Description: There have been a flurry of kids' music projects raising money through crowdfunding sites. Many of these are from artists who have been around for awhile, but sometimes they're from artists trying to release their first album. New Jersey's Jason Didner is an example of the latter, but he hasn't been shy about talking about and sharing kids music with others.
I chatted with Didner via e-mail about his entry into kids music and his PledgeMusic project to raise monies for the release of his band's debut kindie album, Everyone's Invited!
How did you get into making music for kids?
When my wife and I thought about bringing a child into the picture, we knew we'd be playing Beatles music in the house. We knew we'd be playing the singer-songwriter classics we loved as a soothing soundtrack to our daily lives. As our daughter grew and started going to first birthday parties, we became aware of the music other parents were choosing for their kids and we set out to build our library of kids' music. We had already had John Lithgow's zany and heartwarming collection of kids' tunes, but needed more variety. One morning I used iHeartRadio (similar to Pandora) and discovered Laurie Berkner, Justin Roberts and Milkshake and was astounded at the combination of authentic musicianship and age-appropriateness. I was hooked on kindie from that moment.
I've been a lifelong musician as well. Before making kids' music I was more known as a songwriter singing about heavy subjects like post-9/11 American life and humorous takes on navigating New Jersey's baffling left-turns. I had gotten airplay on NPR's Car Talk and press in the New York Times for "You Can't Get There from Here in Jersey." There have been hints making music for children earlier in my life, with my mother and wife Amy both being teachers and my occasionally visiting their schools to entertain the students with whatever music I was making at the time.
Being a dad had changed my tune, literally! What really opened the floodgates was my daughter (now 2-1/2) becoming aware and fascinated with the world around her. Amy and I felt the things our daughter would notice and point out us would be strong song ideas - a ladybug on the ceiling, the Moon playing "peek-a-boo" from behind the clouds, a toddler's fascination with a guitar pick. So we would write lyrics as gifts to our little girl. When I set these ideas to music, we felt these little gems could delight and enrich lots of other kids too, and we kept going. I recruited a band, booked some gigs, and we got to see other toddlers and pre-schoolers bounce up and down to our creations - very gratifying!
Between blogging and your video show (and other activities), you're spending a lot of time on activities related to kids music, if not kids music itself -- what value do you find from that?
With a 2-year-old child, I'm both a creator and consumer of kindie music. Our family time after dinner is often spent watching playlists of kindie videos. I wanted to share that experience with families that might not have heard this exciting genre of music. I'm aware of how much extraordinarily good music is out there for kids and their families these days. I want to share that with the families of our local area and cultivate an audience for the genre, which should grow our own audience, too. Unlike in other genres of music where competitions between bands can get cut-throat, I think it actually helps all kindie bands when families get to like the genre and want hours of music for their kids for those long car trips or to have some variety at the kitchen table.
So when I host a local TV show of kindie videos (in Montclair, New Jersey), I'm inviting parents to explore arts and creativity with their kids. I'm following the path that BB King followed in his blues career. Early on, he was a blues radio DJ. His following came to trust his knowledge of the blues and it followed into his own music making. I foresee establishing a relationship with our TV audience and with fellow artists.
Surprisingly, from creating this outlet for fellow artists, I've struck up very productive relationships with their publicists. Justin Roberts' publicist suggested I interview Roberts when he was to perform in our area. Once I picked my jaw up from the floor, we arranged the interview. Of course, I delegated the interviewing to Amy as she has always had a natural instinct for asking great questions and eliciting great human interest stories. She conducted a fabulous interview which will air in December.
This brings us to the part about the blogging. A great piece of advice I got from a music marketing coach is to give people a reason to return to our web site after their first visit. Keeping up a blog is a way to keep the site fresh and interesting. When I go about telling my story and offering things of value - my own new learning as a parent or artist, or an anti-bullying message, I reveal things about myself that may interest someone in my story and our music. My site also becomes a more likely search result. Almost every day someone finds my site because they searched for an anti-bullying or anti-cyberbullying poem. This creates the foundation for a relationship. It also doesn't hurt that Goldie Hawn, a Hollywood icon and fellow anti-bullying champion, tweeted that she loved my poem, "Before You Click Send."
Why did you turn to crowdfunding for your debut album Everyone's Invited?
I listen to lots of podcasts about the music business (including yours!), and CD Baby's music marketing podcast had Benji Rogers, founder of PledgeMusic, as his guest. I was so genuinely impressed with his heartfelt discussion of building a community of supportive fans who want to participate in a favorite artists' career. He spoke passionately of the letters he receives where fans had such great experiences interacting with these artists. I became interested in offering experiences families could enjoy together, like a Skype birthday concert or music lesson, or going instrument shopping with a family of fans to pick out a child's first instrument.
By the time I took an interest in a direct-to-fan campaign, our band had already recorded almost all the tracks with our own funds. I figured a small campaign could help us do a little more with the manufacturing and publicity and, more importantly, build relationships with forward-thinking families who are looking for new ways to experience their favorite music, especially with the industry changing so rapidly before our eyes.
Why did you choose PledgeMusic over other crowdfunding sites?
In his interview, Benji referred to PledgeMusic as "direct-to-fan marketing" rather than "crowdfunding." He backed that up by speaking to the personal involvement of the people at PledgeMusic. They are there to make sure everything goes smoothly with the delivery of the exclusive benefits, from T-shirts to private concerts. He doesn't want fans to feel like just a "face in a crowd" and it shows. There's lots of social connection and interaction between PledgeMusic's staff, the artists and the fans. I feel like I'm dealing with a team, not a platform. Ariana, the project manager assigned to my project, was answering my questions before I took the plunge, and helped me set a realistic goal for a new band playing to a very different audience than is typical for Pledge. We're planning to raise $2,000 which is a big deal for us, but much smaller than a typical album project. She also emphasized the importance of regular updates.
The philanthropic component of PledgeMusic grabbed my attention as well, and we chose to partner with Guitars in the Classroom, a national organization out of California that not only supplies the instruments but guides teachers to include music-making in every subject and the "between-the-lines" skills kids need - socialization, creative thinking, and problem solving. A portion of every donation supports this great cause.
What are you looking forward to in 2014?
I love my daughter's excitement when she hears my songs played on a podcast or radio show, and I'm looking forward to seeing her excitement continue to grow as our band and the songs get better known. Amy and I love seeing her bounce up and down at our concerts and look forward to a lot more of that. She really is the heart and soul of the band. I'm looking forward to seeing where the Cool Rockin' Daddy Video Show leads, so that more families can discover what you and I have known for a while - the sheer abundance of great music for families.
I'm looking forward to traveling with the band and the family to share our music with new families. I'm looking forward to growing our audience here in our wonderful artsy community of Montclair and to becoming a greater part of nearby New York City's vibrant arts community. Amy and I have dozens of new song ideas inspired by our daughter and I'm looking forward to developing them into a follow-up album. I'm looking forward to advancing my anti-bullying work and helping kids feel safe at school and at home as well.
I also look forward to seeing another abundant year for great, diverse, authentic and imaginative kindie music. I'm looking forward to seeing (and helping) a new way forward emerge for kindie artists to support themselves and their families as they offer the riches of their creativity to kids and families everywhere.