Dennis Scott talks about his experience working in children’s music and shares insights on tapping into this segment of the industry.
ABOUT DENNIS SCOTT
Dennis Scott is a two-time Grammy and Emmy award winning composer and producer. His songs have been recorded by such artists as Ray Charles, Faith Hill, Alison Kraus, Sugarland, Crystal Gayle, Amy Grant, Donna Summer, Ricky Skaggs, Kathie Lee Gifford, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, John Pizzarelli, Maureen McGovern, and The Muppets. His music has been featured in theatrical productions and TV shows including “Elmopalooza” (with Jon Stewart – singing!)
Dennis has also served as both musical director and the composer of over one hundred songs for the BBC children’s TV series, Noddy, which aired on PBS.
Welcome to our Cartne video titled How Can I Write Songs for the Children’s Music Market? Our guest today is Dennis Scott.
Hello, everybody. My name is Dennis Scott and I am a producer and composer specializing in children’s and family entertainment based here right here in Nashville. Although I am originally from New York and I found my niche in the children’s recording industry A number of years ago, starting with the album I did for Sesame Street, and there’s a story behind how all that happened as well. But I’m glad to be with you guys.
Dennis, what are the most common areas that used children’s music?
It does run the gamut as far as opportune cities in terms of how children’s music is used. There’s children’s live productions. They’re children’s independent artists who are obviously performing children’s television shows, film, video games, toys, and YouTube. Let’s not forget YouTube. That’s where baby Shark got its start, and that has over a billion views. So in this Spotify tick tock, it’s across the board really.
Is it a very competitive field?
The children’s music business is competitive in the sense that it’s a niche. It’s really a niche market. And it’s sometimes hard to find where those opportunities are. And it’s similar to the regular music industry. In that it’s also a matter of who you know and networking and getting into those situations where you can have those opportunities. And sometimes you have to make those opportunities on your own from scratch because it’s not like you can plug a song to a famous children’s artist because most of them are really independent.
It’s not like trying to get a song to Garth Brooks. You have to find all these little nooks and crannies where children’s music can be used.
Are there companies that specialize in producing children’s music where an artist or songwriter can pitch their music?
Well, back in the day, there was a time when there were a number of children’s record labels Sesame Street had its own record label. There’s a company called Peter Pan. They kind of had the children’s recording music cornered and even there was a time when Sony and all the larger labels decided they were going to have a children’s division.
But inevitably they found that it cost more for them to promote it and to get it to the same income levels that they were getting from their major artists. So they kind of let that go away. There are still a few left. I think Warner Brothers has a children’s division or a special special division that incorporates children’s music.
Kids Pop is something that a lot of people know it’s very successful, but it doesn’t really give opportunities to songwriters because they take well-known songs and re-record them. Having kids singing pop songs so that doesn’t really help the rest of us unless you happen to be producing those things. I’ve done projects that are kind of similar like that for competitive companies, which is great as far as me being a producer, but it really didn’t do anything for me as a songwriter.
I think there’s a company called £8 Gorilla. They’re kind of new on the market, so recording artists have a rather touring artist or a children’s artist start their own record labels, and that seems to be the way things are going.
Are there productions looking for songs or do the show producers hire their own songwriting team?
Will pitching songs for children’s projects be a little bit dicey in that, like, for example, where, where, where is this music used? It’s used on TV shows. Well, how do you get your music into that? TV shows if you’re not part of the original production team when they’re picking out writers and things like that, it might be hard then to introduce yourself into that scenario.
However, if you can get into a production in its early stages, then maybe you have a chance. And that’s something I’ve tried to do. I’ve tried to insert myself into projects that I hear through the grapevine that are starting up, and hopefully they haven’t already assigned the songwriter role. On the other hand, you’ve got companies like Disney, you have a laundry list of people that they use on a regular basis.
And just like the regular songwriting business it’s hard to break into that. You have to keep plugging away and, and making contacts and hoping for that, that big break.
So it sounds like there’s not one path that aspiring children’s writers can pursue.
No, it’s kind of you have to be a detective. You have to really keep your ear to the ground as to what is available and what’s out there and what what projects are coming along down the line that might need songwriters and talent and producers Now, the other route to go is to be your own artist and to work to produce your own children’s artist and get them out there and just create your own record label and and create something that’s wonderful and can go viral and do it that way.
And, you know, so that’s the blessing and the curse of being in an era where, you know, we don’t, we can’t sell CDs really anymore. So you can get yourself on YouTube. But then that’s a notion of all these other children’s songs that are already out there. But I think it is possible with perseverance and with, you know, a great catchy children’s song that somehow captures the attention of everybody.
Are there differences between writing for the children’s market and writing commercial music?
Yeah, I think there are. There are differences, but there are also similarities. And the differences are actually becoming less and less as time goes by. There was a time when you would hear children’s songs and they sounded very juvenile. And there still are the ones I, you know, like Baby Shark but on the other hand, I think I think people are looking for children’s songs that are on a higher level that songs that don’t talk down to children, that maybe challenges them with perhaps words that are little just a little bit beyond their grasp, but but not enough that they can’t understand what the song is.
And I think the obvious things, there are certain words you don’t want to use and certain subject matter you don’t want to use, although the lines start to get blurred on that. Two things are, you know, kids still like to hear songs about underwear and things like that. So, you know, it depends on, I guess, what you put in the underwear.
But I think that I think the important thing is to, as you would with a regular song, create something that’s really catchy that’s just something that the kids enjoy and something better still that the parents can tolerate and I think you can write songs that are just good, solid songs. And it’s really the lyrical content that is maybe what you have to be careful of.
But I think kids today are certainly amenable to hearing pop songs that you would hear Katy Perry or whoever else doing it as long as it resonates with them and is not beyond their scope. But whether it’s jazz or pop or country, I think they’re ready for anything.
Do you need to put yourself into a child’s mindset?
I think a lot of it depends on what age group we’re talking about. If it’s preschool, then yeah, it really would help to hang out with some kids and see what they’re reacting to. If you don’t have your own, you know, borrow a kid from down the street. But as you get older, I think the subject matter can be more challenging.
And I think the songwriting tools, I mean, you don’t really have to worry about going to that chord because it’s too complex. Kids will get it. They get a lot more than we give them credit for.
Do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to write children’s music?
If it’s your passion to write children’s music, I think you should do it by all means. If it’s just something, well, oh, I can write a country song for American children, right? Children’s on and it’ll get covered immediately. It doesn’t work that way. In some ways I think it’s harder to get a foothold in the children’s music industry.
And in terms of getting songs placed, as you would to an artist, I’m sort of repeating myself for them. I think there are some things you can do. There are some resources, perhaps I subscribe to a magazine called Kids Screen, Kids Screen, and they have a listing of what’s going on in the industry, whether it’s children’s toys or children’s TV productions.
And sometimes you can find out what’s going on and what’s coming up. But even those since this is it’s not like they give you the contact number of these people and there’s no pitch list where you can go to for that. So you have to put on your detective hat, and go online and find these people and then hope that your timing is good for that kind of thing.
There’s also an organization called Children’s Music Network which is an association of musicians, children, songwriters, and teachers. They’re a pretty big organization nationwide. And it might be a good place to confer with other people who are doing the same thing and see what’s up with them. And just makes you feel like you’re part of a special community of people who specialize in children’s music.
That concludes our video titled How Can I Write Songs for the Children’s Music Market. We want to thank Dennis Scott for sharing his invaluable expertise and experience.