After considerable success over two decades in the adult folk music world, Ellis Paul has ventured into children’s music, creating two award-winning children’s albums. His latest, The Hero in You – about heroes in American history – was released in 2012 and will be released as a book-CD set in September. He’s considering making it into a musical play that could be performed in schools. He’s also talked of creating a follow-up album based on important events in our history.
Ellis will be offering his views at The Children’s Music Network’s annual International Conference on September 19-21 in Leesburg, VA. He’ll be a panelist on the ever-changing world of radio, TV and other media, joined by Mindy Thomas of the Sirius XM radio’s Kids’ Place Live, and Joyce Rouse, founder of an Internet radio show focused on children’s songs about the Earth. In a previous piece, our interview covered his family music projects. The second half of the discussion focused on how the world of media is changing for touring musicians and singer/songwriters, and how that affects family musicians in particular. This interview was conducted by Liz Buchanan.
Is there more of a market out there for kids’ music than adult folk music?
It’s hard to say. I think they’re fairly comparable. The thing about kids’ music is that kids grow up! The turnover rate is so great, an album can sell again and again as the next generation comes through. I have sort of a finite fan base as an adult singer- songwriter. I play to 20,000-50,000 people every year and some of them have kids, some have grandkids. I can tap into that for a while, but unless I reach out beyond that fan base, the well is going to run dry. We haven’t exactly marketed me as a children’s performer because we’re so busy marketing for adult performances, so right now I can sometimes do kids’ shows in the same places where I have an adult concert that night. [He adds that in the future some school shows may be added to his tours, and talks about broadening his audience through marketing to teachers and schools.]
Are you finding fewer and fewer people are buying CDs?
Compared to 10 or even 5 years ago, yes.
What’s taking the place of CDs?
A lot of YouTube videos. We have to provide a place for people to find the music. YouTube is where most people sample music that they haven’t heard before. You don’t make any money on YouTube. Or very little – pennies, though that could be changing.
For the children’s stuff, I try to make [the CD package] really colorful, so it’s something they can read. I try to make them little books. I think that helps. I also present them like books. [He points out that he did all the illustrations for the album, although the book version has a different illustrator.] At the sales table, I make sure they’re open and out of their packaging so people can really see what they’re getting. And I have T-shirts for kids and I have a poster of the book.
But I think with the generation of cars now, a lot of them don’t have CD players. The album is going to be harder and harder to present as a saleable item. So we have to figure out how to work with the technology that people are using. This is the secret – it’s the same problem we have as adult musicians.
We also have to diversify. That’s why I’m writing a musical, that’s why I’m doing a book. I’m trying to create different income streams that get people fired up about the idea of the songs. The older I get, the more I think my business is going to be books and Internet sites. My adult music may still thrive, but I may have tapped it out.
I’m not convinced – but you have to decide what gets you up every morning.
The music is still going to be there, yeah. I love every aspect of what I do. I love songs, I love storytelling, and I’m good at it. I feel like I found my calling. I just want to make sure that I feed my kids and have a retirement fund and a college fund. And you can’t rely on CD sales for that.
In the panel, we’ll be talking about the shape of the media world as we move into the future. As musicians, how do we make sure what we put out there is heard?
[He discusses clever product placement in a movie he recently saw.] As you make your videos, you’ll have to think like a marketer as you’re doing the video. Get people interested in buying things. Like I could do a video and at the start of it, I’ll be reading my book. If you can do clever things in the marketing, then that’s the way.
Anything further you want to say about being a family musician?
Yeah. There’s nothing like having a group of kids sing your song back to you!