Category Archives: Kindie Movement

Kids’ Music that Transports You Somewhere

Many kids’ musicians create albums and songs as postcards of their favorite places

There’s a cool thing that’s been happening in children’s music over the past few years – artists like Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band and Joanie Leeds & the Nightlights are making full albums to tell you all about their hometowns. Just this week Lucky dropped a new album Made in L.A. telling us all about their experience living and working in the City of Angels. For Joanie, Brooklyn Baby gives us an authentic slice of New York City life for a family sharing the wonders of the big city with a toddler.

Similarly, Okee Dokee Brothers love to take trips and write complete albums while in these special places. Through the Woods chronicles their long hike down the Appalachian Mountains, while Saddle Up! celebrates their one horse power-driven ride west of the U.S. Continental Divide.

L.A. based Jazzy Ash dedicated her debut album Home to her childhood home of New Orleans, Louisiana. The original songs on that album paint a vivid picture of growing up in the Big Easy, with “Throw Me Something Mista” giving a kid’s perspective on the raucus Mardi Gras celebration. Just this week she returned to her roots in a different way, with an album of traditional African-American favorites, titled Swing Set, played in her signature New Orleans jazz style.

Lollipop Motel album cover - Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym JamMy own album Lollipop Motel is a love letter to the Jersey Shore, which, while not right around the corner, is in my home state; it’s a special place for our family to visit a few times each summer. Much of the lyrical content was conjured up on these magical summer nights by the poolside of that very hotel. Sometimes ideas sprang to life and were discussed on the car rides up and down the Garden State Parkway.

California has had more of its share of kindie love, from Lucky Diaz to Frances England singing extensively about her hometown of San Francisco on her Explorer of the World disc, which makes a child a world explorer by virtue of their exploration of his/her own neighborhood.

Plenty of single songs express the joy of a certain place, like “L.A. Christmas” by Andrew & Polly, featuring Mista Cookie Jar. Sometimes it appears in the video while the lyrics can apply to anywhere, like in Mista Cookie Jar’s “My Happy Place” video. The Hipwaders, on their album The Golden State, beckon with that album’s title track and the catchy “Come to California.”

Justin Roberts sets his song “Otis” in his hometown of Chicago where an elevator ride becomes the gateway to an exciting day in the midwestern city. Dan Zanes takes us on an iconic ferris wheel ride with his ode to Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel. Coney Island is an Atlantic Ocean beach in Brooklyn, NY with a famous and lively amusement boardwalk.

The Not-Its! turn a trip to the U.S. capitol into a clarion call to kids to get involved in civic life, training them to demand their representatives pay attention to their constituents in the song “Washington, D.C.”

Of course, we can’t forget Sandra Boynton’s whimsical “Philadelphia Chickens,” sung by the Bacon Brothers, their wacky tribute to the “City of Chickenly Love!” Nearby, Jersey Shore native Yosi, makes the beach experience universal in his B-E-A-C-H song.

One anthem makes it a point to take you to several places to excite a child’s love for travel. Twinkle Time’s Made in the U.S.A. track does just that, in the form of a feel-good country pop crossover anthem.

While there are plenty of real, physical places in the world to explore and to take a musical journey to, an artist will occasionally imagine a fictitious place worth visiting. Kindie artist Miss Nina points out that Joanie Leeds achieved that feat with “Kids’ Place” where she dreams up a realm more accommodating to kids’ desires than our everyday one – a world where all the candy is placed low enough where they can reach it!

Of course, Miss Nina manages to universally capture everyone’s love for their home base wherever it is with “Let’s Go Home” on her latest album Every Day’s Your Birthday.”

Do you know of more albums or songs for kids that transport you to a specific place, real or imagined? Comment below to keep the conversation going.

So, You Want to Produce Your Own Records?

Here’s a podcast interview where I share how and why I record at home!

Jungle Gym Jam recording the kids' vocal parts for the song Pandagarten. One really cool thing about making music for families is that every now and then we come across young musicians learning their instrument and full of passion for the sounds they are starting to create. Often, they’re big siblings of our most frequent audience of preschool-aged kids. We also cross paths with lots of great kids-and-family musicians who are on a similar journey to Amy’s and mine.

