Kids’ music is grownup business.
We’re not talking about teen sensations Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. This is about music for babies all the way to pre-teens - from lullabies to current pop hits refashioned by kid singers.
Take a gander at the numbers: There’s the Kidz Bop Kids series, now 21 CDs strong, which has cumulatively sold 9 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Then we have the growing Rockabye Baby set of discs that take rock repertoires from, say, U2, Pink Floyd and Queens of the Stone Age, and turn them into lullabies for babies. The 24 volumes combined have moved 428,000 copies, according to Rockabye Baby Records, an imprint of New York’s CMH Records.
Those are the big ones, but hardly the only ones. The Praise Baby Collection consists of 15 CDs and DVDs offering worship music in lullaby form. And of course there’s Putumayo Kids, the children’s branch of Putumayo World Music, boasting 16 titles such as “African Dreamland” and “Caribbean Playground.” Rockabye Baby also has Hushabye Baby - country songs done as lullabies.
“The reason for it is there’s an audience,” says Geoff Mayfield, senior analyst for Billboard magazine, about the kids’ music phenomenon. “That’s the kind of niche that a record company would look for. All the sales have gone down in the last six to seven years, so you are going to look for growth opportunities, and the kids market is one of them.”
But the kids’ music explosion is really about the parents. The Rockabye Baby library is the perfect example of music aimed at mom and dad but tailored for their infant. By taking the legendary rock music of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and revamping it as lullabies, the cool parenting factor soars off the charts.
“The MTV generation is having babies now,” says Lisa Roth, vice president of CMH Records and the woman who helped dream up the Rockabye Baby idea after she couldn’t find a suitable gift for a baby shower.
“The kids that were raised on MTV and music videos are now parents. So they are living their own music video. Parents before didn’t have MTV. They didn’t have 30,000 music channels to choose from. Music took on a whole different meaning when MTV came out in the early ‘80s.”
The same need for musical advancement, no matter the young age, begat Kidz Bop Kids, a series of compilations where current pop hits are interpreted by an array of microphone-toting kids.
“Kidz Bop really started seven years ago when there was no music for children that weren’t quite ready for Britney Spears,” says Sandi Hemmerlein, vice president of marketing at Kidz Bop, which is part of New York’s Razor & Tie Entertainment.
“The only option for kids was baby music. As they became older and with more sophisticated tastes, there was nothing for them except for what was on MTV and pop radio. The parents were frustrated that there wasn’t anything other than the adult music. Kids in this age group had never been exposed to this pop music. It was a perfect storm in a major way being exposed to a more adult-sounding music that was appropriate for their age groups and then hearing kids’ voices singing those songs. We always kind of treated it as a special version of adult music rather than being kiddie.”
The success is startling when you consider there’s no bankable personality to promote. The Rockabye Baby CDs are all instrumental. The cover artwork reinterprets an iconic image or graphic connected with the given group. “Lullaby Renditions of the Beatles” pictures four teddy bears perched on a colorful, psychedelic mountain.
The Kidz Bop volumes take their cover art cue from the lucrative “Now That’s What I Call Music” collection. That means bright, multicolored strobes of light and big, bold letters adorn every disc.
“It didn’t have a face to it so kids were able to project themselves into it,” says Hemmerlein of Kidz Bop. “It’s a broader entertainment brand; a pop-culture brand; a lifestyle brand.”
Ultimately it’s about everyday kids creating their own soundtrack.
“There is a desire for kids to be involved in music,” says Hemmerlein, “the desire to get up and jump around and sing along and learn the words and sing it themselves.”