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!