We’re all experiencing rapid, sweeping changes to the way recorded music is shared with the world. Kids learning to make music are growing up never having needed a physical CD, possibly having operated a turntable simply for the richness of the experience, not for the necessity of that being the only way to hear recorded music. Most of us walk around with access to a library of millions of songs in our pockets.

Those of us who have been making records for a while have noticed that the public can enjoy our music in complete album form without having to own a physical product or even a download. While there’s a contingent who will buy our CD’s as souvenirs of a show they loved, they can listen to our recorded music at will without doing so.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam mixing a finished recording in his home studioMy desire to continue making and sharing fully-realized recordings of our songs has not been diminished by the changes to the recorded music market. But I can’t continue to hire producers and rent studios for $10K+ knowing that I won’t make back even 10% of that. So what does an indie artist do?

I turned to the example set by my friend John Cullimore from the excellent kindie band Chibi Kodama for my answer. John is a highly prolific self-producer, often cranking out multiple albums in a single calendar year. All his music is a heartfelt expression from his whole family and a true representation of the sounds he hears in his head, fully realized for the world to enjoy. And he does it all at home and on the road!

When I started to seek out how I could create high quality self-produced music with the experience I gained working with producers and John’s moral support, I stumbled upon, a home self-production resource founded and run by Scott Hawksworth. I started by reading his articles, which had given me some common-sense advice that I found earth shattering in its simplicity and ability to immediately improve what I was doing with my home recording gear.

I had recorded tracks for the single “Pandagarten” and really wanted to do a great job mixing these tracks into a radio-ready finished product. So I ordered Scott’s AudioSkills crash course DVDs. I watched the entire 2-disc set before embarking on the mix. Everything I learned helped me translate the music I imagined into something families could listen to.

To help tell my story of how I keep the music flowing in a changing market for recorded music, I recently appeared on Scott’s AudioSkills Podcast for an interview. I hope it inspires you or an emerging musician in your life.

Here’s our first self-produced single (as a picture video) called “Pandagarten” to give you an example of the results I achieved with Scott’s course.

In this new market for recorded music, we’ve drastically cut our costs to bring this music to you by recording at home. We’re also able to steadily release music – a single each month, leading to the release of an album next year. We’d like to sustain the pattern of a single each month. If our recordings enrich your family life, we’d love your support on our Patreon page, where you can subscribe and be the first to receive our new monthly singles – before the public gets them.

How are you or your family members engaging the do-it-yourself spirit to bring your creativity to life? Use the comments below to get the conversation going.

Evolving in the Craft of Children’s Music

Embracing where we started and celebrating the way we’ve built on it

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam's first full band gig in 2013 at Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Montclair, NJ.

Our first-ever full band gig in 2013. We played songs.

Over two years ago when we were a brand new act for kids and families, I was certain that we were about as good as we were going to get. We just needed to be discovered. We were writing rock songs for kids that their parents would love too. Our songs were critiqued by our new friends in the Children’s Music Network and re-written to everybody’s satisfaction. I thought at the time my number one concern was getting the word out about how awesome we were! The kids’ entertainment blogosphere and radio scene would surely herald our arrival on the scene with great fanfare.

What we got at the time was something else, something more important; I realize that a little more each day. Instead of a long parade of articles from independent blogs through People Magazine singing our praises, as they did our heroes Justin Roberts and Laurie Berkner, we found ourselves not quite making the cut in a field crowded with amazing talent. And many of the people whose attention we were vying for were leaving a growing trail of public clues as to what they were looking for.

Thought leaders on the kindie scene like Jeff Bogle (Out with the Kids), Stephan Shepherd (Zooglobble) and Bill Childs (Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child) were writing articles about the state of the industry and the kinds of children’s music submissions that were grabbing their attention – what they had in common. These three tastemakers were emphasizing the importance of storytelling and emotional depth in the children’s songs that they loved to share. They tend to shun the more purely academic or procedural educational songs that many children’s musicians create.

