Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Making of “Stay in the Pool” – Part 1 of 3

Have you ever been inspired by a seasonal moment and created something that needs to be shared with the world in that very season? It’s one thing to start filming a Christmas movie in the spring in anticipation of a winter release, but what if your family time at the pool inspired a song about the pleasures of summer? You can’t wait for the fall to release that one, right?

That’s exactly what happened with our family on July 4 weekend. We made our first pool visit of the year and 2-year-old Peanut was so enthralled with the experience that she didn’t want to come out of the pool after about 90 minutes in the water. The inspiration for the chorus came to me right away: “I wanna stay in the pool /until my fingers get pruny…” – such a quintessential childhood memory I saw playing out with our daughter.

You can hear the result: “Stay in the Pool” on our YouTube channel.

Songwriting: The Family Business

Once we got home from the pool and Peanut went down quickly for a sunshine-and-exercise induced nap, Amy and I quickly brainstormed many pages worth of lyric ideas, to be later narrowed down to a page.

Our lyric ideas explored lots of possible ways kids experience the pool – swim lessons, pool toys, Marco Polo, pool safety, hygiene (Think “We don’t swim in your toilet” sign…), various swim strokes, and hanging out poolside with friends.

In the end, we chose a few sets of lines that worked well as verses and bridges.

Influences

When we recognized in Peanut’s overjoyed moments of the pool, the rites of childhood, summer and family came together as the basis for the song. An artist who vividly depicts childhood as he seems to remember it is Justin Roberts. So, with Justin’s model, Amy and I were prepared to know we were in a song-worthy moment with Peanut and set out to capture it.

A benefit of knowing who is influencing you is a heightened awareness not to copy your influence too closely. This awareness kicked in after recording the first rough demo. The chorus’ original lyrics were:

I want to stay in the pool
‘Til my fingers get pruny
Spend all day in the pool
Do you think that sounds looney?
‘Til my ears get water-logged and then for a while more
Isn’t that what summertime is for?

We felt we had a strong grasp on the importance of the moment, but for some reason, I decided to re-visit a Justin Roberts song about the pool that I had heard months ago – “Kickboard Baby Yeah,” and caught a line that hadn’t consciously registered with me: “Then we’ll know what summertime was for.”

Well, if my reference to “what summertime is for” were a throwaway line somewhere in a verse, I would have found it easily expendable – but at the culmination of the chorus? Now, we have a situation! Fortunately, Amy and I were talking with my parents about the developing song and summertime memories about the pool. When I had mentioned pruny fingers and water-logged ears, my Mom added: “Don’t forget blue lips. That’s when your Grandma said it was time to get out of the pool!”

By recalling that moment in the conversation, we came up with another strong image to close out the chorus and still make an important statement about summer.

Our last two lines became:

‘Til my ears get water-logged and my lips turn a little blue
I want to soak up this summer day with you

Setting the Musical Stage

A bouncy rhythm came to mind, so I programmed a bouncy rock/pop shuffle drum loop into GarageBand and extended the loop for a suitable song length. Then I recorded a rhythm guitar part with steady quarter notes marking each “bounce” in the beat. I added a guide vocal and shared it with Amy and Peanut. They seemed to enjoy it and Peanut requested to hear it again and again – always a good sign.

I focused our next band rehearsal entirely on this new song. First I played the demo while they looked over the chord chart, and then we dug into each section of the song, one at a time, repeating it until it felt natural to all the players.. Casey was improvising some wonderful backing vocals reminiscent of doo-wop and Motown. I stopped the band in order to highlight what Casey was doing and ask that she keep that in the song and develop it.

I pressed ‘Record’ on my iPhone’s Voice Memos app in the room with the band to capture a live rehearsal. I passed the song along to our producer, Dave and asked him for the first studio date he could get us.  He heard an “instant classic” in the raw recording, just as I had. A week later we would be recording this song to get it ready for radio and commercial release.

Dave wisely suggested we shorten the song a bit, as we both sensed strong potential for a hit record if the arrangement is tight. I shortened the intro, the “Marco Polo” breakdown in the middle of the song, and reduced a double-chorus at the end of the song down to a single chorus. Now we were under the 4-minute mark. We were ready to record.

