Kids Music and Beer

Last week there was an article about a growth spurt in microbreweries in the Phoenix area. I took an interest in the article because, well, I like beer and one of the (not-new-at-all) microbreweries is within walking distance of my house. (Think globally, drink locally.)

But the article illustrated a number of principles that also applies to the kids music genre. So indulge me if you will...

1. Kids music genre still needs to educate a perhaps skeptical public. They're so amazed," says one microbrewery owner of the quality inherent in the product. Nobody has to explain why there's literature for kids, but music for kids? I would guess that regular readers of this site (families, artists, or others) have often been in the situation of having to say something like, "No, there's some really good kids music out there crafted with care."

2. Don't alienate your potential customers by slamming their taste.

[There] are beer lovers who find the microbreweries' offerings too aggressive or bitter.

"I get that a lot," said Matt Mercer, the brewer at Old World Brewery in north Phoenix. Customers tell him his beers have too much flavor or are too strong. "If you're used to drinking water," he said, "I guess so."

Or the guy who says he's tempted to give a customer a glass of water if they ask for a Budweiser or something that tastes like a Bud.

Argh. I understand that you think you have a better product. But insult the audience at your peril. Remember, your audience is the exception, not the rule. The rule's a lot bigger. Much better is the attitude of the brewer who, instead of getting mad when someone orders a Bud, serves a sample of his own beer alongside the Bud. I'm not suggesting kids musicians should be working songs from High School Musical into their acts. But an appreciation of why (for reasons good and not-so-good) those mass-market acts are, well, mass-market (i.e., popular) is a good thing to keep in mind.

3. Your competition is your friend. Obviously, music has always been a little less competitive than other industries as nominally competitive artists constantly collaborate on songs and albums. This is something the craft brewers have taken to heart:

Only about 25 percent of beer drinkers drink craft beer, said Hoffman, of Dave's Electric. That leaves an untapped market of drinkers to pry away from their Millers and Coors.

"We're trying to get a piece of that much larger pie," he said, "and not necessarily a piece of each other's pie."

Amen to that. I've seen RIAA figures that suggested that only about 3% of music sales are for kids music. And I'm sure that the number of parents who've bought an album remotely considered "kindie" is probably similar. Seems like there's some potential for growth there.

Hence the frustration with folks who promote their new kids album along the lines of, "Finally, a kids music album parents can enjoy!" There are so many reasons that's just wrong, wrong, wrong. But beyond that, musicians should be popping up on everyone else's album. There's been some of that, but much more can be done. Kids musicians should be sharing concert bills, swapping booking tips, giving advice (and generally using sites like this one), because the genre's nowhere near a zero-sum point. One artist's success is, to some extent, a small success for other artists. A large crowd for a big-name artist opens doors for artists without as much name recognition.

4. Keep doing what you're doing. Finally, what I like about the folks interviewed is that none of them have suggested that they've tweaked what they've done to appeal to a mass audience. They know that they're not going to have the mass appeal of the Budweisers of the world, and they're OK with that. That's one of the things I appreciate the most about the kids music genre right now. There are so many folks trying so many different things and people are comfortable writing and performing music that might not have been heard fifteen or twenty years ago. Oh, sure, there are still the pioneers who are either still going or whose albums have faded from view. But the sheer number of the musical approaches is so much greater now. Worldwide fame is going to be mostly elusive in these turbulent times for the music business. But a decent living making music for families is available to a lot of talented musicians... if they work together on it.