The first children’s song that Amy and I ever wrote for public consumption falls squarely in the educational category – “Five Sea Lions.” It teaches the difference between sea lions and seals (a touch of marine biology) and creates practice in counting down from five (early math) to a reggae/ska beat. It was never going to grab critical acclaim among those looking for epic storytelling.

But it did resonate with an important player on the children’s music scene – Rebecca Alison (Kids Can Groove, Little Cloud Management). So much so, that she chose to world premiere our video of the song. What that taught me was, once you create a work and set it free, it can affect different people in different ways. Rebecca lives in California and created some important memories with her own child sharing their enjoyment of the sea lions native to her home state. So a purely academic song took on an emotional component within the context of her life. We took a little chance sending this song to Rebecca and it worked out in this case. It just goes to show you have to put yourself out there, even early on in your career. Trevor from GooberKids Radio, Q Manor from Tots’ Radio, and Todd from Jelly Bean Radio were also feeling what we were doing from early on, as was Phil Maq from WHFR-FM in Dearborn, Michigan, who doesn’t distinguish adults’ from kids’ music as long as it’s “good music.”

Having an early taste of success like the world premiere with Rebecca can help keep you motivated as you develop your career, but shouldn’t become a reason to believe that all you need is more publicity. Likewise, not getting all the coverage and opportunities you want is not necessarily a reason to abandon what got you this far. It may help make the case for evolving rather than suddenly re-inventing yourself into what you think someone else wants. It would be a mistake for us in the Jungle Gym Jam to distance ourselves from an academic song like “Five Sea Lions” while claiming that an emotional story song like “Lollipop Motel” is all we’re going to do now. For me, evolving means embracing where we started and celebrating the way we’ve built on it.

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam perform at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia in 2015

Over two years later, we’re playing venues nationally known for children’s music. We create moments around the songs we play.

If our songwriting has enjoyed a sort of evolution, so has our live show. I’ve had time to not only read live music producer Tom Jackson’s excellent “Live Music Method” but to absorb and apply it over time, emphasizing the creation of moments over merely the performance of songs. Attending KindieComm the past two years and experiencing the moments created by other artists also helped drive this point home to me, as did working one-on-one with Ron “Polka Dot” Albanese, a consummate children’s entertainer, who helped me not to become Polka Dot Jr. but to become a more fully realized Jungle Gym Jam guy. Our live show today is very different from our very first live show. Early on, we played the songs. We moved swiftly from one song to the next. Over time we started to take more seriously the interactive potential in introducing certain songs and the visual elements that could help unlock feelings of delight, like puppets.

Once we began introducing puppets into the act (we had seen them used sparingly and effectively by Justin Roberts to create moments as in “Willy was a Whale”), we started modestly with pre-made Folkmanis puppets. They were high quality, small puppets sized appropriately for the classroom, but not the big stage. They served us well for several months. Also, Amy did not have a clearly defined role on the stage other than to put on one of these puppets and go out into the audience during songs like “Five Sea Lions” or “Mimi the Ladybug.” We later started having young volunteers work the puppets (if we could find one who didn’t have a touch of stage fright).

As Amy took a greater interest in playing percussion instruments in the group, her role evolved and she became the go-to person for all the puppet moments. She started coming up with voices and mannerisms for the characters. I was also becoming acquainted with a great puppet maker (and puppeteer) by the name of Chris Palmieri, who custom made spectacularly large sea lion, moon, ladybug, dinosaur and Santa puppets for our stage show. I’m not sure that the visual component of our show would have come out as well as it did had we just quickly mimicked Justin Roberts, the Pop Ups or other acts that make great use of visuals. We needed to watch those acts, learn, digest, and over the course of time, figure out what moments and visual cues best apply to our show in an authentic and entertaining way.

Jason and Amy from Jungle Gym Jam create a fun and learning moment about how to tell a sea lion from a seal.

Amy and I create a fun and educational moment around how to tell a sea lion from a seal.

