How a Children’s Music Award can help.

Member Jason Didner takes a turn to weigh in on the debate over the usefulness of Children’s Music Awards.

At the Maywood, NJ Public Library.
At the Maywood, NJ Public Library.

Last winter I invested the $250 application fee for my entry into the Parents’ Choice Award – my debut kids/family album, “Everyone’s Invited!”

I found out in April (I wasn’t contacted; I went online and found out) that I was designated the Parents’ Choice Approved seal. I had also learned that to license using the graphic of the seal would cost an additional $575, which I had decided against.

The combination of applying for Parents’ Choice and not licensing the graphic of the seal appears to have been a better move than I could have imagined.

Shortly after I won the award, I started getting weekly requests from CD Baby to send in more copies of my album. It turns out that a library/school distribution company, Midwest Tape (http://www.midwesttapes.com) was making repeat purchases of my album on CD Baby (in physical CD format) and wiping out my entire inventory, necessitating bigger and bigger shipments each week. Two months later, my investment of $250 applying for the award has paid for itself nearly five times over.

It took some curiosity and some digging on my part to reach out to people at Midwest Tape and to find old online copies of their catalog to learn that they have a section of their catalog for Parents’ Choice award winners. I’m not saying that what happened for me when I got the award will happen for every Parents’ Choice Award winner, but it put me in a position to get noticed by Midwest Tape. Naturally, all those sales pushed my album up the CD Baby kids/family chart – so far to #2 as of this writing. I’m hoping this run with Midwest Tape is not over, especially since I now have a large quantity of CD’s ready to send to CD Baby should we need to restock.

So, is paying the application fee to Parents’ Choice “buying an award?” No, not by a longshot! You have to be very confident your stuff is great in order to plunk down that kind of money in the first place. Then, only about 20% of applicants get any commendation from Parents’ Choice. Before you commit your hard-earned money to apply this award, know what they’re looking for: “excellent production values, universal human values, appeal to children, and age appropriateness,” to quote their web site.

 I’ll speak to the production values, because this is where people can misguide themselves. The artwork for your album needs to be appealing. Working with a professional kids/family illustrator is your best bet. Don’t cut corners here. Using the default rainbow WordArt in PowerPoint is not going to build much confidence to what’s inside that CD package.

 Some of you like to produce the entire album at home, including MIDI drums and orchestration. I’ve made albums that way in my past. It’s very tempting to cut studio costs down to zero and self-produce an entire album in your apartment. But be careful here. MIDI drums sound different than real drums to the untrained ear as much as to the trained ear. The timing is a little too perfect; the cymbals ring a bit hollow; it’s all a bit sterile. If working with a drummer in a studio is not an option, consider a drum loop (actual professionally recorded drum track engineered so it can be looped for whole passages or the whole song). It will lack the spontaneity of a real drummer playing fills where she feels them, but it will sit better in the mix than MIDI drums usually will. Or, if recording in your apartment, will hand percussion meet the percussion needs of your song?

 Similarly, synthesizers imitate some instruments more convincingly than others. Usually a synth horn section screams “Cheap imitation!” at me. It’s better at string sections. A synth seems to do a better electric piano than acoustic piano. Another good option is to just make a synth sound like, well, a synth, so it’s not imitating anything in the first place.

 Is your singing pleasant and engaging to listen to? Your vocal needs to have a “smile” in it when the songs call for that. Singing in tune is vital; using the least possible pitch correction tools should be a goal unless you’re going for that “robotic” effect like Kanye West and T-Pain.

Do they sit right in the mix? If you’re looking to create an award-winning album, consider having someone else mix your album, maybe not even the studio engineer who recorded the tracks, but someone with fresh ears for your project. Then have yet another person master the album, which is the final preparation to make your album sound satisfying on a variety of devices, radio formats, etc.

Cutting corners on production will make it look and sound like you cut corners and you will be less likely to win awards like Parents’ Choice.

Good luck with your submission if you decide to go for a Parent’s Choice (or any award). Keep us up-to-date on how you do!

Musically yours,

Jason