Jim Cosgrove is best-known in the kids music world as, well, Jim Cosgrove, but that's often written as Jim "Mr. Stinky Feet" Cosgrove. For more than 15 years, he's been making music for families in the Kansas City area and nationally. He's clearly a well-organized man, because not only does he make music, he also helped get the well-respected Jiggle Jam kids music festival off the ground, and occasionally writes for the hometown newspaper. (And he does all that while working a full-time job.)
Under the old adage, if you want something to get done, find a busy person, it's not terribly surprising to me that he's got another job under his belt, and that's as "Chief Groove Officer" (their description, not mine) for Mighty Mo Productions, a new record label focused on introducing kindie music -- quality, independently-produced music for kids and families -- and their artists to a broader audience. Their tagline? "Real People. Real Music." The first album from the label, the Smiles Ahead compilation, will be released October 16.
I chatted with Cosgrove and his label partner ("Corporate Guy") Tom Brantman by phone a couple weeks ago. I talked with them about the label's start, its initial efforts, and its goals for the future.
Zooglobble: What are your earliest music memories?
Tom Brantman: My grandfather and father were big band musicians, both drummers. I remember seeing Maynard Ferguson in concert with that big, high trumpet sound, with the cheeks out, and everybody dancing.
Jim Cosgrove: Yeah, my father as well. He was not a performing musician, but he sang all the time around the house... He'd sing "Mack the Knife" and the Mills Brothers. I also remember several albums of music by the Singing Nuns.
I'm not familiar with them...
Jim: There were several types, actually, all like that.
Sort of sounds like the Irish Tenors and their variations... So how did Mighty Mo Productions come about?
Jim: I've been beating the drum about doing something with kids music [more broadly than my music] for years, and eventually I pitched the idea of a label to Create Space, a local business incubator. So we're funded for the moment by Create Space.
What's your goal with the label?
Jim: I've been a part of this community for about 17 years. Jeni, my wife -- we'd go to events like KindieFest and KindieCOMM and year after year we'd come out of the conferences asking, "what's next?" Everybody's working so hard, with their heads down. And there are folks like you, Kathy O'Connell, Mindy Thomas at Sirius/XM helping to get the word out to lift all boats. But we asked, "how do we cross-pollinate this music?" We didn't want stuff like Disney or Kidz Bop, music that focused on characters or regurgitated pop songs, but for independent artists there's no organizational fabric. When we talked to artists, everybody we talked to said, "we're in."
We started with a compilation [Smiles Ahead] with the theme of being happy or upbeat. We're introducing some new songs -- I was talking with Brian Vander Ark, and they ended up writing a new song. Chris Ballew [aka Casper Babypants], he's got a song not yet released. Catherine Hollyer -- a new kids music artist who goes by the name Katydid -- we said, how about we introduce you using this record.
Tom: For me, I was most interested in two things [in this scene]: 1) there is some amazingly awesome music for kids to find -- I have friends asking me for that [all the time], and 2) the acceptability of the artists. There's much more interaction with the artists. So we want to put families in front of the artists so they can enjoy the music together. I think that's what makes us different.
Jim: That's what that "Real People. Real Music." tagline is all about -- not about cartoons, not about music from film. We want families to get to know them as people, to find out, "Who are you?"
What are the commonality of artists on the label?
Jim: We reached out to artists we had a relationship with. There is a lot of great music on both a large and small scale, so it was difficult to pick just 13 artists. We really liked some artists, but the song wasn't quite there [in terms of fit with the album theme] -- we wanted a variety of styles, but not a huge broad swipe.
Tom: For me, [the genre] was so huge that if you do everything, it's a little messy. We look at it as we're building a body of work.
You mean, don't judge the label after one album -- do so after ten?
Jim: Yes. We're going to release albums, but also promote touring festivals. We want to create a national scene by connecting markets, but this -- releasing albums -- seemed like a logical place to start...
And a little background on Tom -- he was a touring rock drummer before he became a corporate guy.
Tom: When I had hair [laughs].
Jim: He owned a label in his early twenties...
There have been a number of attempts to create family music labels -- what do you bring to the table?
Jim: Whereas a lot of projects become about the artist, we felt like a lot of them could have been more about the music. That's our premise -- we love this music and want to help all boats rise.
Tom: [We focus on] acceptability to families. We're also actively working on distribution and getting CDs in lots of places. We're not ignoring digital, we're working on touring, getting [artists] in more markets. Video... we have plans working on all those parts.
Jim: The eagerness of and welcoming by artists is encouraging.
Jim: We have another compilation coming out in January. It'll be a love-themed album, some of the same artists [as on Smiles Ahead], some new. We're always looking for new music. We're also working on retail placements -- we'll have a 30-market test with Hallmark Gold Crown stores.
Tom: We're really pursuing festivals in 2016. And we're working on doing on our own app.