Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Green Bean

Ah, there's nothing quite like the purest form of kids' music, meaning music that kids' themselves create. It's strange and bizarre and sometimes totally nonsensical, but also brilliant and creative in cool ways.

Two years ago for Halloween, my Becca wrote this song: "Halloween Green Bean" (mp3) Her mommy helped her just a little bit with the phrasing for one of the lyric lines, and I arranged the music, but it was essentially very much her own creation.

In case you can't quite understand the lyrics, here they are:

I wanna be a Halloween green bean.
I wanna be a Halloween bear.
I wanna be a Halloween monster,
so I can give you a scare. Boo!

Not bad for a three year-old. :o)

Becca is five now and she's written a few other songs, including a melodic epic called "The Sun Goes Up", which has some beautiful lyric verses balanced by some really kooky lyric verses...

The sun goes up, and the moon goes down.
The stars go down and the dark goes down.
The apple says, "Hi". And we eat the apple.
There's a freckle on my arm. There's a freckle on my leg.

I totally didn't see the apple/freckle lines coming. And that's kind of how it is with all of her songs... Wonderfully weird, with some unexpected turns. She's also been noodling a lot on the piano and coming up with several little riffs that she likes to play over and over. She has descriptions for each of them, too, like the spooky sounding one, which is apparently supposed to be the soundtrack for a movie she wants to make about circlemonsters. And her sister, Evee, is following right along in her path, banging away on the piano and drums and belting out her favorite songs.

People often ask me if my material is inspired by my kids... Certainly, some of it is, but before long I might be able to just have them create all of my material, themselves!

Pictured above... Evee and Becca with their pumpkins for this year, which they designed themselves (we did the carving).

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thirteen for Halloween

With Halloween coming up, I thought I should gather all of the Halloween themed kids' CDs I've received since starting this blog and do a collective plug for them. Then I realized, um, wait a minute... I've only received one Halloween CD that I can recall. So that means that M. Ryan Taylor's Thirteen for Halloween gets all the attention, and deservedly so, because it's quite a nice collection of spooky Halloween tunes.

There have been a number of good Halloween songs by many different kids' artists, including Ralph's World, Monty Harper, The Hipwaders, etc. (here's a list that Stefan from Zooglobble and Bill from Spare the Rock compiled last year), and a great compilation CD could certainly be made from them. But many of those songs, fun as they are, are really just the same kind of pop/rock/folk as their creators' normal work, with a bit of spookiness or Halloween flavor added on top. And that's certainly to be expected, and the same thing would probably be said for my song, "The Cruelest Lullaby", a Halloween themed lullaby which is available as a bonus download from my Snail's Pace CD.

But what I love about M. Ryan Taylor's Thirteen for Halloween CD is that it is really its own thing, and it has a perfect sense of the creepy kind of atmosphere that really screams (and shrieks) Halloween. Of course, Halloween can encompass the goofy and funny as well as the genuinely spooky and macabre, and normally I'm all for goofy and funny stuff, but it's almost as though the genuinely creepy kind of Halloween songs have gotten short shrift lately. I suppose that the most famous Halloween song of all-time, "Monster Mash", kind of set the standard for the novelty/goofy and pop/rock aspect of Halloween songs, but for me growing up, Halloween was also about the Horror Sounds of the Night kinds of records, and it's nice to hear a new album of Halloween songs that is a bit more frightening in nature, while not being gory or gross or demonic or anything like that.

The album begins with the beautifully scary "Welcome, said the Spider", with its deliciously creaky doors, jangling harpshichord and chilling vocals. M. Ryan employs his operatic vocal range to great effect throughout the CD, ranging from the softly mysterious to the powerfully ominous, as on the Phantom of the Opera style organ song, "Three Little Ghostesses", or the wonderfully string-laden "Old Witch, Old Witch". The vocal effects, sound effects and arrangements are very nicely done throughout; creative and varied and not always what you expect, but also not overblown. He even finds a way to use a jaw harp in a spooky way on the mummy song, "We're Back". I gotta tell ya, that ain't easy...