Continue to Part 2 of 3…

Hear “Stay in the Pool” on our YouTube channel.

Download “Stay in the Pool” from CD Baby.

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How We Discovered Kindie Music for Our Child, then Joined the Movement (Part 3)

Our toddler daughter displayed sheer delight at the songs Amy and I had written together; she constantly requested them in the car. We had all the convincing we needed that our songs could belong in the realm of the kindie music we were enjoying as a family. Our instincts told us to seek out the wisdom of people with a successful track record of creating music for kids

We presented some of our songs to more experienced children’s songwriters from the Children’s Music Network for critiques. The opinions of seasoned kids’ entertainers who weren’t “too close” to the project, as Amy and I were, would prove valuable in reconsidering what to keep in our songs and what to change. We went through multiple rounds of critiques and re-writes with Katherine Dines of Hunktabunkta Music to bring out the sense of wonder in the song “Peek-a-Boo Moon” and bring the playful side of the concept to life.

Educational songwriter Monty Harper, who is very accomplished and prolific when it comes to songs about science and research, was a natural choice to help us improve upon “Glass Bottom Boat.” He pointed us toward the verse we had written that worked far better than all the other verses, and suggested we re-write all the other verses to be consistent with (but not identical to) the best original verse. The result was a song that would introduce kids to more of the wildlife in the river and more of a sense of movement.

Songwriters Dave Kinnoin and Leslie Zak would provide us some valuable direction and encouragement on “A Bowling Party” and “Mimi the Ladybug”, respectively. We chose Dave for “A Bowling Party” because good sportsmanship was a key to that song, and Dave was resonating with young audiences with his songs about developing good personal character.  Likewise, Leslie had a strong reputation for songs that celebrate nature, which was central to “Mimi.”

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Passing the torch: all Jungle Gym Jam members past and present

We had tightened our songs with the help of our mentors. It was time to put the band together. I felt it was important to present a band that could emotionally connect with the kids in the audience. What better way than to enlist a childhood friend who brought back golden memories every time I glance his way from the stage? There was one right choice for drummer: Ross Kantor!

When thinking about harmony vocals, Meg Beattie’s glowing voice and ingenious harmonic instincts came to mind immediately, as did her warm and supportive personality. Meg had always made Peanut feel happy and safe in our social encounters, and I envisioned that feeling projecting from the stage. So we reached out to Meg to harmonize and play acoustic guitar in this band.

We were still in need of a bassist. Fortunately an online service was there to help match bands with local musicians: BandMix.com. Within minutes of searching for bass in New Jersey, I was looking at a profile of Judy Helbig. When I pressed Play on her demo track, I felt the power of rock-n-roll move me as her cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” came packing presence and energy through tinny computer speakers. An audition quickly confirmed that Judy made us a complete band. Judy had crafted bass lines that prove what it is to be a master of her instrument  – a steadiness that holds the band together rhythmically, yet with a sense of adventure to explore the whole range of the bass’ expression, the sense of playfulness we wanted to express with every part of the band.

This lineup is what you hear on our first two singles, “Five Sea Lions” and “Peek-a-Boo Moon.” Four more tracks are due out with this collection of musicians. We went on to perform a full-band acoustic show and an electric concert. Each involved over 2 hours of material. We squeezed the most music we could out of everybody’s busy schedules.

Meg left our band and the kindie world to engage kids’ music in a different way – as a teacher at Montclair’s new Kidville location. This would require a full-time commitment that couldn’t coexist with being in an independent band at the same time. We’d miss Meg, but were determined to find a singer/guitarist to carry the torch along. After a thorough search of BandMix and YouTube, we auditioned some worthy candidates and chose Casey McCleary, a true disciple of 60s music, from doo-wop to folk rock, with a hippie spirit. Her musical sensibilities are guided by Peter, Paul and Mary as much as The Platters;  she’s all about the harmony. A believer in the healing properties of music, Casey leads drum circles and performs as a solo acoustic act for children with special needs. Her induction into the band involved a crash course in learning a full set of our originals in time for the 4th of July Picnic. But where she would really shine is with innovating new harmonies to new songs I started introducing to the band after Casey joined.

