I already posted some thoughts -- mostly from other people -- about the 2009 Grammys. And, yeah, I was glad They Might Be Giants won -- it was my favorite of the five nominated albums, and one of my favorites of the year, period. I'm glad Brady Rymer got nominated, and I wouldn't have been sad to see Trout Fishing in America to win as sort of a "career achievement" award. And Bill Harley is, well, Bill Harley. Hard to argue with that win for Best Spoken Word Album for Kids.
But the weekend of the Grammys also saw a group of kids music folks get together for a brunch to talk about the genre and ways in which the children's music community can work together to foster awareness of the genre.
Karen Rappaport McHugh at Muddy Girl Productions sent me a summary of the event, which included more than 30 artists, managers, media, marketing and PR consultants. I've posted most of that summary below for your perusal and thought. These aren't the answers, but they're some thoughts of folks who've spent a lot of time thinking about the genre. While the first point deals with more Grammy-related issues, the stuff after the jump is relevant to musicians regardless of their interest in the Academy.
Reactions to the summary are welcome in the comments below.
Or, if you'd like, you can go to the very end and see some Grammy trivia put together by Cathy Fink. Quincy Jones - who knew?
1. RECORDING ACADEMY
As a result of our initial meeting in 2008, the first GRAMMY Children’s Music Showcase at the Grammy Museum was established to build excitement around the category... To continue this process, we will work to have this event included as an “official” Grammy event in 2010 such as other categories receive including Grammy Salute to Classical and Grammy Salute to Jazz.
In addition, it was recommended that individual artists become active in their local chapters and approach them about hosting children's music events in several of the top markets for its membership: Nashville, Austin, Chicago, New York and San Francisco were mentioned as possible locations as members from each of these chapters were present at the meeting. Creating local events on a chapter level during the year would really help artists reach into their own membership, which is tremendously helpful during award nominations. Cathy Fink and/or Karen Rappaport are available to artists who are interested in working on this project to expand it beyond the one Grammy week concert. Although the Recording Academy is unlikely to sponsor concerts, recommended events might include:
A Children's Music Listening Party and Meet & Greet Workshop/Seminars, such as:
1) The elements of an excellent recording for children
2) Call for all genres to discuss children's music
3) "Get Up To Date" in the Children's Music Field
For workshops like these, it may be best to bring in outside speaker(s) along with local folks. Contact your Chapter’s Director for a meeting and to discuss options.
Finally, it was noted that people who are not eligible to become voting members can join as associate members and still have a voice within their chapter – this would include MEDIA, MANAGERS, PUBLICISTS, etc. and would be extremely helpful to the children’s music community. As Cathy Fink noted, “the Recording Academy is a membership organization and is there to serve you. You have to let them know what’s important to you and the more members who are part of the children’s music community, the better.”
2. POSITIONING AND MARKETING
This is one of the most difficult areas that artists face in every genre but particularly in the children’s music category. There was much agreement among the artists that defining your music as, “not like Barney” or “something you and your kid can listen to” or “kindie rock” was not going to be enough to sway media to write about it any longer.
It was generally agreed that it is MOST important in today’s crowded environment that making a video is particularly important not only to stream on a website but also to show booking agents and venues. While Noggin is showing less videos, a new website Jitterbug has launched to stream children’s music videos.
Additonally, many seemed to think that spending excess funds on press materials wasn’t necessary if the package was clever. Sending materials via CD and/or flash drives were other options being explored by artists. Amy Trulock of Hip Young Parent explained that sending music to her digitally was often better than sending a big CD package that took her longer to stream onto her site.
In an era when fewer CDs are being sold and your audience demands new music on a regular basis but you have little funds to produce it, one suggestion was to distribute digitally and use more social networking to reach your fan base. More kids artists need to sign up with iLIKE (a music site) so fans can find them and share them with others who might like them, as well.
It was generally agreed that touring is one of the most difficult things for artists as there are some cities with great venues for children’s artists and others that are still lacking which makes planning a tour very difficult. Artists can be very successful regionally but have a difficult time attracting an audience in other cities and venues now want the artist to bring in the crowds. One idea that circulated around the room was for artists to form a more cohesive community and sharing information on a city-wide basis.
Stefan Shepherd from Zooglobble sent in his comments stating, “it’s going to take a long time to get the genre to a point where it's truly vibrant. And that's because the idea of seeing music live -- or to be more specific, touring artists live -- is still a somewhat foreign concept. Sure, there are the stars…but if you're not quite there, it's very hard. It's up to the local artists to develop their own scene and particularly venues that can host musicians on a regular basis. The Seattle bands need to work hard to find a couple of local places that LA bands can play on a weekend jaunt to Washington and Oregon, and the LA bands need to do the same for Seattle bands. Otherwise artists are going to stay trapped in their regional haunts with only a few bands breaking out. I realize this is oversimplifying and that folks are already doing it, but I think they need to do it more, and that bands need to work even more cooperatively than they're already doing.”
Cathy Fink adds that the more creatively you think about your touring, the less competition you will see. If NO one is performing your local library circuit, go there. It's a great place to build new fans. They often have funds through "Friends of the Library". The same may be true for summer camps, private schools, etc. Supplement your income creatively instead of spending all your time trying to play popular venues that have a long list of folks competing for a few performance slots. Find the places where you aren't competing, including creating new venues.And remember, these days, each promoter/venue expects you to bring a crowd in. We need to encourage the venues to nurture their own audiences more and create a sense of audience loyalty and trust in the quality of entertainment the venue brings in.
The first Children's Music GRAMMY Award was presented in 1958 at the 1st Annual GRAMMY Awards to Ross Bagdasarian Sr. for the recording of "The Chipmunk Song" performed by David Seville And The Chipmunks.
Other early winners in children's field were:
Peter Ustinov, Leonard Bernstein, Julie Andrews & Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins)
Bill Cosby - 1971 for Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs
Peter Paul & Mary -1969 for Peter, Paul & Mommy
Many Sesame St. & Muppet Projects through the years
Movie Soundtracks, Dr. Seuss Books on tape
1983 - Michael Jackson & Quincy Jones win for "ET"
1993 - The Recording Academy introduced BEST SPOKEN WORD ALBUM FOR CHILDREN, making that category separate from BEST MUSICAL ALBUM FOR CHILDREN. In that year, Audrey Hepburn won the spoken word for "Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales." Alan Menken & Tim Rice for music from the motion picture "Aladdin"
1996 - David Holt, folk musician and storyteller who specialized in children's and family performances, won the spoken word category for "Stellaluna" This was a GRAMMY first.
2003 - Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer became the first touring children's artists performing primarily their own material to win a GRAMMY Award, for the recording, "Bon Appetit". Working children's musicians Tom Chapin, John McCutcheon, Trout Fishing in America, Dan Zanes, Buck Howdy, Tom Paxton, Ella Jenkins, Red Grammer and many other touring children's artists have been honored with nominations and in some cases, GRAMMY Awards.
In spoken word, Bill Harley won a GRAMMY in 2006 for his original stories and performances on "Blah Blah Blah: Stories About Clams, Swamp Monsters, Pirates & Dogs".
TOM PAXTON, 2009 GRAMMY LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD WINNER, wrote his first song in 1961, "The Marvelous Toy", which continues to be a best-selling and oft recorded song.
ELLA JENKINS was honored by a Recording Academy LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD in 2004, making her the first children's musician, educator, AND ukulele player to receive that award! A CD, "cELLAbration:A Tribute to Ella Jenkins" won a GRAMMY Award that year.