Best Kids Music 2010: Big Ideas

For the most part, my look back at the best kids and family music of 2010 has focused on specific albums or songs. This list features five ideas (or, and I hate to use this journalistic trope, "trends") that signifiy where kids music might be headed in the decade to come. That's not to say that the specific albums and artists I'm mentioning here aren't worthy of celebrations themselves (many of them are already part of the "Best of 2010" package), just their mere existence is kind of a big deal, the kind of deal that might just lead you to say a few years from now, "I remember when I read about it on.... what was the name of that blog again?..."

MoneyMath.jpgiScream for New Things: Readeez creator Michael Rachap's latest creation is the Readeez Folderfuls, which are single-subject collections of somewhat academically-minded topics. (The first is titled "Money Math" and deals with counting types of money.) I'm geeked about this not necessarily because the songs and videos are good (though they are), but because the potential for providing family-friendly content via this medium is huge, mostly due to a little product that begins with an "i" and ends with a "Pad." I think it would need a little more integration, and a lot of artists would need to invest a lot more effort (or cash) to come up with offerings as slickly designed as Rachap's. But I think an artist that figures out a useful $10 app could have a successful product on their hands. (And, yes, Michael, I was thinking about this quite a bit.)

Banding Together (Thinking Globally): Many words have been written about Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, the Haitian relief album put together by Dean Jones and Bill Childs. Most of those words have been written about the music (excellent) and the cause (worthy). Fewer words have been written about the album's underpinning -- it is the first benefit album originating directly out of the family music genre. Other kids' music benefit albums have consisted mostly of "adult" artists recording songs for a family audience. Prior seeds planted by events such as Kindiefest or websites such as Sprockster (plus longer-established entities such as the Children's Music Network) are finally -- slowly -- flowering into a recognition that everyone's success is hinged, at least in part, upon elevating the genre's overall visibility. And albums like Health Food for Thought, on which children's musicians are the majority of the artists, suggest that Many Hands is merely the first of many.
Banding Together (Acting Locally): While artists are e-mailing mp3s recorded in home studios to record producers and radio hosts and music writers clear across the country, they're also recognizing that their mutual reliance on one another extends to folks across town. I've been talking about artists needing to work together to try to open (literal) doors to play live for a long time now. This is particularly important for artists whose focus is not the school (and to a lesser extent, library) market. Enter Kindiependent, a Seattle-area collective of kindie musicians who, in about six months, have played a standing-room only show at Seattle Public Library, released 2 collaborative songs, and set up 2 kids' music series. Talk about increasing the visibility of all of the artists in the area -- even those who aren't (yet) participating. And it's that sort of visibility that will make it easier for the mid-tier artists, those artists not yet at a Laurie Berkner or Dan Zanes level of visibility, to get gigs at a venue a thousand miles away from their home base.

Radio, Nationally, Publicly even: There are lots of great radio stations on commercial radio, NPR stations, community radio, even on the internet. But it's somewhat of a curiosity that there isn't a syndicated NPR show that would air nationwide. Amberly Warnke is making a go of it with Pied Piper Radio show. Distributed via PRX, the hour-long show champions many of the artists that are energizing the genre. It also has perhaps the greatest opportunity to introduce American listeners to new family music artists as its size exceeds even that of Sirius-XM radio and its Kids Place Live radio show (which does a very good job right now introducing new artists). And the disappearance of Jack's Big Music Show leaves Yo Gabba Gabba! as being the kids music heavyweight; that show, devoted to music as it is, is devoted to adult artists, not family music artists. So, right now, it's mostly about potential. But what potential.

Kids Music Crosses the Pond: And, finally, speaking of thinking globally... While "kindie rock" (and the modern family-friendly spins on other genres) continues to thrive in the United States (and, to a lesser extent in Canada), its existence in other English-speaking counties is minimal. But with groups such as Lalalandkids and Kathryn Williams' Crayonettes project, not to mention The Speks and a few more, England's scene is beginning to show signs of life. And Australia's Mudcakes are beginning to have a few more companions, such as Holly Throsby and Spikey and Friends -- after all, too much Wiggles (heck, too much Dan Zanes) can become wearisome if that's all you have. It's good for the artists in those countries, of course, but it's also good for artists here. Just as with touring, as families there also adjust to the idea of records designed with the whole family in mind, that will make it easier for folks here to sell their wares there.