Kindie-Chartin': Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live "13 Under 13"

kpl-img.jpgA few weeks back, I attempted to provide some sense of the relative popularity of various family musicians by taking a look at the quasi-objective metric of Facebook fans.

The purpose of the review was not to start fights between artists. As I noted in the piece...

1) I know that the number of fans someone has on Facebook has nothing to with quality or talent or anything. Mostly.
2) I'm not trying to start any fights between artists. [See? I wasn't kidding!]
3) As someone who considers how to bring artists in concert to a place that's not New York or DC where concerts happen weekly, the lack of hard data in evaluating an artist's popularity does not help. I can tell you exactly who I would bring in if attendance and cost were no object. But they are.
Nor was I attempting to be exhaustive in my review of artists (as soon as I finished, I came up with another half-dozen artists I could have mentioned). If you're an artist at the level of the folks I mentioned, then perhaps you're doing OK.

But Facebook isn't a perfect proxy. (Again, as I noted... "it's a poor proxy for album sales and possibly for concert attendance, and it's a single data source.") So this piece is a second -- and definitely not the last -- way to look at popularity. (Hence my new title for the series - "Kindie-Chartin'.")

I decided to look at Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live. The station, likely has the largest audience of any family music radio station, especially since it broadcasts kids music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (It also has nearly 11,000 fans on its own Facebook page.) As such, songs that do well there are songs that have resonated with a large group of kids on a national basis. Clearly, interest on the part of the DJs there have some influence on what does and doesn't get played, but when you're programming as much live music as KPL does, you need to respect what kids do (and don't) respond to.

One way to evaluate airplay would be to search playlists, but that would take forever just to get a "point-in-time" view of whatever artists I (or you) feel like searching. Better (and perhaps easier) to look at their weekly "13 Under 13" broadcasts, which count down thirteen of the most popular songs on the station for the past week.

Music director and DJ Robbie Schaefer describes the list as a "subjective snapshot of our live shows for that week," reflecting not only programmed spins and listener requests, but also the more nebulous concept of "momentum," which might take into account responses on Facebook and listener e-mails. In other words -- and this is my phrasing, not Schaefer's -- the list is as much art as science. But, it's put together by DJs who are spending many hours a week interacting with their listeners and who get reminded repeatedly when songs do (or don't) get a reaction from their audience.
Beyond the chart itself, Gwyneth Butera runs the Kids Place Live Fans website, which includes listings of most "13 Under 13" shows and ratings. (Yay for historical data!)

I've gone back and looked at approaching 2 years' worth of "13 Under 13" data to compile a listing of 2010's most popular songs on Kids Place Live. The listing was pretty simple -- if a song was #1 on the chart, I gave it 13 points; #2, 12 points; and so on. The more total points a song had, the more popular it was.

Now, as always, some caveats:

1) Again, I'm not trying to pick any fights.
2) Getting played on Kids Place Live isn't necessarily a reflection on an artist's worth. Songs don't get played on Kids Place Live (or any radio station) for a wide variety of reasons. For example, most of their programs target the, say, 4-to-9-year-old age range.
3) As noted above, the "13 Under 13" lists are as much art as science and doesn't wholly reflect actual airplay. I'm sure Heywood Banks is driving a very nice car as a result of the regular airplay of his song "Toast" on KPL even though his song doesn't make the weekly list. And raise your hand if you think the Hampsterdance needs to be played one more time each week. (I thought so.)
4) Gwyneth is an intrepid traveler and only had maybe 85% of the charts. To make comparing easier, I guessed placements for the missing weeks. These charts tend to be fairly slow-moving -- typically only one song enters and leaves the chart each week -- so I'm probably only off by one or two chart positions for any missing week. But it's a reason why I'm only presenting the Top Five and Top Ten songs for 2010 and not ranking within those.

OK, you've read long enough. Here, in alphabetical order, are the top five songs on Kids Place Live for 2010 (songs that first made an appearance on the charts in 2010):

Kristin Andreassen - "Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes"
Jonathan Coulton - "Princess Who Saved Herself"
Joe McDermott - "Clap Your Hands"
Justin Roberts - "Sleepoverland"
Tim and the Space Cadets - "Superhero"

These five songs were pretty clearly head and shoulders above the rest in terms of their point totals. The next five?

The Verve Pipe - "We Had to Go Home"
Elizabeth Mitchell - "Shoo Lie Loo"
Brady Rymer - "Love Me for Who I Am"
Keith Munslow - "Watchin' All the Cars Go By"
Recess Monkey - "Jet Pack"

There were a total of 50 songs that charted. (Remember, it's typically only one new song each week.) Now, if you go by artist rather than just song, you get a slightly different list. Here's the top ten "13 Under 13" artists for 2010 (again, based on songs that first chart in 2010).

Caspar Babypants
Dean Jones/Dog on Fleas
Joe McDermott
Jonathan Coulton
Justin Roberts
Keith Munslow
Kristin Andreassen
Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem
Recess Monkey
Tim and the Space Cadets

This list features some folks like Caspar Babypants and Rani Arbo who had multiple songs chart on the list but didn't necessarily have one super-popular song. Having multiple songs in a year doesn't typically happen, due in part to the relatively slow pace of chart movement. (Other artists, like the Verve Pipe, have multiple songs hitting the charts, but over multiple years.) Alternately, you could look at albums -- Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti had not one, not two, but three songs hit the charts (the JoCo track, along with Emily Curtis' "We Belong" and Grenadilla's "Arabella Angelique"). [Plus, as Gwyneth subsequently noted to me, a fourth song, "Little by Little," entered the charts in 2011.]

One final comment: Having looked at charts through June of this year, that Jonathan Coulton track may prove to be one of the most popular Kids Place Live tracks ever -- it's hit the top of the charts for a second time. Everybody responded so enthusiastically to the song from the get-go, and it's clear that it's incredibly popular with listeners of all ages.