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Children's Music Hits Mainstream

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

What a strange time in music! This week, the Top-3 selling albums from Billboard Magazine are children's records. These kind of records rarely dominate the Billboard charts, much less three of them simultaneously. That's because the contemporary music marketing machine isn't set up for the children's market. Since adults need to purchase music for kids, it's interesting to see just how these releases got to the top of the charts.

The #1 record this week in sales is the soundtrack to the Disney TV movie, High School Musical, featuring a cast of relative unknown singers. Though much has been made of whether the actors-turned-singers actually have talent, over 100,000 people picked up a copy of the new release, which is being promoted both on The Disney Channel and Radio Disney.

The #2 record in the country is the ninth album in a series. Kidz Bop Kids is a franchise brand built by the record label, Razor and Tie. Using the familiarity of songs that have already become commercial hits, Kidz Bop Kids is actually a collection of cheesy versions of these hits, recorded by kids for kids, and built for sing along. This record also has it detractors, as a number of parents have voiced opposition to their kids singing along to songs with more adult themes. But it won't stop Razor & Tie. Kidz Bop Kids #9 debuted enormously well at retail, with 98,000 sold just this week.

The secret sauce to the Kidz Bop Kids franchise lies with their record label. Though Razor & Tie has run a traditional business for many years, they simultaneously run a TV advertising agency. Not only do they produce their own TV spots, but the agency buys bulk time on cable & network channels, reselling it in packages to entertainment companies. The agency is wildly successful working with competing labels, NFL Films and other large brand franchises. Applying the same science with advertising on children's television, Kidz Bop Kids has become a national phenomenon.

The third album in the children's marketing trilogy is Jack Johnson's Curious George soundtrack, which is a collection of sing-along and lullabies. This record debut at #3 on the sales chart with almost 90,000 CDs sold this week. Jack Johnson has just became a first time dad, and as a tribute to his own son, he wrote and recorded these lullabies. He has a rabid fan base of adults, and it's not surprising that he chose a childhood favorite like Curious George as a backdrop to work with. Though the album is not specifically geared to children, it will have strong cross-over appeal, with a massive marketing campaign aimed at both adults and little ones.

And even the local coffee house is getting in on the act. Featured in Starbucks now is the DVD collection of music videos by the Laurie Berkner Band. Laurie Berkner is a beloved children's performer. Her presence on the TV network Noggin, coupled with sold out stage shows and appearances on the morning TV talk show circuit have helped her build a huge following.

Since children don't have disposable incomes to buy music, parents must be convinced to make the choice for them. These kinds of marketing approaches for music have definitely yielded prodigious results.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.

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