Sunday, July 30, 2006

Jim Gill

For me, Jim Gill's music falls somewhat into the description from my "rules" post where I said that adults don't necessarily have to like a certain kind of kids' music for it to be good kids' music. But it's not that I don't like Jim's music... quite the opposite, I love it... it's more that the nature of it isn't something that I'm likely to listen to on my own in my car, for the sake of the music alone. And for some parents, that might cause them to steer away from Jim's music, and that would be a shame, because it's exactly the kind that kids really love the most... catchy, humorous songs that are highly participatory. Actually, to call Jim's songs merely 'participatory' is almost selling them short... Virtually every song of his includes and invites participation, much moreso than anyone else I've heard.

I think every kids' musician who performs live shows knows that you need to keep kids involved at almost every turn, and so we have to be creative sometimes to find ways to play certain of our songs live and involve the audience. Sometimes that means just clapping or dancing along, and other times there is something more unique involved. But Jim Gill doesn't even have to worry about that, because all of his songs involve participation right from the songs themselves. Listen to songs of his like "Silly Dance Contest", "Face the Fact", "Drumming the House", "Hands are for Clapping" and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Musically, Jim's music is folky and quirky with some Cajun and bluegrass elements, and he talks more than sings his words. It's not something that's likely to appeal to Gen X parents so much, but younger kids will surely love it and have a really great time playing along.

Jim Gill website

Friday, July 28, 2006

Music Submissions

(Submissions are currently CLOSED)

If you are a kids' music artist and you'd like me to hear your music and consider it for a feature here, please go ahead and send me what you've got (see the address below).
Advance or burned copies are fine, but please include some kind of liner notes for advance copies, or a link to a webpage with the lyrics and liner notes, if possible. Pages of press releases in big packages are not needed. Save yourself the extra postage. The address is - (submissions are currently closed)

I have to reiterate what I said on my first post, that I cannot guarantee that any particular thing will be featured here, nor offer any time frame for that. Once again, this is not a review site, but purely something from my own perspective and interest and I'm only likely to post about things that really stand out to me in some way or other, or that I feel particularly compelled to write about. And that is going to be very unique to my tastes... Sometimes I read rave reviews on other sites and go to listen to the samples and think, eh, it doesn't sound that great to me... and vice versa, where I love something that someone else wasn't crazy about. But that's just the nature of subjective artistic taste.

But I really do enjoy hearing all kinds of different kids' music and checking out what other people are up to. And I am very much about looking for the good in things, so please feel free to send me what you've got, and if your music is something that I particularly like or can appreciate in some unique way, then I'll certainly try my best to feature it here at some point.

Note: If you send me music of yours, I will consider that your permission is granted for me to add two or three short sound samples (usually 30-60 seconds each) to the article about you (if one is posted); to grab a picture of you from your website to use with the post; and to embed a video of yours if there is an embeddable video of yours somewhere like YouTube or MySpace. If any of that is a problem in any way, please let me know and I'll do whatever I can to accommodate your wishes or the requirements of your publishing company. I will only be using tracks that are originals from the artist featured or which are reworkings of traditional songs in the public domain.

If you quote something from here, please attribute it as "-Eric Herman,", with the active link (unless it's for a flyer, in which case it would be hard to make an active link!). Also, I don't mind if you cut pieces without using an ellipse or parenthesis, as long as the meaning isn't changed. For example, if I say, "Joe Schmoe's CD is really great and I enjoyed it while eating my baloney sandwich yesterday. It's a fun album for the whole family." You can remove the part about the baloney sandwich (which you probably should) and quote that like this, "Joe Schmoe's CD is really great and it's a fun album for the whole family." You don't need the ... in the middle of that. Also, if I say, "It's a fun album for the whole family" and I'm referring to your CD called The Fun Album for the Whole Family, then you can quote it as - "The Fun Album for the Whole Family is a fun album for the whole family." You don't need to add parenthesis, as in "(The Fun Album for the Whole Family) is a fun album for the whole family." Now, using the parenthesis may be the proper journalistic etiquette for that kind of situation, but I'm giving you permission to not have to do that if you're quoting something from here.

If you have any questions about any of this stuff, please feel free to ask.

Very best,
Eric Herman

Monday, July 24, 2006

"Cool tunes for kids" in Seattle

For those of you with kids in the Seattle area (or without kids, but fans of kids' music... hey, why not??)... come and see Eric Herman and the Invisible Band! We'll be doing several shows in and around the greater Seattle area over the next few weeks, including a number of libraries and "summer concert series" events. The show is a lot of fun, with many great participatory songs and much comedy throughout. On my recent trip performing at libraries in Oregon and Northern California, several people told me (or told their librarians, who told me) that it was the best show they'd seen at their library. I know you'll have a really good time and be glad you came, so please come out if you're in the area.

