Is Kids Music Recession-Proof?

BLDlogo.jpgI've been wondering for a while how kids music has been weathering the general financial storms we've been weathering for the past 18 months or so. My general sense is that the industry as a whole is doing OK. I mean, as Mr. Richard joked in an e-mail to me, "Well, the recession hits even the kids music market: you may recall that I performed 400-plus shows in '08; this year I only managed 349..." If that's the case, that sounds like a natural contraction given the economy's overall contraction.

If anything, while a number of artists may be working a little harder to sell albums or to get good paying gigs, I believe the overall size of the kids music pie is increasing.

One entity that definitely felt the effects of the recession, however, is Baby Loves Disco, the source of the far-flung Baby Loves Music empire. Found in around 30 locations as recently as this fall (go here and look at the select-a-city menu at the left), the BLD folks recently announced that they were changing the business model to take the show on the road. That's right -- instead of hosting maybe a half-dozen parties around the country on any given Saturday afternoon -- they're now taking the show on the road. As they explain it:

Back in the day (all the way up through last year!) we used to set up shop in your town (we were in 36 u.s. cities by 2006) and just sort of....stick around. the monthly gigs were great for everyone...except for us, the humble mom and pop disco. soooooo, this year we're trying something new. We'll be touring around like a band, going from town to town in a bus....sort of like the circus. This spring we'll be announcing our road trip 2009 dates but until then, if you really need to get your disco on in the USa we'll be throwing down in NYC twice a month starting in february. [Ed: funky editing and capitalization theirs]
It makes it sound mostly like things needed to get mixed up a bit, which is probably true. The BLD model, which involved local parents hosting the monthly events for what I would guess was not much cash, probably burned out a lot of said parents. (The Phoenix-area BLD went bye-bye a couple years for that exact reason.) But go back to that cached BLD Seattle site and you'll see another explanation:
good people of SEATTLE, the baby loves disco flag flies at half mast as we have to postpone all future disco dates due to these touch [sic]economic times which have cast a long shadow on many of our good friends here.
That quotation could be found on many of the other location sites, which are now wiped out on the relaunched BLD site. I'm not shocked that that forthrightness has disappeared -- I'd want to emphasize the new start, too.

This shouldn't be taken as criticism of BLD and the broad Baby Loves Music empire, which has turned out some really good music and events.

But I'm not surprised that the recession has taken the steam out of a business model that appears in part to have assumed a core group of families would spend $30-$60 a month to take their kids to the disco. Probably not sustainable in the long run, even if the set of families would change over time. The touring model seems to work well (just ask Yo Gabba Gabba!, not to mention a whole host of other shows) -- what might have seemed pricy as a monthly or even quarterly event becomes downright cheap if you do it once a year and view it as an event ("We saw Dan Zanes back in May and we're all going to the King Britt Baby Loves Disco thing next month.")

And if it allows business partners Andy and Heather to get the rest of the Baby Loves Music empire back on track (please get out those Baby Loves Disco, Blues, and Reggae disks, plus new Jazz disks, out pronto), so much the better.

Now what does this mean for the genre in general, the folks who aren't trying to get $17 a ticket (ie., everybody except for literally a half-dozen acts and the occasional overpriced NYC performance)? I'm not positive, but one answer I'd suggest is that musicians should think about designating more of their performances as events. Perhaps not in the sense that going to a big, live-action corporate production is an event, but with special guests and other out-of-the-ordinary occurrences. I'm not saying that playing every Tuesday afternoon at the library or coffeeshop is a bad thing -- artists benefit from that regular contact with their audience. But sometimes a show needs a special kick in the pants to make that $8 or $10 a ticket worth paying to a large crowd.

Maybe even a disco ball.