Happy Music Business Monday! When I first began my career as a children’s music artist, I remember studying every album, book, video and concert that I could to learn how to be successful like the musicians I admired. What a blessing it was to join the Children’s Music Network where we have a wealth of talented veterans in this industry who generously share their wisdom and best practices.
In this inaugural segment of Music Business Monday, I had the honor of interviewing the Song Wizard himself Dave Kinnoin! Dave has written hundreds of songs for the Muppets, Disney, Sesame Workshop, DreamWorks Animation, and many other children’s entertainment and educational companies. He’s a multi-Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning recording artist for kids on his own independent label, Song Wizard Records. He’s also a volunteer songwriter and talent recruiter for Songs of Love Foundation, a nonprofit that provides personalized songs for sick children. So, as you can see, Dave is obviously doing something right! (Smiles!) I invited Dave to reflect on his amazing career; and to share some wisdom with our readers on what he believes they can do to be successful in this industry. Here’s what he had to say:
Culture Queen: Growing up, which musicians, shows or other artists inspired you to be a children’s music artist?
Dave Kinnoin: My mom played ukulele and piano, and she was a kinda wild and nutty kindergarten teacher. I heard stories that she danced a bit close to the edge of what the school district would allow, always with love and joy in her heart. She adored children, and she enjoyed my brothers and sisters and me the most. The abandon with which she played and sang with us filled our house with the affirmation that our voices are important and that life can be a lot of fun! I carried this deep within me, and when I got the chance to make music for and with children, it was my silly mom’s spirit that propelled me the most.
Culture Queen: I wish I could have met your mom! She sounds like she would have been a true inspiration to us all! What’s been your most rewarding experience performing for children?
Dave Kinnoin: I was singing with a dozen four-year-olds for twenty minutes in a small room. I sensed that the child nearest me wished there were a bit more space between us, but there was no place for me to stand that would allow that. I made sure that I did nothing that would frighten her, yet I didn’t hold back any laughs and smiles. All was going great, except this little girl did not sing or move. I made sure my eyes met hers as often as they met the other kids’ eyes, hoping she would feel that she belonged and that I was a friend. The last song was “Who’s Good?” from my Fun-A-Rooey CD. I sang, “Somebody’s good, somebody’s good, who’s good?” and the kids would raise their hands and shout, “I am!” Everyone did this except this one little girl. Alas, the program ended without her participation. But…as she was filing out, she looked up at me with a big, brave smile and said, “I am.” That’s all. Then she left. Tears welled up in me. I felt like everything I’d done in my life had led up to this one glorious moment that I will treasure forever.
Culture Queen: Wow! That had to be an amazing feeling! What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened during a show while you were performing?
Dave Kinnoin: Well, I wasn’t performing, but a first grade teacher had learned of some of my high-profile projects for Disney, the Muppets, and others and invited me to my son’s class on “Bring Your Parent Day.” She began, “Can anyone tell me something about Mr. Kinnoin? A hand shot up immediately. “He’s old.”
I was 48 and many of the other parents were in their 20s. The teacher got a worried look on her face. I quickly said to the kid, “You’re right, I am old” and chuckled.
Culture Queen: That’s a great story. It’s awesome that you can laugh at yourself and keep it moving. Can you reflect on a challenging experience either performing or music business related. How did you recovered from it? What lessons did you learned from it?
Dave Kinnoin: My infant son slept in his crib in the closet of the room I had claimed as my music studio. I kept watching the video tape roll by with no sound, knowing I had to write a winning theme song for the opening or risk losing my chance to write for Disney. They had flatly rejected my first effort. The new song was due the next business day. It was midnight, 1:00, 1:30… I had nothing usable. I was nodding off a bit. As I snapped up after a few long, deep, sleepy breaths, a security light outside my window suddenly appeared above the window frame that had been blocking the light from my view. I thought to myself, “Like the sun peeking over the hill.” Eureka! I knew I had it. I wrote backwards: “With a smile and a laugh, he can light up your day like the sun peeking over the hill.” Then I wrote forward: “And his eyes give a wink ‘cause he’s ready to play. Come along, it will be quite a thrill. There’s a brand new world to discover. Let’s uncover what he’s got. Everyone is having lots of fun with a friend named Spot.” With the intro and outro it was the perfect length, perfect speed. It synced up to picture precisely. I had captured the essence of “Spot” from the Eric Hill books. I demoed it in the morning, turned it in before 5:00pm. The following day the producer called and said it was just what she wanted, and whom shall we get to sing it? I said, “How about the man who sang the demo?” She said, “Yes.” So I got to write, produce (with Jimmy Hammer), and sing a song that was on millions of videocassettes. The cure for what some call writer’s block is to keep working. A bit of melody, a syllable or two appears that feels right, and my craft takes me the rest of the way. Maybe not as soon as is convenient, but it always does. And it always feels like magic.
Culture Queen: “Keep working.” Now, that’s what I call some great advice. It’s amazing how the remedy to our most difficult challenges can be something so simple. Thank you for sharing. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you pertaining to music business management?
Dave Kinnoin: Meet as many people in the music business as you can and let them experience what you do.
Culture Queen: Thank you Song Wizard Dave for sharing such great advice and thoughtful reflections on your career. For your final musical note of wisdom: In your opinion, what are 3 things that you feel every professional children’s music artist should do?
1)Respect and honor children with every word, every note, every gesture.
2) Bring joy to children.
3) Grow in your understanding of yourself and children and create the best program you possibly can.
Let’s take a look at Dave in action!