OWTK Kindie Music News

We’ve Walked Far, We Must Go Further

The Golden Age of Family Music is a nifty term. I coined it, and I toss it around freely, in interviews, on the podcast, in stories published on Red Tricycle, Time Out New York Kids, and Philly Kids Thing. The Golden Age of Family Music represents the maturation of music being made for those still maturing themselves, and signifies what is matter-of-factly true: that this is the greatest period of musical creation, recording, and performance for children and families in history.

But it can, and should, get better.

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In Houston a few weeks back, I was pigeonholed in introductions as the “kid’s music guy” by those who knew me as they put me in front of those I did not know well or at all. I bristled at this for the 1st 24 hours of the writing conference I was attending, but then I came to an important realization. I understood finally that, in a Four Seasons hotel filled with 200+ dad & mom bloggers, brand representatives, media types, and other writers, no one else knows what I know, loves what I love, and does what I do. I have something unique to offer brands and big media, yet foolishly I was attempting to distance myself from exactly that (“but I am so much mooooore!). Dumb. I reversed course swiftly, and proceeded to own the crap out of the “kid’s music guy” thing. I believe I swayed some hearts and changed a few minds. I met the Life of Dad crew during this time, and was interviewed by the DadLabs team. I spoke passionately to others too, who, while not running to their laptop to download the new Pop Ups single, are at least now aware that this tall dude who was kinda alright to talk to thinks it is the shit. A small thing, but a thing. Ya know?

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I spoke, and continue to speak, passionately about the beauty, diversity, and musical greatness that exists in the family music world in 2013. But I think that most kid’s music still sucks. And I’m not speaking exclusively of The Fresh Beat Band and the like. This is partially why I haven’t been writing about it a lot here on OWTK. This isn’t to say that everything I have received over the past six months is garbage, not at all. I have also been going down other avenues of late to see what that is like. But I’ve been hearing too much children’s music that was produced in a laboratory, created from a clipboard checklist, and run through a focus group. If not literally, than it sounds like this music was market tested to hit on 8 out of 10 popular kid topics. This isn’t art. Not even close.

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Bill Harley gave the keynote speech at the Grammy Kid’s Concert Luncheon in Los Angeles a couple weekends back. He said many wonderful things, but nothing stood out more than the call for us, and as an aspiring children’s author I am included here, to be better, to try harder, and to continue honoring the experiences of children. Yes. Yes. & Yes.

The great ones are doing just that. They are being the creative, imaginative, musical geniuses they are and either channeling their own childhood experiences and deftly weaving those into song with nuance and grace, or tossing out all of that and having a blast making music that cracks them up and/or moves them emotionally, with nothing nasty or generally inappropriate for young ears. I believe this is what is golden about this age, that there exists music that doesn’t teach or even tell, but shines light on tiny situations that are the universal truths lurking inside all of our pasts, presents, and futures. I could give you a list of songs that serve as an example of what I am talking about, but I won’t. I do have a podcast to highlight a lot of them, but also because I am sure I will leave someone off and I don’t want to focus on exclusions or on individual artists here. This topic is bigger than that.

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The first line of a forthcoming family album I am falling in love with right now is:

“Oh how often I think that melody was my mother”

Not only is that a crazy beautiful lyric, it is also a challenging one for young ears (and, possibly, for some older ones too.) What does that mean, to have melody be a parent? It makes sense within the structure of the song, of course, and while its never 100% explicit, does become somewhat more clear as it unfolds. This kind of songwriting is what we need more of in the family music space. We need imagery, abstractions, metaphors, beauty, and wicked hooks, sick beats, elegant piano fills, and shredding guitar parts. In short, we need more art. Art for kids and adults to sink into, to fall in love with, to ponder, to provoke thought, and inspire conversation. Art that honors childhood, our own, and the ongoing moments happening now in the world our children are growing up in.

As someone trying to write for children, I believe I am up to the task. I am working on getting better and trying harder to push boundaries real and boundaries imagined to create something artistic that speaks to and respects children and childhood, while also connecting with adults on a different level.

What about you? Are you in?

Will you be a part of The Golden Age of Family Music, or a footnote in an ugly jewel case?

*Photo of The Okee Dokee Brothers accepting the Grammy for Best Children’s Album, February 10, 2013.

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6 Comments

  1. I’m IN! Where do I sign up?!

    “I believe this is what is golden about this age, that there exists music that doesn’t teach or even tell, but shines light on tiny situations that are the universal truths lurking inside all of our pasts, presents, and futures.” -Jeff Bogle

    …Well done, sir.

  2. A folk singer that I love called Ellis Paul wrote two children’s albums. The first was the Dragonfly races and it was Eva’s first CD. The second, The Hero in You is one of her favorites. Check him out for some high quality children’s music.

  3. We love Ellis too, Drew! I reviewed Dragonfly Races on OWTK back when it first came out, and we’ve seen him live a few times with the kids. He is a swell dude making terrific music for families. Thanks!

  4. So, after receiving a rather annoying email via LinkedIn today to the tune of “nice blog, I’m glad I don’t have to listen to kids music all day” I was really bummed and wanted to crack a long whip right back in said person’s direction. However, I did not and seeing this article just made my day. Excellent work and pretty much a topic that has been on my mind. Right now, I am listening to an album which I think pushes boundaries within the category of “children’s music.” You raise very interesting points because I think there are some unbelievably creative musicians in the Golden Age of Family Music that are thinking about way more than the simplicity or writing songs just to make the kids happy. I struggle sometimes with even calling some of this music children’s music and maybe that is why it is so good to market it as family music because it is the very fact that some of this music transcends or crosses over into a broader category that it should be heard by both young and young at heart!

  5. So, Rebecca, you pretty much need to cut & paste your comment and spin that into its own great post on your own great site. You are right in the need to pivot towards the label of family music, or Findie (Family + Indie, and I am kidding) to at least partially remove the stigma of the brand, as it were, name: children’s music. We need to purge ourselves from the collective parental groan that comes part and parcel with that outdated terminology. And we’ve got the multi-generational artists to make such a switch seamless. Run with it, young lady!

  6. Hey Jeff,
    My name is Michael Farkas and I have recently ventured into the kids music writing and theater world. I have been playing with a band named,’
    THE WIYOS’ for about 10 years, making music for adults, but was certainly great for the whole family. It has been a source of pride seeing all ages, hipsters and the like at our shows. I have always wanted to write for kids and am a fan of writers such as Edward Lear, Roald Dahl and Shakespeare. I feel they should all be included and embraced when writing for a family show. Ambiquity as well, and certainly poetry. They don’t always need to understand everything! From Beach Boys to Beatie Boys.
    I have quite recently begun a collaboration with an LA band called. ‘Lucky Diaz and and the family Jam Band’ We have nearly completed tracking an album that I believe reflects the ethos you put forth in your ‘We must go further ‘column. I feel we share the very same point of view with regards to muaicality and artistic merit. Great to have writers and listeners out there who feel this way. I look forward to sending you a copy when it is done! Keep it up. We need you out there.
    My best,
    Michael

joc