All shows are FREE! Please contact the libraries ahead of time, though, as you may need to sign up in advance in order to attend. Here's the schedule:

07/25/06 Oak Harbor Library, Oak Harbor, 1 and 3 pm
07/26/06 Coupeville Library, Coupeville, 1 pm
07/27/06 University Library, Seattle, 10 am
07/27/06 Bitter Lake Comm. Center, 13035 Linden Ave N, Seattle, 2 pm
07/28/06 High Point Library, Seattle, 10:30 am
08/01/06 Lunchtime Music Series, Hamlin Park, Shoreline, 12 pm
08/02/06 Auburn Kid's Summer Sounds, Les Gove Park, Auburn, 12 pm
08/03/06 Kent Summer Concerts, West Fenwick Park, Kent, 12 pm
08/05/06 Third Place Commons, Lake Forest Park, 10:30 am
08/07/06 Causey's Learning Center, 525 23rd Ave., Seattle, 10 am
08/08/06 Sammamish Concerts, Beaver Lake Park, Sammamish, 12 pm
08/08/06 Wallingford Library, Seattle, 7 pm
08/09/06 Madrona Branch Library, Seattle, 10 am
08/10/06 New Holly Library, Seattle, 10:30 am
08/11/06 Learning Way Childcare, 9202 21st Ave. SW, Seattle, 10 am
08/15/06 Everett Concert Series, Legion Park, Everett, 12 pm
08/16/06 Kirkland Summer Concert Series, Mariana Park, Kirkland, 10 am
08/17/06 Picnic Pizzazz, Kiwanis Park, Renton, 12 pm
08/19/06 Central Seattle Public Library, Seattle, 2 pm

Eric Herman website

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ralph's World

Ralph's World is another of the kids' artists that really jumped to the top of the heap in my now oft-mentioned Buffalo library search. Ralph has this great "sort of gravelly" voice and can really sing (for some reason, it seems as though a lot of kids' performers aren't really the best vocalists... not that they need to be, necessarily, but it's especially nice when they are), and I found myself listening all the way through to his albums, which wasn't often the case with everything else.

I have many 'favorite' Ralph's World songs, including "The Name Song" (which I do an adapted version of at some of my concerts), "You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd", "Say Hi to the Animals", "Boy Who Cried Wolf Sheepishly" and "Barnyard Blues". And I love his whole latest album, Green Gorilla, Monster and Me, which was nominated for a Grammy. He has always had a great Beatle-esque sense of melody and memorability, which is evident on tracks like "Hideaway", but
I especially like that he's added a bit of edge to his usual folk-rock sound on songs like "Dance Around the Room" and "I Don't Wanna".

Ralph just signed with Disney Records, so there's no question he's doing really well and very deservedly so.

Ralph's World website

Click here for my interview with Ralph.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Eric Ode

I had heard of Eric Ode (pronounced "oh dee") through my frequent collaborator Kenn Nesbitt, who had crossed paths with Eric several times on his travels through the Northwest and said what a great guy he is. We finally got to meet when we shared the bill at an event near Seattle in 2005 and became friends right away. I like to think that I'm a nice guy, and I think most people would vouch for that, but I could tell right away from meeting him that Eric Ode is about the nicest guy on the planet. He even gave me a week of his gigs at a theme park called Remlinger Farms near Seattle, where he usually plays every day from spring through fall. I tried to return the favor when I needed to cancel a gig and offered to have him fill in, but there ended up being a miscommunication with the event coordinator and Eric drove there only to find out that someone else was performing. So I really owe him big time!

But anyway, when I first met Eric we exchanged CDs (actually, Kenn Nesbitt had already given him my CDs, so I just got some of his... a nice exchange for me!) and I was eager to finally hear his music. And I really like his songs. Very catchy with clever wordplay and a remarkable amount of funkiness for someone who looks and sounds entirely unlike George Clinton. I particularly like his latest CD, I Love My Shoes, which includes cool tunes like the title track, "The Hippopotamus Song", "Horse of a Different Hue" and "A Pair O' Barracuda".

When I first moved out to Washington from New York, I was perhaps a little worried if the Northwest might be too small for two children's music performers named Eric, but it turns out that we're both doing pretty well, and I'm really glad that we've become friends and colleagues and try to help each other out when we can. And I think our styles are similar in some ways, both musically and in our concerts, but also different enough to distinguish ourselves, which is great. Eric and I collaborated for a song on my latest album, Snow Day!, called "My Lucky Day". Well, Eric sent me a poem he wrote that he had wanted to see as a song and I finished it up from there, but someday we do hope to get together and write something from scratch.

Eric is currently working on a video release and still performing every day at Remlinger Farms. Definitely check him out if you're in the Northwest.