Some of the songs are reworkings of traditional tunes like "Mactavish is Dead" and many are originals (including "We're Back", "Welcome, said the Spider" and the pirate counterpoint number, "The Ghost Ship"), or folk songs with original lyrics and arrangements. There are a few bonafide startles and there is a very authentically nail-biting atmosphere throughout the CD, so some parental discretion is advised as far as who should listen.

Now that he's tackled one of the major holidays so well, I'd like to see what M. Ryan Taylor can do with other major holidays, like National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day (Dec. 16) or Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (Jan. 29). I'm sure he's hard at work on those as we speak.

Thirteen for Halloween website

Thirteen for Halloween on iTunes

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

World of Warcraft meets "The Elephant Song"?

It's been about four years now since my first kids' CD came out. I'm grateful that it was received so well (it's hard to say for sure if I'd still be doing this if that was a flop), but I never would have imagined that one of the tracks, which was the first real kids' song I ever wrote, "The Elephant Song", would still be going strong years later.

I've had many people tell me how their family has adapted "The Elephant Song" in some way... a clothes version, a food version, a toy version, etc. I performed my own Halloween version ("Vampires, I like vampires", etc.) at an event last year. We've got The Elephant Book in the works, and there's been the new recording featuring my girls on my recent Snail's Pace CD. And we might still do a new version of the video at some point (the video as it is was only ever supposed to be a demo). It's been really nice that so many people have appreciated that song so much, and it's sort of taken on a life of its own.

For example, nothing could have prepared me for the tip off I received this morning about the video above, made by Meeko of Hakkar. Wow! Or should I say "WoW"? It's definitely a unique interpretation, and I had to laugh out loud at some parts, like where I say, "They don't? Well, what am I thinking of?" and at the end where the minotaur scratches his bottom and then bursts into tears. Okay, the donkey is a horse, but you gotta give him credit because you can tell he put a lot of work into it and it was a very funny idea.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Booking a Tour for 2008

If you ever wonder how an independent children's music performer books a tour... well... so do I. :o)

In my experience over the past few years doing this full-time, a lot of the more substantial trips have been built around whatever comes up first. For example, two years ago a school in Utah wanted me to come and perform there. They couldn't fly me in so it wasn't really practical to go all the way there just for that one school. But I took a chance and booked the assembly anyway, and then thankfully was able to hook up with another 20 gigs or so in the same general area (or on the way there and back) to correspond with that time frame. It was definitely worth the effort and most of those places have since asked me back, but it was quite a lot of work to coordinate all of that in the first place.

Well, thinking back on that, it feels like a piece of cake compared to what I'm looking at right now. Back in 2006, I was booked in advance for several libraries in the Baton Rouge area for June of 2008. I knew the day was coming when Roseann and I would have to plan for that trip and plot a course there and back. That day has come... The good news is that I've had a number of inquiries from schools and other events in places like L.A., San Diego, Kansas City, Phoenix and elsewhere, so we have a bit of a head start to include those places in the path for this trip. The bad news is, well, gosh, it's an enormous amount of area and population to cover. It will no doubt be an incredible amount of e-mailing, phone calling, postcard mailing, faxing and other means of contacting people in these areas.

So to answer the original question about how an independent children's musician books a tour (at least this independent children's musician, for this tour)... he asks for help.

I know there are a lot of people who read this blog who have kids in elementary school, and there might even be a few who know booking agents in some of these areas. If you live in or near the target areas (see below) and have any contacts at elementary schools, libraries, day cares, parks & recreation departments, churches, corporate events, festivals, fairs, etc., please let me know and let your contacts there know that I'll be coming through. Any contacts you can share with me or plugs you can pass on will be very much appreciated. There are printable PDF flyers at this page with some basic information about what I offer. They can be passed on to your school's principal or PTA/PTO members or to your local children's librarian or to your parks department's event coordinator, etc.

