I started this website in part because when I was a new parent looking for music to listen to with an infant Miss Mary Mack, all I could find were 50-word blurbs (not much more than a couple tweets, long before "tweets" were a thing). They almost uniformly said that the albums were great. I had no idea what they sounded like, and I didn't trust those reviews At All.
It was the turn of the century, and while I suppose I could have used Napster or other file streaming sites, I was never much of a person for illegality, and besides, it's unlikely there would have been much kids music on there. Even more importantly, even if I had found kids music on there, I would have had no direction to find out what I should start out with.
So when I started writing reviews at the request of my wife, filling out a page or two of her parenting group newsletter, I was conscious of filling a need, not through blisteringly funny or devastating or inventive narrative, but through simple information -- who did the artist sound like (often meaning an "adult" artist), what was the best age range, even where somebody could purchase the albums, which was not so easy to find fifteen years ago. (Thankfully, that last point is something I've dropped over time in my reviews.)
I gradually copied those interviews over to this website when I started it in 2004, and I suppose if I had stuck with just reviews, I might have tired of the website fairly soon. But a little website called "YouTube" got its start in 2005, and gradually over time it became easy to embed videos, and then songs and albums into website posts. What could easily have become a website filled with nothing but words about music became something that mixed those words with the music and images featuring that music.
And people responded. Not in throwing fistfuls-of-money-at-me ways, but parents and artists responded with words of thanks and requests for advice. I knew I had an audience and figured I was having some sort of impact -- it seemed like there were others that were looking for the same I had been looking for a few years earlier. I never wrote for the adulation or attention, but it was useful to know that my desire to find a somewhat more fully-rounded approach for music for kids and families -- kids music worth sharing, to coin a phrase -- was not some crazy approach that I, and I alone, sought.
I wrote a review about Red Yarn's newest album Born in the Deep Woods last week. It's an excellent album, and I had a lot of fun writing the review. Really, how often do you get to make a "More cowbell!" reference that makes 100% sense in the context of, well, just about anything you write?
But writing that review helped me see in even starker contrast how writing a review has been a comparatively rare event for me over the past 6-12 months. For someone who's written reviews of maybe 750 albums, of maybe 50 albums a year or more, to slow down to maybe a dozen over the past eight months or so is a pretty big reduction, and I've been spending a lot of time thinking about why I've slowed down.
Some of it, to be sure, is just capital-L Life. Kids get older, you get older, and the amount of time and energy it takes to put family and personal responsibilities front and center increases (or, at least, it has for me).
But some of it is also recognizing that the impact of any one particular review is not what it once was. That's a result of many factors, including how social media seems to drive a lot of discovery these days. Eight or nine years ago, a good "feed reader" took care of notifying the devoted audience, with Google and other search engines informing the rest. These days, social media coordinator is a job, and one that I'm not willing to fill (nor do my family and personal responsibilities let me) more than on a cursory level, letting my audience know there's a new piece available, and maybe a (comparatively small) percentage will see the link.
Also, did I mention roughly 750 reviews? That's a lot of words, and there is no small amount of effort that goes into making sure I'm not repeating myself, and trying not to bore myself.
Sometimes I don't always succeed in not boring myself, and if I'm boring myself, then I'm probably boring the reader, too. That's one of the things, I think, that struck me about that Red Yarn review -- it was fun to write and craft in a way a lot of my reviews recently haven't been. And while I probably can't expect to write a Snail Song & Magic Toast review or a review of a Recess Monkey album done entirely in limerick form every time, I probably need to figure out how to improve my batting average, as it were.
I've got maybe a couple dozen albums that have been released over the last 8-12 months that I want to write some sort of review on, and my goal is write those reviews in the rest of March and April. After that, however, I think I need to take a break with reviews as I currently conceive of them. It doesn't mean that I want to stop writing about kids music, but I'm not sure that the review model works anymore, or at least works for me anymore. I need to figure out a different way to write about kids music (and kids podcasts) that interests me and interests readers, and going back to the days of 50-word blurbs 15 years ago is not the answer (for me anyway).
So for those of you who read the title of this post and thought that I'd posit an answer to that question, hopefully by now you've figured out that this is not that post. Rather, I'm asking you to answer that question for yourself -- and share that with me. What do you get out of album reviews? Anything? Do you ever read them? That question can apply to this website, but I'm interested more broadly -- what do record reviews do for you? Do they help at all in the world of kids music? How about more broadly than that -- any form of entertainment, for any age? What convinces you to take a chance on an album, a movie, a book, a podcast, a play -- you get the idea? Is it because somebody wrote an album review so eloquently that you couldn't wait to listen? Or did your friend whose musical tastes you trust say, "You have to listen to this?" Or did Spotify's all-knowing brain figure out exactly what you'd geek out over.
Sorry for getting all meta in this post, it's not something I typically like to do. And to be clear, I am most definitely not looking for praise or attention with this. I'm doing this because I think the creation of music and audio (and culture generally) specifically for children is something worthy of more praise than any form of kid culture (save for books) gets, but I think the way I've been doing this for about 15 years is no longer particularly effective. That could be the result of my own limitations as a writer and site administrator, but regardless it's time to figure out a new approach, and I'd like your help. Thanks in advance.