Amy and I also understood that our record-making would have to evolve as well. Our debut album “Everyone’s Invited” had done well in earning a Parents’ Choice Approved seal, which helped sell hundreds of copies to schools and libraries. It’s the source of some of our great live moments on the stage, and we still enjoy listening to the album in the car almost 2 years later. Now, with the songwriting and song selection evolving to include a stronger emotional connection, we needed to make sure those feelings would translate to the record. For this, we chose Marc Bazerman, leader of Baze and His Silly Friends and producer of Suzi Shelton’s heartwarming “Smile in my Heart” album. We also chose Suzi to duet with me on “Free to Be…You and Me,” a song that connected me with the feelings of my own childhood and the signal to the kindie community that our band was entering a new stage of its development. This single found some of the coveted airplay that had eluded us with the first album.

If we’re evolving as songwriters, live performers and makers of records, we’re also evolving as people. We’re more attuned to what our audience wants, where we can fit into the industry, and how to go about this way of life. This is the kind of growth that can only happen over the course of years and can’t be rushed. I believe it can be accelerated. Two years and change is not a very long time for us to have developed to the point we have. Factors like attending KindieComm (where we learned much from other artists and industry professionals and established relationships) for two years straight tend to act as career development accelerants – developing both craft and connections. Paying attention to what your audience is trying to tell you is another career accelerant. Having both a mom and a wife with early childhood education expertise also provided valuable insight into what could work well for our young audience members.

If I were to give a new children’s artist just one piece of advice right now, it would be this: Seek out other people in the industry – not so they’ll discover you and shower you with praise and top-paying gigs – but so being around them will help you evolve as a children’s artist who will ultimately attract the praise and the livelihood.

I’d love for you to join the discussion about evolving as a person, a professional or an artist, in the space below! Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Philadelphia – Where Kids Rock Out with their Grown-ups!

by Jason Didner, leader of the Jungle Gym Jam rock band for kids and families

Jason and Holly rocking out at World Cafe Live in Wilmington, DelawareOver two years ago my wife Amy and I started out on a quest to create and share children’s music that expressed our then-baby-daughter’s sense of wonder and love for rock-n-roll in our brand new kindie project we called the Jungle Gym Jam. The pathways of that quest kept leading us back to Philadelphia, PA over and over again.

From our home base in northern New Jersey (in the suburbs of New York City), my earliest searches for places where children’s music is happening kept coming back with Philadelphia. The Peanut Butter and Jams concert series at the World Cafe Live repeatedly showed up as a booking to strive for. I’d see some premiere names in the children’s music game show up as performers scheduled to play there. Radio shows like WXPN Kids Corner in Philly were ones where I’d want my music played so families could hear it.

The Philly-based children’s musicians I’ve come across, like The Plants, Two of a Kind, Jonathan Sprout, Steve Pullara and his Cool Beans Band and Mr. David C. Perry were advancing the art form of children’s music each in their own way — The Plants with energetic, upbeat funk productions, Two of a Kind with their gentle and approachable style and the way they incorporate sign language into their songs, Jonathan Sprout’s proud way of singing about real-life heroes, Steve Pullara’s epic collaborative efforts to bring together children’s musicians at all levels of career development to put together stunning compilation albums for kids, and David C. Perry’s knack for embracing the silly to combine comedy, kids’ music and visual art.

The list of traveling children’s musicians from all over the U.S.A. and Canada who perform in Philadelphia’s venues reads like a “Who’s Who” of children’s music. At places like the Please Touch Museum, Longwood Gardens, the Philadelphia Zoo and, of course, World Cafe Live, you can see and hear GRAMMY Award winners and nominees, children’s multimedia wizards, and rock stars who have successfully branched out to make music for kids and families. One truly amazing band, Recess Monkey traveled all the way from their home base in the kindie stronghold of Seattle to Philly to stage their album release party. That says something about the strength of the children’s music scene in the City of Brothery Love.

A cool thing about Longwood Gardens: it’s high on the list “55 Stunning Botanical Gardens You Really Need to See Before You Die.” on Sproutabl. Go for the kindie music, stay for those amazing fountains!

