend to think of Harley more as the long-serving court jester), so I've assigned her Molly Ringwald's character, the "princess" Claire Standish.   She comes from the privileged background of being a Smithsonian Folkways artist and so has the fine lineage.  Yet this is her first time in the Grammy kids music breakfast club.

Pop Ups: Which brings us to the last nominee, the Brooklyn duo the Pop Ups, and the last kid in detention, Anthony Michael Hall's Brian Johnson, the nerd of the group.  I'll admit it, I'm pressed to find a logical connection here (not that the connections above aren't tenuous at best), but I think it's fair to say that if you're willing to go all in and not just record kids music but create a whole puppet musical multiple times over, then you have a bit of nerd in you as well.

Listening and Talking To Kids Music Folks Is Awesome!

As previously noted in this space, I'm lucky enough to heading back to Brooklyn later this month for Kindiefest, the annual family music conference.  They've been announcing details during the course of the past two months and they've now posted the full schedule here.  There are lots of great artists and other kids music luminaries attending, including folks from Random House Children's Books, Spotify, a whole bunch of venue representatives, Ralph Covert, Kathy O'Connell -- the list goes on.

I'm particularly geeked, of course, about the panel I'll be moderating -- "The State of Kindie" -- which will feature Dan Zanes, Mindy Thomas from Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live, Jeff Bogle from Out With the Kids, Christina Reffords from Cool Mom Picks, and Darren Critz from Symphony SpaceThat will be a blast, and hopefully will send people into the artists' showcase following that panel buzzing with big ideas and a little inspiration.

(Artists, by the way, if you haven't already filled out the brief and anonymous survey I'm doing on some "big picture" kids music industry questions, I'd encourage you to join the more than 50 artists who have already done so.  It's not officially related to Kindiefest, but I expect to use some of the results to help guide my moderating there.)

I'm also excited that Scott Schultz, co-creator of Yo Gabba Gabba! (not to mention the new Aquabats Super Show!) will be giving the keynote presentation Friday night.  In the wake of Jack's Big Music Show, Yo Gabba Gabba! kept (and keeps) music for kids highly visible on TV, continuing to reinforce the idea of family music not as one of last-gasp effort, but fully viable alternate (or duplicate) career.  It's an important show for family musicians.

Finally, members of the general public in the greater NYC area shouldn't miss out on Sunday's public concert.  With artists like Moona Luna, Apple Brains, and WeBop from Jazz at Lincoln Center, it'll be a super-diverse show.  It starts at noon, with tickets (just $12-$15) available here.

So, I hope I'll see you there (register here).  It's always an adrenaline-soaked, throat-parched event from tons of conversation.  As someone who writes about the music (and helps bring some of it to Phoenix), it's a great chance to meet the far-flung makers of the music and see many of them perform.