I've probably received more CDs from Rockabye Baby than from any label. Every two or three months, a new disk shows up, tinkling away melodies familiar and less-so, depending on the particular artist subject to the Rockabye lullaby treatment. Next up for the Rockabye treatment is Journey -- their album comes out next week. The last track, of course, is "Don't Stop Believin'," and having heard the disk, no, they don't end the track mid-song. (If you want to listen to the track, you can go here.)
I don't talk much about Rockabye Baby here because I feel conflicted about the series -- I do think that a fair amount of musical talent goes into producing them, but have always felt that the series puts the parents at the center of this to the near exclusion of the kids themselves. Meaning, what conceivable reason would a newborn have for listening to Journey?
Well, none -- the disk is entirely for the parents. Which isn't to say that the music on the disk isn't good, or that there isn't value in having parents enjoy listening to a disk because they recognize the song (and thereby communicating enjoyment of music to their kids). But those are tangential. Really, what's the difference between this and having your kids listen to this and, say, Lullaby Renditions of Color Me Badd? The difference is perceived coolness and actual popularity among people who, you know, are old enough to be parents. Your newborns won't care one bit.
But, man, the series shows no sign of slowing down, and why should it? People like me who have this uneasy feeling the series is more for people who want to get a laugh from a baby shower gift will be outnumbered by folks who have very strong feelings for the Rockabye-d artists and probably will be until we're grandparents ourselves. So I'm going to pass along this interview I received via Rockabye's publicist. It's with Lisa Roth, Vice President of CMH Records (Rockabye's label parent), and even with the softball nature of some of the questions and the essentially self-congratulatory nature of the interview as a whole, I think it does say some interesting things about the series and what they go through in producing a particular record.
Q: What inspired the creation of Rockabye Baby?
Roth: Having shopped for many a baby shower gifts, I was quite dismayed by the lack of parent friendly music choices out there. Out of frustration I wanted to create a lullaby series that parents could relate to, something familiar and enjoyable, yet gentle enough for the littlest rocker in the house.
Q: How do you choose which bands to turn into lullabies?
Roth: As far as picking the artists, we first and foremost keep our audience in mind — the parent/music fan who's hip, has a good sense of humor, and wants to share their favorite artists with their own cherub rockers.
We have a rotating poll on our web site where the general public votes, and we stick very close to the outcome of that data. Also, here at Rockabye Baby we are all music fans, with very broad tastes, so we often vote on our own personal favorites. Unfortunately, time and time again, we forget to consider whether a chosen artist will lend itself to our lullaby palette, thus the production challenges that ensue!
It’s the most rewarding when we choose a band that is the absolute antithesis of a lullaby, like Guns N' Roses or Metallica, and we successfully transform it without losing the original attitude of the band.
We often joke that Rockabye Baby is the anti-lullaby lullaby series! So ultimately our series tends to reflect that reputation.
Q: What if some of the material is inappropriate for babies?
Roth: There are no lyrics on these CDs, only instrumentals, so the subject matter is rarely an issue. That said, it is the so-called inappropriateness of the subject matter in the original songs that lends the irony to our series, and it's the irony of our series that makes everyone smile. You can't help but chuckle at the idea of lullaby renditions of AC/DC. It is our goal to entertain the parent as well as the little ones, and our series accomplishes that in spades.
As we all know, the themes of many of our favorite rock songs revolve around sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Our recent Guns N' Roses album has attracted attention because we did "Mr. Brownstone," which is a heroin song. But again, that's the great thing about our series — it's only instrumentals, and if I'm not mistaken, music alone does not have the power to turn infants into drug addicts. In fact, many of the rock 'n' roll icons who sang about these questionable themes, like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, were once seen as symbols of the end of civilization, but today they are parents and grandparents themselves. In fact, Steven Tyler wrote the liner notes for our Aerosmith CD, and couldn’t wait to share it with his grandchild.
We have, however, considered song titles inappropriate in the past. There have been a few off-putting titles that we felt would be tasteless printed on the back of our CD packages, so we chose to avoid those songs.
Q: What do you hear from parents about some of the racier stuff?
Roth: We've received an enormous amount of positive, appreciative feedback from parents. Our audience tends to understand and appreciate the humor and joy behind our lullaby series. Again, Rockabye Baby! was created as much for the parent’s enjoyment as it was for their babies. Of course, there will always be someone whose purpose in life is to create a fuss out of nothing, even a lullaby series, but we welcome the publicity!
Q: What are some of the challenges to creating soft versions of hard songs, whether it’s the material, the rhythm, etc.?
Roth: Believe me, it's not easy turning Tool or Nine Inch Nails into a lullaby! Creating a new lullaby CD can take anywhere from three months to a year and a half. We have several producers who deconstruct the original and put them back together, so to speak, using our Rockabye Baby! palette, which consists of instruments that create the perfect balance of what we call "clunk and tinkle." It is also a challenge to get the right tempo and softness without losing the attitude of the original. We often direct the producers to play the instruments as if a sleeping baby were next to them in the studio.
Then the listening team — me and my co-workers Aretha and Leo — sit and listen to each and every note of every song over and over, making copious notes for the producer. Each song goes back and forth between us and the producers an average of three to eight times before we approve it. It can be quite a grueling process for all. The quality of our recordings means a great deal us.
Q: What are the qualities that make a successful lullaby?
Roth: I think we've produced a successful lullaby when we strike the perfect balance between clunk and tinkle, tempo, softness, easy recognizability, and it entertains mom and dad while simultaneously soothing the little ones. For me, I know it's a success when hearing it makes me smile that smile you made as kid when you were caught with your hand in the cookie jar. And it has to make me laugh. When you hear a heavy rock song composed of fairy dust you can't help but laugh.
Q: Have any of the artists been harder to turn into lullabies?
Roth: A lot of heavy rock artists compose in minor chords, and minor chords are very hard to translate into a lullaby without sounding scary. But after years of trial and error we have our bag of tricks to offset the spookiness. For example, Black Sabbath, which we are working on now, has a lot of minor chords versus the melodic compositions of Coldplay or U2. When we get the difficult ones right it's completely satisfying.