A big shift in the East Coast children’s music scene began turning our hopes of connecting with Philadelphia into a reality. Just as we were about to play our first-ever gig in 2013, we learned at the last minute about a children’s music career event that would take place in New York City, called KindieFest. I felt it would be helpful to attend as newcomers to the scene, but that I couldn’t take time off work last-minute for it. I told myself, “Next year, we’ll attend.”

A few months later, I learned there wouldn’t be a “next year” for KindieFest – it had dissolved before we ever got to attend. But then came the announcement that Kids Corner at WXPN Philly would host its own new children’s music community conference that would be called KindieComm! And it would be at the World Cafe Live, that venue we dreamed of one day playing. Amy and I took the leap of faith, amid an uncertain family health situation, and booked the hotel room. For the first time as a children’s music act, we were Philly bound – not to perform, but to transform our online social connections with the kindie community into a living, in-person involvement with performers, radio hosts, TV programmers, publicists and journalists all talking passionately about the current and possible future state of children’s music. We also learned a great deal from watching the conference’s showcase performers tear it up – we learned much about how to make a greater visual impact, ways of eliciting audience participation – all that stuff in kids’ music that matters much more than which guitar effects pedal you use. A second year attending KindieComm just deepened our relationships in the community and our understanding of what makes a great children’s music performance and more importantly, a great experience for the families in attendance.

I was fortunate to be introduced to the booking manager of the World Cafe Live’s other location – the historic Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, where we gave two memorable performances for kids and their grown-ups, both at well attended events. And then a very cool thing happened; the manager we were working with in Delaware took over the booking of the kids’ shows in Philadelphia as well. And now we’re less than a week away from our first performance at this magnificent showplace!

I hope to meet you at the World Cafe Live on October 10 for the Philadelphia debut of Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam!

>> Get your tickets here for Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia for Saturday October 10 at 11 AM!

Please share your favorite experiences with children’s music in and around Philadelphia in the comments below.

Musically yours,

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam





A Brilliant Way of Sharing Music with Kids at First Roots Manville

junglegymjam-family-bow-firstrootsWhen the Jungle Gym Jam brought the house down last summer at Hillsborough, NJ Public Library and the rave reviews spread through the neighboring towns, Jennifer Esposito was paying attention. She reached out to me the next day and asked if I would perform at the grand opening of her new school location in Manville. I was happy to do the honors and even happier still that my daughter, now 4, would get to meet Frozen’s Queen Elsa at the event! My wife Amy, who co-writes lyrics with me, and our daughter, joined me on ukuleles for a performance of “Five Sea Lions.” A wonderful grand opening event and performance led to new ideas. And then Jennifer came up with something truly brilliant…

Jennifer had been learning by experience that the field of early childhood musical learning centers was a crowded one with lots of franchised regional and national programs that are delivered in a consistent way whether you’re in one location or another. She had been under such a franchise which wasn’t working for her way of doing business. So she went 100% independent, coming up with her own curriculum. It was a bold move, but Jennifer was missing a way of helping public easily understand what set her program apart.

Jennifer Esposito leading a First Roots music & movement activity at Hillsborough Public LibraryJennifer and I had a few back-and-forth discussions that lead to this breakthrough idea: Every semester of her school would feature the music of a working “kindie” band in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area. She’d give out CD’s and songbooks from that band at the start of the semester and she’d offer special music and movement activities centered around that band’s songs. Kids attending the class would hear a combination of recorded tracks by the featured band and Jennifer covering that band’s songs. Then at the end of that semester, the band would give a live, featured performance in her studio. Brilliant! This was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in an early childhood music learning center and a great distinction to offer the area’s kids & families.

I had the honor of being the first featured kindie artist over this semester that is now drawing to a close and, on Saturday afternoon March 14, I will give a performance at First Roots Music Studio.

More kindie artists will be featured over the coming semester, including Baze and His Silly Friends.

If your family lives in or around Manville, I’d love to see you there!

– Jason