Eric Ode's website

Check out the video for "This Song Has No Elephants" from Eric's DVD Welcome to the Workshop.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts is definitely one of the best in the kids' music field today and seems to be emerging in a big way. Before I got into doing kids' music, a friend of mine in Buffalo suggested I get in touch with him, as she had known him in college and knew he had been doing a lot of kids' music since then. He was gracious enough to respond to my inquiry and offer some suggestions, and I really appreciated that. At the time, I hadn't even really heard his music beyond a few samples online, but I was able to find his Yellow Bus CD at the local libraries and enjoyed it quite a lot, especially the songs "In the Car" and "Giraffe and Nightengale".

Since then, Justin's songs have been kind of hit or miss for me (eh, that's probably the case for just about anyone else), but when they hit, boy do they hit big. His new album Meltdown has a song called "My Brother Did It", which I think is one of the best kids' songs I've ever heard. It's very funny and incredibly infectious, with some cool rhythmic flavors and melodic turns. There are several other gems on Meltdown, too, including "Training Wheels", "I Chalk" and "Imaginary Rhino".

One thing that's absolutely unique about Justin Roberts is his voice, which is almost reminiscent of a brass instrument in the way it pierces through the speakers. I keep reading about his voice being compared to James Taylor and I'm like, "wha??" For some reason when I hear his voice I picture Zach Braff, the guy who plays J.D. on Scrubs. It's sort of become an acquired taste for me, like the voices of singers like Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip), Tom Petty or Leonard Cohen. But it's a taste that has really been worth acquiring.

Justin Roberts' website

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

They Might Be Giants

It's almost hard to say that They Might Be Giants produce "cool tunes for kids", because as cool as their music really is, there's almost an admission of a certain amount of geekdom to be a TMBG fan. They're certainly cool, but not in the usual way that the world and media defines "cool". There's an aspect of novelty that is automatically attached to music like theirs, and novelty isn't really all that cool, is it? Anyway, I've liked TMBG since their early classic album Flood. As bizarrely brilliant as their lyrics can be, and quirky and strange as the music can be, their songs are often very memorable, and that's what really matters to me.

In 2003, TMBG released their first album geared specifically for kids, called No!, but if the CD hadn't been labeled as a kids' album, I'm not entirely sure that many TMBG fans wouldn't have thought of it as just the next TMBG album. Other than some of the lyrics being strange in a kid related kind of way, it wasn't all that different than other TMBG music (which is a great thing). And certainly some songs from the earlier TMBG catalogue might have worked as kids' music, lyrically speaking, so it wasn't really an earth-shattering distinction.

When I first listened to No!, it was right after the few months when I had been scouring libraries in Buffalo for kids' albums, and so it struck me in an interesting way, as being more of a satire of kids' music. Having just heard every other CD of kids' music including some kind of "opposite" song, their "Lazyhead and Sleepybones" song seemed to be sort of a goof on that kind of thing. And "House at the Top of the Tree" was a bizarre take on the "add another thing each verse" song. "John Lee Supertaster" and "The Edison Museum" were satires of superhero and spooky songs. And there are more examples, but it's all done in a way that is subtle, clever and meant to work on the levels of being both a satire of children's music and also genuine children's music at the same time.

With the success of No!, TMBG released another kids' album, Here Come the ABCs, and a companion DVD. They have one of the best websites out there, so definitely check it out here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Joe Scruggs

One of the first kids' artists that I really liked when scouring Buffalo libraries for kids' CDs was Joe Scruggs. His Joe Scruggs in Concert video includes a lot of fun songs, particulary of the type that might be called "cool idea songs", as in a simple idea or unusual twist that works in a song to create a fun experience. Good examples are "Put Your Thumb in the Air", "The Bicycle Song" and "Bahamas Pajamas". It's not just a question of being 'participatory'... a lot of kids' performers can find ways to do that... but also being really clever about it, and Joe does a great job of that. Some of Joe's music is a little bit sugary sweet for my taste, but I like quite a lot of it, even some of the sugary stuff. He's got a really nice melodic sense and many of his songs are very memorable.

Joe Scruggs website

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Trout Fishing in America

When I first started moving on the idea to create and perform music for kids back in 2002, I was a little bit reluctant. I didn't really want to do a lot of sing-songy, Barney-esque kind of music, which is what I had equated "kids music" with. Yes, I just said in my last post that Barney is good kids' music and we shouldn't deny our kids of that kind of stuff, but regardless, I wasn't excited about creating that type of music myself. But I really had no idea what was going on in the kids genre, so over a period of a few months I went to just about every library in the Buffalo area and took out most of the children's CDs that I could find. (The poor kids in Western New York had nothing to left to listen to for a while there!)