Here is the list of target dates and areas (subject to a little bit of adjustment):

Seattle: March 24-27

Portland: March 29 - April 1

Medford/Redding: April 4-5

Bay Area: April 9-15

L.A./San Diego: April 18-25

Las Vegas: April 29 - May 2

Phoenix/Tucson: May 6-10

El Paso: May 14-16

San Antonio/Austin: May 21-23

Houston: May 27-30

Baton Rouge: June 2-19 (already booked for several shows)

Dallas: June 21-25

Oklahoma City/Tulsa: June 27-28

Branson/Springfield: June 29 - July 6

Kansas City: July 8-11

Colorado Springs: July 15-18

Denver: July 19-23

Salt Lake City: July 26-31

Ogden/Logan: August 1-2

Boise: August 5-6

Tri-Cities, WA: August 7

Seattle, Portland, Spokane, Boise, Tri-Cities, etc.: The rest of August and September

If you have any inquiries or information to share, please contact me. I'll be glad to send out promo materials as needed.

It's also helpful to know if anyone can offer us a safe place to park our RV for the night in any of those areas. And if so, your kids might end up getting an impromptu Eric Herman concert in your living room.

Thanks so much,

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Hipwaders: Educated Kid

The Hipwaders are one of the best kid rock bands to emerge in recent years, and their latest CD is called Educated Kid.

In my previous feature about The Hipwaders, I mentioned how much I liked the songs on their debut CD, but that their influences often seemed too obvious, so that it sometimes sounded like a Beatles tribute band performing original kids' songs. Thankfully, on Educated Kid, the band seems to have largely shed the need to wear their influences so prominently and are sounding more like a very unique band that blends a variety of sounds and musical approaches with clever lyrics and stories. There are still some sound-alike parts here and there; the
"baa baa" sections of "Little Baby Brother" and "You've Got to Move" that sound a lot like "Let's Spend the Night Together" as if sung by The Monkees; and the Proclaimers joined by John Mellencamp "uh huh, uh huh, uh huh" of the title track. But even in those cases, the integration into the songs is more transparent than it seemed on their first album.

Speaking of the title track, wow, it's absolutely incredible. A really cool tremolo guitar riff, a great verse leading to a greater pre-chorus leading to a perfect hook, and a poignant message about how your education, no matter how or where you get it (clown college, beauty school, home school, researching on your own, etc.), can help you to achieve great things in life. It doesn't get much better than this in kids' music, and Tito Uquillas and Co. have definitely got their biggest hit so far with this song.

With the "Educated Kid" song as great as it is, it's a tough act to follow for the rest of the album. After a few listens through the whole CD, the other songs haven't grabbed me as well as that title track, or as well as some of the songs on their first CD (regardless of the sound-alike thing), but it's hard to compare the other songs fairly with "Educated Kid" on there. There's a whole lot to love on this album, to be sure, and without the benchmark of the title track, I'm sure the other songs would stand perfectly well on their own.
Other favorite tracks of mine include the chunky reggae of "You've Got to Move", the frenzied rock of "Art Car", featuring some awesome drumming by Nick Baca (see video below), and the spacey trip through the ages of the Earth called "The History of Declan Rae".

Befitting the title, The Hipwaders seem to have skewed more heavily toward educational subjects on this disc, and the obvious comparisons will be to Schoolhouse Rock! But it can be very difficult to craft an informative message about things like paleontology, geometry or the Dewey Decimal System into a memorable and captivating song. On Educated Kid, sometimes the attempts work really well and sometimes they don't quite. "Dewey Decimal System", for example, kind of meanders through several different musical stages, so for the most part I would put it into the "doesn't quite work" category. But then it does score some big points for the funky part where the title is repeated. Give the words "Dewey Decimal System" to a hundred different songwriters and I doubt any could make them sound as cool as Tito did with that chorus. So with this type of material, I don't think they've yet reached the level of accessibility and "all-time classic" feel as Schoolhouse Rock!, but they're certainly in the right neighborhood and show terrific potential to create a cool new brand of educational songs in addition to the other fun songs in their catalog.

Overall, Educated Kid continues to highlight what an incredibly creative and tight band The Hipwaders are and what a fantastic voice for kids' music Tito Uquillas has, both as a singer and a songwriter. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go play that title track about ten more times... Oh, yeah... I'm just an educated kid... uh huh, uh huh, uh huh...

Buy Educated Kid and hear more samples.