Best Kids Music 2011: Big Ideas

Nope, we're not done yet with our look at the best in kids music from 2011. For the second year in a row, I'm going to list big ideas from the past year. Not so much albums or songs, but concepts or trends I think will continue to have big impacts.

Inspector Widget: Maybe this is just the blogger/website operator in me, but the biggest trend of 2011 to me was the full flowering of web businesses designed to make it incredibly easy for artists to share their music with the world. Unlike the trainwreck that Myspace was from almost the beginning, these new entities let artists share (and sell) their music with a minimum of fuss and distraction. I'm talking about websites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Noisetrade, and Topspin. Now, all of these entities existed prior to 2011, but there was a definite increase in the usage of these entities by the music world in general, and kids music joined right in. Rather than making listeners come to the artist, these embeddable widgets make it easier than ever to meet potential fans where they are -- on Facebook, on Twitter, or on music sites that know a good thing when they hear it. (Ahem.)

Widgets Aren't The Only To Have Your Music Heard: 2011 wasn't just the year of the widget, there were lots of other innovative ways kids musicians got their music out in front of fans both current and potential. One of my favorite (and potentially most important) is from The Bazillions, who have established their own Roku channel to provide instantaneous streaming of their videos to literally millions of households. (Details here.) But iPhone apps, iPad apps, Kickstarter campaigns, and circus collaborations were other ways that kindie musicians tried to reach folks who might not have thought of kids music beyond the big box artists.

Two Heads are Better Than One: Sugar Free Allstars and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. Little Miss Ann and Suzi Shelton (with an assist from Baze and His Silly Friends' Marc Bazerman). Recess Monkey and Dean Jones (collaborating on the next Recess Monkey album, In Tents. Just a handful of the individual song collaborations between artists whose collaborations might not have occurred just 5 years ago when the scene was a lot more scattered and solitary. Collaboration has always occurred, of course -- folks like Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer and Bill Harley have reached to make music with others for a long time. But connections happen so much faster now that I expect that such collaboration will soon become the rule and not the exception.

kinDIYsmall.pngFourteen Heads Are Better Than Two: I mentioned this concept last year in the wake of Kindiependent, the Seattle-area cooperative promoting six local bands. But other areas continue to create their own support groups. Besides AMFM in LA and Let's Play! in San Francisco, which both formed in 2010, the Windy Kindie Chicago Cooperative set up shop this year. And the most active cooperative is probably KindiePDX in Portland, Oregon, which teems with activity, advice, and, well, support.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention kinDIY, the self-organized wiki-style site (founded by Bill Childs and Susie Tennant, and which I'm an administrator of) designed to help kids' musicians navigate the complex world of kids music.

Ending the Damn "Finally": Jeff Bogle at one point this year suggested a simple piece of action that he thought (and I agree) would go a long way towards increasing the visibility of kids music -- having musicians suggest to their audiences other musicians they might enjoy. In my words, it's up to musicians to end the damn "finally." You know, those "finally"s that say, "Finally, kids music the whole family can enjoy." That statement is a lie, shows ignorance on the part of the speaker, and worst of all, it conveys the idea that the kids music genre is incredibly small when just the opposite is true. Musicians need to convey to their audience the truth, which is that they are part of a long-standing tradition of making music for families that has never been as vibrant as it is today. Some artists have done that in the past, and more are doing it today, but there's room for a lot more. Even if you're not collaborating with anyone else on record or on stage, it's time to share the love more broadly.