I’m eager to continue sharing with the band the songs Amy and I have been writing, and then putting those songs out there for the kids of the world (and their grown-ups!) We plan to release a full-length album this fall (we head into the studio tonight with the new lineup!) and have a nice mix of solo, duo and full-band performances coming together. There’s also some out-of-town travel in the works. You know the history now; we’ll learn the band’s future together as it comes to be every day. A million thanks to Peanut for inspiring this marvelous reinvention of our family and setting us on a musical mission, along with friends old and new!

How did you get to where you are in pursuing your passion? Who helped you? Who were you helping as you found yourself on your path? Whose opinions have you sought out or received, and how did you use them? What obstacles made your endeavors what they are today?

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How We Discovered Kindie Music for Our Child, then Joined the Movement (Part 2)

The potential to be creative together was a spark in our marriage ready to ignite at any time, and Amy and I were throwing all kinds of sparks as new song ideas for our daughter seemed to come from everywhere. I couldn’t tap out the ideas on the iPad as fast as they were coming. “Oh, look Peanut,” I’d say, “there’s the bowling alley. Someday you’ll have a party there” – Boom! A Bowling Party song was ready to rock! “Wow, Peanut’s watching her cousin crawl under the glass table like it’s a glass bottom boat ride!” – A little research and a Glass Bottom Boat song was on its way. “OK Peanut, you can play my guitar with the pick; just don’t put it in your mouth…” and The Pick Song came into being.

This was the beginning of a project to share our own celebration of song and learning with our daughter and all the kids of the world who’d like to hear it (and their grown-ups too!) but our past experience making music for school kids helped. Since I picked up a guitar in my teens, I had always set aside at least one day a year to perform for my Mom’s elementary school classes and take questions and requests. When I married Amy and she got into teaching I made sure to take two days off for that purpose – one for my Mom’s school and one for Amy’s. When she took over the French program in pre-school, we would translate kids’ songs we knew into French, or make up new songs with a verse in English and a verse in French. We enjoyed making this music and our ultimate goal in children’s music at the time was to produce CD’s specifically for Amy’s classroom.

Jason_at_Mayfair at Travell School, Ridgewood, NJ 2002

Now, as we were rediscovering our own creative power and imagining a way forward with it, we were also getting to know about the players in kindie music. I had joined the Children’s Music Network and started to make some contacts and learn about a whole universe of artists making authentic music for kids that respected their intelligence and capacity to soak up new experiences. One band was very familiar for different reasons: They Might Be Giants, long known for their quirky and eclectic tunes in the 80s and 90s, had made a series of extraordinarily catchy and pleasing albums and videos for kids on the subjects of the alphabet, math and science. Dan Zanes, formerly of college mainstays The Del Fuegos, had also made the move from a successful pop/rock career to a way of making children’s music with integrity. Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell also reinvented themselves to make music intended for families.

My networking and research brought us deeper into a universe of music for families and new names began to appear repeatedly and a wealth of songs became available to discover for our daughter, now a toddler. We’d repeatedly hear of The Not-Its, Joanie Leeds, Recess Monkey, and Milkshake. Their music carried a ton of energy and musicianship with lyrics easily relatable in a child’s life. We were a long way away from “Old McDonald” territory.

One band really stood out for us as an example of pouring absolutely everything into delighting kids: Princess Katie and Racer Steve. They brought precise, diverse and adventurous musicianship and enhanced it with colorful characters that are extensions of the singer and guitarists’ personalities. Katie was always an admirer of the way Princess Diana transformed royalty into a symbol of compassion for those with less and engaged the fantasies of little girls along the way. Steve developed a persona around his passion for the race cars he builds, capturing the imagination of little boys (and some future Danica’s too…). There were skits in between songs; full-blown cartoon characters were realized. The music was accessible and funny for kids and adults. There were songs about honesty and kindness, interspersed between clever wordplay in “Sand in my Sandwich” and the rich imagery of “We Dress Ourselves!”

We now had some important influences, models of how a kindie band could enhance family life.  We had a growing songbook of originals and covers. Our daughter would frequently request our new original songs, so we knew they were working.  At this point, we needed some guidance and we needed a band. The quest for mentors and musicians had begun.

