Children's music (sometimes referred to as the "kindie" movement) has always been a mixed bag. Dan Zanes begat a number of folk artists suddenly recording their versions of Pete Seeger songs. Laurie Berkner inspired multiple moms with guitars to burn demos of their songs to CD to distribute at neighborhood events (and mail them to me in hopes of a positive review).
I don't mean to belittle, pick up, or single out Zanes and Berkner. Their contributions to the field have been immeasurable. I commiserated with the Dirty Sock Funtime Band in August after their performance at Kidstock in Port Washington. Here they were, a band that had national exposure on Nickelodeon, whose videos are still playing on YouTube. Yet they were performing less than a handful of shows a year. "If only Jack's Big Music Show had gotten renewed for a third season..."
Yes, kindie has perpetually been that kid on the carousel, hoping to grab the brass ring when it comes around, and just falling short. Maybe Nickelodeon could have broken more emerging artists. Maybe Disney could have been more supportive when they signed Ralph Covert (Ralph's World) and ran their abbreviated family music tour, instead of pushing their own channel's self-created tween artists.
However using the same contemporary standards, why didn't Columbia House put a sidebar of children's music in their monthly catalogs? Surely there was a market for family-friendly artists to a service that shipped albums across the country for decades. Simply put, either there was no interest, no great demand, or more likely, not enough research and education that demonstrated a significant financial return.
Even the Internet did not create monumental change in children's music. Yes, Eric Herman has 27 million views of The Elephant Song on his YouTube channel. But has that translated into international super-stardom? Ask a classroom of first graders who Eric Herman is (sorry to use you as an example, Eric). Go on, I'll wait.
Live performances and selling merch are the lifeblood of kindie music. Videos are great to grab eyeballs but you need to excite kids (and their parents) to WANT to share a communal experience. Teach a man to fish, bring a child to live music, it's one and the same concept. Streaming services pay such a fractional amount of money that several kindie artists such as Joanie Leeds and Alastair Moock took to Facebook to belittle their royalties for thousands and thousands of plays (through unnamed famous sites). When we saw Uncle Rock perform at Symphony Space a few years back, he ridiculed the pittance that services passed along to artists for their material. There was a fear of the future, as the center was clearly not holding and the failures of the past were a minefield of busted valises.
Amazon Prime is making the latest attempt to break from the pack. The company has announced its own original streaming children's music service (with physical CDs for some luddite reviewers such as I). The first two artists on the roster are New York natives The Pop-Ups (with their October release), THE GREAT PRETENDERS CLUB and Lisa Loeb (with her fourth children's CD, NURSERY RHYME PARADE).
There are those who should be jumping for joy – Amazon is a colossus and exposure through its distribution channel should be an amazing accomplishment. On the other hand, Amazon is such a colossus that I wonder how much attention and TLC such a niche venture as children's music will receive. Will Amazon attempt to compete with SiriusXM Kids Place and schedule concerts with their contracted artists? Will they help brand and market their performers when they're on tour? Will Amazon Music provide more than a clickable button on its Prime page and feature a monthly children's artist? Answers to these questions will quickly become apparent in the next quarter.
In the meantime, I welcome Amazon Prime to the table. At least they are making an effort to support a genre that has been woefully under-utilized not only during my children's lifetimes, but during MY lifetime. I remember seeing orchestral performances of The Magic Flute and Tubby the Tuba. I saw Marcel Marceau. I saw the Paper Bag Players. I do not have memories of children's musical acts. In fact, children's music is so segregated from its audience that the wikipedia entry jumps from "Puff the Magic Dragon," Peter Paul and Mary, and Sesame Street (1969) to Raffi in the late 1970s. To paraphrase the Pretenders, "My childhood was gone."
I am cautiously optimistic about this new venture from Amazon Prime. Even if it craters (fingers crossed), the service will no doubt invigorate the kindie movement, support deserving artists, and generate an exciting year for the industry. I can only imagine the conversations at KindieComm 2016. Not to mention the next batch of moms with guitars CDs coming my way.