I found a lot of fun songs among the various CDs I listened to, but the first group that I really latched onto as something that was really along the lines of what I might like to do was Trout Fishing in America. Their
inFINity and Family Music Party albums were early favorites of mine as I was discovering kids music (at the young age of 33). Here was a really cool group (well, they're mostly a duo, but they also play and record with a full band) that had a great variety of sounds and styles, a fun sense of humor, and some real musical chops. There's the funky edged rock of "Dinosaur in your Bathtub", the quirky folky humor of "It's Better than That", the driving rock 'n' roll of "Baby's Got the Car Keys", the anthemic joy of "My Hair Had a Party Last Night" and the graceful beauty of the acoustic ballad "Back When I Could Fly". They very much strike a balance between being entertaining for kids and adults, although sometimes they are more firmly in one camp than the other. For example, a song like "Alien Up My Nose" is probably going to work for kids more than adults, and "No Matter What Goes Right" vice versa.

I like to think that I'm creating my own style of kids' music, and that any possible influences are very transparent, but Trout Fishing is definitely an influence on me, particularly in an overreaching "I hope I can produce kids tunes that cool" kind of way, but also musically in a few songs like "The Dinosaur, the Dodo and the Unicorn" and "Crazy Over Vegetables".

Keith and Ezra of Trout Fishing in America have been making music together for over 25 years now. They have released 12 albums and have two Grammy nominations. I've got a long way to go to catch up with those numbers, but they sure make it look like fun, so I'll definitely keep at it.

Trout Fishing in America's website.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

My Rules for Good Kids' Music

#1 - If it's good, it's good.

That's it.

I've come across all kinds of different kids music over the last few years, and that's really the only rule that seems to apply for me. Some songs that I like (and that kids like) are long, some are short, some are simple, some are more sophisticated, some are just a voice and a guitar, some are richly orchestrated, some are silly or "cartoonish", some are more serious or straightforward... What really matters is that the kids like it, for whatever reason, and hopefully the parents can at least tolerate it. But even that isn't something that really matters too much to me. If my three-year old girl loves Barney and sings his songs and comes up to me with "a great big hug and a kiss...", then guess what, it's good kids' music. I may not think it's really "cool", and I'm not likely to listen to it in the car when she's not around, but so what? It wasn't meant for me, it was meant for her.

I almost think there's too much emphasis these days being put on kids' music as something that the parents
must also like. It's great that there is a lot of kids' music that parents do also like, and that's what I strive to create, too. But that shouldn't be considered a replacement or substitute for the more basic stuff that's made solely with the kid in mind. If we as parents only ever want to play music for our kids that sounds like Death Cab for Cutie or Radiohead or whatever we happen to like, then we're missing out on the sharing aspect of music, where the kids get to determine their own tastes in music. I think a kids' musical palette can and perhaps should include cool new things like Trout Fishing in America, Ralph's World and Justin Roberts, and also things like Barney, the Wiggles and standard kids classics like "If You're Happy and You Know It" and "Old MacDonald". And I don't even mean "If You're Happy and You Know It" with distorted guitars and punk vocals with fake British accents... but just regular simple versions. They love that stuff. And if only those of us producing music in the kids' music genre could consistently create stuff as memorable. Those songs have been played and replayed over and over for years for a reason.

Your definition and your kids' definition of what is "good" and appropriate is unique and personal, as it should be. So if you apply my rule #1 with an open mind, you'll never go wrong and find a lot of great music to like.


Hello, and welcome to the Cool Tunes for Kids blog site. This is meant to highlight some of my favorite kids' music that I've come across since I started creating and performing kids' music a few years ago. I've received several comments much like this one from Sharon Drury in Utah, "Why aren't there more artists like you with awesome music like this for our kids?" Of course, the answer is that there are many other artists with cool tunes for kids, and that is one of the reasons I'm doing this blog.

This is not meant to be a 'review' site, per se, but if you're a kid's music artist and you'd like me to check out your music and possibly feature it here, or if you're a parent or kid who likes a particular kids' music artist, then please go to the following link for information about music submissions. No guarantees, though, as far as if or when I'll be able to feature anything in particular. I've already got a pretty big list of things I want to add here, and for the most part I'll only be featuring things that have had a really big impact on me in some way or other, or which I think are particularly noteworthy.

And yes, since it's my blog, I'll be passing along some news and information now and then about my own kids' music, and also adding some of my comments about the genre in general and my experiences and thoughts about creating and performing music for kids.

Where I can obtain permission from the artists or their reps, I'll be adding sound samples to the articles, so you can listen to what you're reading about. I'll also be doing some interviews and special features from time to time. I hope you and your kids enjoy some of the music featured here, and maybe discover some cool stuff you hadn't heard before.

Eric Herman