Music for Little People Makes it Big
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August 2003 | Vol. II - No. 8

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Music for Little People Makes it Big

Toddler Favorite
Begun as a mail order catalog in 1985, Music for Little People is today a leader in producing educational, multicultural children’s music. Located in the redwood country of Northern California, the company has collected 140 awards for its 85 releases, including 3 Grammy® nominations, and was recently honored with a Platinum record (1,000,000 sold) for "Toddler Favorites." Some of the artists to record on the label include Taj Mahal, Maria Muldaur, Los Lobos, Michelle Shocked, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Paul Simon and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Sheron Sherman, president and chief operating officer, gives us a glimpse through the redwoods into the making of a successful children’s music label.

Story Time Favorites

TDmonthly: With “Toddler Favorites” the first children’s record to receive a Platinum award in three years, and one of only 13 in the history of the RIAA, it’s safe to assume your company has a very good read on the market for children’s music. What goes into determining the styles of music you release in this category?

Sheron Sherman: MFLP believes children’s tastes today are growing increasingly more sophisticated. Musical content and styles that satisfied the children of the 1950s and 1960s would not hold the attention or appeal to the tastes of the new millennium’s kids. We try to choose content that does not talk down to kids and includes styles that are current enough to keep them in touch with our times, as well as some nostalgic material to educate and entertain them in the areas that are historically popular. It’s also important to create product that parents can listen to without fighting the urge to pull their hair out, as they will undoubtedly be hearing the music over and over again.

TDM: How do you determine your release schedule in terms of the number of albums you market each year?

SS: Typically, we release between nine and a dozen titles a year. We look into coming holidays each year and enjoy creating products that address the meaning and the fun associated with them. For example, we have two albums that celebrate Halloween, two Christmas albums and one that celebrates Hanukkah. We have recently released [an album] in honor of National Friendship Day that celebrates the value of friendships. Our market ranges from newborn to age 11, so we really have a great time identifying and developing a wide range of releases.

TDM: Have you found that retailers whose primary product lines are not oriented toward children’s music tend to order your products as “impulse buy” items?

SS: For retailers [the answer is] no. For the end consumer—yes. At retail, it sometimes takes some convincing, but invariably we have been quite successful when we’ve been able to place product into their stores. The idea is that music is actually (and should be) considered a gift or toy. Some retailers are harder to convince than others. But you play with a CD; it entertains children. Doesn’t that qualify it as a toy item? As a parent, I would be more apt to buy children’s music outside of the normal traditional retail channels, looking for it as an impulse buy for a gift for either my child or someone else’s.

TDM: How have multi-cultural releases fared compared to albums oriented toward traditional children’s listening?

SS: Multi-cultural music is gaining popularity in the adult record market and that interest spills over into the children’s market. Parents do most of the record buying, and they like to introduce their children to the music styles that are appealing to them. They don’t just purchase the traditional “kiddie” music nowadays; they’re looking for something more substantive. Some parents are looking to participate in the education of their children [by providing] different genres of music in order for them to develop more sophisticated musical tastes. Others are interested in the educational aspect of our music, which incorporates original storylines about cultures and countries throughout the globe, and still others just enjoy the music. This music continues to sell well year after year because it isn’t evolved around a fad or a certain mainstream artist who may fall off the charts.

TDM: Can you gauge how much input children actually have in purchase among the age groups your company targets?

SS: We know that before a certain age level, parents make the buying decisions about music (and everything else) for their children. Placing product at a child’s eye level or developing listening posts for little ears is one of the ways that nontraditional markets have attempted to catch a child’s eye. Additionally, placing children’s music with children’s books—making both accessible in the same department—has worked very well. However, for our music, it’s primarily the parent that is deciding what actually gets purchased.

TDM: What are your most popular releases?

SS: The Platinum record, “Toddler Favorites” and the other titles in the “Favorites” series have sold well, but our evergreen “Celebration” series has also been very popular. We focus on a different genre of music for each title featuring the original artists for that song. We feel, and the buyers agree, that it is important to introduce children to the music that has come before them, [since] it is an important part of our country’s history and helps to expand children’s musical tastes—which in turn, makes them a more eclectic music buyer in the future.

Among School and Library buyers, however, our educational titles are big sellers. They are most interested in music that is bilingual or product that educates as it entertains, as in “This Land Is Your Land—Songs of Unity,” which speaks to human and civil rights and historical issues; and “Singing Science,” which introduces more animal and science-related material than you might want to know!


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