Children's music is a "specialty" genre. Unlike pop and other mainstream formats, most consumers have to know what they're looking for. Sometimes an artist is so regional that their material isn't on Amazon and their website happens to be down (because the performer hosts it on his laptop and accidentally closed it).
When listening to local artists – those who send me their CDs or links to digital material – I am often reminded of two very disparate anecdotes. I was re-introduced to a college acquaintance at a party with the opener, "Jeff is reviewing kid's music now. Jim, aren't you RECORDING kid's music now?" Jim began to tell me that he and another dad wrote a dozen original tunes, played them as entertainment for their children's birthday parties, and suddenly were asked to perform at other parties. Then even recorded their songs for posterity on a limited print run. I explained that I knew of several venues that might widen their exposure and even a website they could use to book live gigs. Jim's response was to shrug and say, "Thanks but there's no money in kid's music."
The second anecdote happened in the backyard of my brother's house more than a decade ago. His (then) wife was describing how her brother, a music educator, had put together a band and independently recorded their own CD. Again, I explained my meager connections. Her response was slightly different, "He's not ready to release the CD." Smash-cut to present day…that musician and group are Josh and the Jamtones. Perhaps you've heard of them.
Local artists are plentiful and don't necessarily "do it" for the money. Many make their living in education or related services. For some, the shift to children's music occurred when their own kids were born, as they segued from bar bands covering "What I Like About You" to writing original songs. And for every Justin Roberts and Frances England, who seem to come from nowhere to gain a national spotlight, there are dozens that toil in their region, build and maintain a dedicated audience, yet never catch fire.
So much for prologue - this all brings me to Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies, a fine ensemble hailing from (and proudly singing about "C-H-I-C-A-G-O" on their third CD, GOING TO A PARTY! Mr. Singer himself operates from LeftHaus Studios providing music and art lessons and running personalized children's parties. But their passion is the music – perfectly fine songs like "Gonna Ride My Bike" and "Ramble On Children."
I was a bit disillusioned recently hearing They Might Be Giants' John and John on Marc Maron's podcast disparaging (without naming names) a number of children's musicians. Their take is that many performers are attracted to children's music because it's easy or formulaic. "Kids love dinosaurs, write a song about dinosaurs," they commented. While that might be true of some local artists, fortunately I have either not stumbled onto them (or they onto me). Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies do not fall into this category, let me stress. And they've got added street cred with an appearance by another Chicago-area artist who has gained the national spotlight, Ralph Covert.
More than anything, GOIN' TO A PARTY! is a collection of simply-crafted and lovingly-produced children's songs. Whether or not the CD breaks into a wider public consciousness will be determined by a combination of luck and ambition. Either way, Mr. Singer will continue to teach and perform. Like most local artists involved with children's music, the goal is reaching an audience. The financial motivation is there, of course. But first come the smiles and juice boxes.
GOIN' TO A PARTY! is available from Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies website, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBABY.
Here is the video for their song, "Just For Fun":