Back to Part 1 | Continue to Part 3

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How We Discovered Kindie Music for Our Child, then Joined the Movement (Part 1)

5-month-old baby on guitar

Music is a huge part of our family life

There she was, doing her funny little dance in the basinet to the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and a string of other danceable hits from the Fab Four – arms waving, legs kicking. Then came the next track on the album: “Yesterday.” The dancing suddenly stopped a soft whimper came over her. “How does she know?” I asked Amy. She shrugged. Our musical journey with our tiny little baby had begun with a marvelous mystery.

Back when we were a childless couple, Amy and I talked about filling the house with music for a kid in our future. We knew we’d play Beatles in the house every Sunday – Q104.3’s Breakfast with the Beatles program was a given. We also figured we’d be educating a child on local New Jersey mainstays, like Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. And we talked about how we’d write our own songs for our child, just as we had done for our niece’s first birthday.

Family breakfast and dinnertime often had a soundtrack – Carole King, James Taylor, John Mayer, Norah Jones, Simon and Garfunkel, and Mumford and Sons frequently set the scenes for our cherished family time at the table. And Amy, a teacher, knew plenty of traditional and camp songs to sing to our daughter to teach about animals, counting, parts of the body – the essentials for babies approaching age 1 and preparing to jump into the family conversation. I started to seek this music online.

We had a little help in the form of a Brooklyn kindie outfit known as Rolie Polie Guacamole. They had been regularly entertaining my niece, along with a huge swath of Brooklyn’s mommy-and-me crowd. My Mom had given us a RPG album on CD before we even had a child, and it started getting plenty of play on car rides with our daughter when the time came. We also already had a children’s music CD by the great actor John Lithgow – “Singin’ in the Bathtub.” Judging by his performance in the sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun,” we expected – and got – a collection of children’s songs performed with wild, zany abandon, untouched by any tendency to take himself too seriously.

I was becoming aware of The Wiggles and wanted to sample their music, along with similarly appropriate artists for a one-year-old. So I created a custom channel on IHeartRadio based on “The Wiggles.” Their music was certainly well produced and listenable, but what followed was a game-changer. I heard the energy and earnest sense of fun come pouring out of our iPad in the form of the Laurie Berkner Band’s “Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz).” There was not one ounce of condescension in her voice, in the lyrics or in the music – just tremendous warmth and a playful spirit. Then came Justin Roberts’ brilliant “Pop Fly,” a number that proudly displayed how he remembers and gets what it is to be a kid with a daydream.  Also mixed in were some half-hearted attempts at children’s music that sounded like rushed, home-made demos with tinny sounding computerized accompaniments and bored-sounding vocals. I didn’t bother remembering their names

The contrast between the great and mediocre musical artists for kids, along with our daughter’s growing curiosity and engagement with the world, set Amy and me on a path of writing songs that captured our little one’s encounters with her environment, songs through which we’d strive to make our own truly great music for toddlers, preschoolers and possibly grade schoolers.  Our daughter showed us the power of her imagination when she first saw a ladybug on the ceiling and then soon pretended to see them everywhere. I asked her “What’s the ladybug’s name,” and she answered “Meee.” I asked “Mimi?” She said “Yeah.” And the song “Mimi the Ladybug” was born. She marveled at the moon reappearing from behind cloud cover on an autumn night. And the idea for our “Peek-a-boo Moon” song was set in motion.

As we created our own kid-friendly music infused with our love of rock-n-roll, we immersed ourselves in the community of kids’ music and I became aware of the surprisingly big pool of high-quality kindie artists, who treated their music with the same level of energy and authenticity that you’d find on any number of great rock classics.

Continue to Part 2

 

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“Everyone’s invited and no one gets left out!”
– from our song, Jungle Gym Jamming, currently in pre-production

Everyone's invited to the Jungle Gym Jam!

Everyone’s invited to the Jungle Gym Jam!

We believe exclusion can be a particularly hurtful type of bullying. We know everyone can’t always get along or play together but a Jungle Gym Jam concert is as good a time as any for all the kids to experience the music together and just “feel the joy of moving.”