Happy Music Business Monday!
Can I tell you a secret? David and Jenny Heitler-Klevans of TWO OF A KIND embody what us millennials would call #RELATIONSHIPGOALS ! An award-winning husband-wife duo, it seems like they do everything together: Performing, successfully running their family business, and inspiring children by the masses! Add in the fact that they actually are parents to twin boys who perform with them; and there you have it: A true love song in action! This musical duo truly embodies teamwork at the most endearing level. They continue to inspire me in ways that I don’t think they even know that they do. Here’s why: While attending the 2015 Children’s Music Network Conference in Illinois, one of the most powerful and memorable conversations that I had was with Jenny. I had recently left my job and begun performing children’s music full time. Being one of the freshmen members of CMN, one thing that really amazed me was how many of our more seasoned members have supported their families while working in this industry. Being a single woman at the time, it was somewhat easy to support myself as a children’s music artist because I only had myself to worry about. However, I was really curious to know how things would change career wise when I became a wife and mother. So, during lunch, I nervously consulted Jenny about her experiences and asked her for any advice that she might have. Where mainstream media would lead you to believe that becoming a wife and mother meant having to sacrifice your dreams; Jenny provided much encouragement by letting me know that marriage would inspire teamwork; and becoming a mother would inspire me to be even more creative! She eased my mind with her insight; and for that, I was and still am forever grateful for her transparency. Now, it’s your turn to be inspired on this Labor Day edition of Music Business Monday by two people who have helped audiences of all ages feel that they can create music and make a difference in the world. Enjoy!
Culture Queen: Growing up, which musicians, shows or other artists inspired you to be a children’s music artist?
Jenny: Honestly, I never thought about being a children’s musician when I was growing up. I loved Danny Kaye and Marlo Thomas. I loved watching the Muppet Show. As an adult getting into Children’s music it was very helpful to listen to Pete Seeger, Raffi, Tom Chapin and other folk artists. Also, to watch artists in action and how they connect with their audiences.
David: In terms of music specifically for children, my biggest influences growing up were Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and also “Free To Be…You And Me”. The folk roots of children’s music have a lot to do with my ideas about singing together, and the emphasis on social justice. I have always been a huge Beatles fan, and I think that this has influenced my interest in experimenting with song forms, harmonies, instrumentation and recording studio techniques. More recently, family artists such as Bill Harley, Tom Chapin, John McCutcheon and Billy Jonas have inspired me to think about the experiences of children and writing songs that go beyond the easy surface, and get to the complexities that kids experience.
Culture Queen: WOW! You listed some children’s music greats! I’m sure they would have been honored to hear how they inspired you. What’s been your most rewarding experience performing for children?
Jenny: I don’t know if I have one most rewarding experience. I love when we can get an audience really involved and afterward when people say how much they enjoyed it. I love watching affectionate interactions between kids, siblings, and adults and children. It gives me hope for the world.
David: Like Jenny, I find it hard to single out a most rewarding experience – there have been so many, luckily! One thing I find particularly satisfying is when we are performing for upper elementary or teenage audiences who start out thinking they are too cool for us, and winning them over. We have also had some very moving experiences performing for kids in hospitals through Pickleberry Pie. One time we sang “Happy Birthday” to a sullen 16-year old, and he smiled for what we were told was the first time in months.
Culture Queen: You all really make an impact wherever you go. If you had to do it all over again, what would you keep the same? What would you do differently?
Jenny: I was just listening to an interesting interview about “composing a life”. I feel like as a musician and a mom I was able to integrate both my professional and personal life and that was very meaningful. As opposed to having to juggle all the different parts of my life and possibly dropping the ball and having the whole thing fall apart, I was able to work with my husband, do meaningful work, and spend time with my kids. One of my favorite experiences was driving cross country the summer after my kids finished 4th grade. We stayed with people along the way, performed at a variety of different venues and included our sons in the shows, and saw the beauty and diversity of the country. There are always financial pressures with trying to make it as a musician and there have certainly been times I was ready to give it all up and get a “real job”, but we have been lucky to have the support of family, and to work hard to make it succeed. Getting help, being organized, and keeping your goals in mind are all important for success. Also, I’ve never measured success by how many or what types of awards I’ve won, and/or how much money I’ve made. It’s an ongoing process – some days or weeks are great, some are more stressful. In the end it’s about connecting with kids and sharing the joy of making music and being creative.
Culture Queen: You really give great advice. “Composing life” sounds so very empowering to me. I especially appreciate the fact that you said that it’s okay to ask for help. That’s important and not always easy to do. Here’s a more lighthearted question:What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened during a show you were performing?
David: Again, this is difficult because there have been so many! One time, when we were performing at the Philadelphia Zoo, there was this very territorial peacock who kept patrolling the performance area, periodically emitting extremely loud shrieks. Another time, we were just about to do our last song at a library in northern New Jersey when suddenly, the fire alarm went off. It seems that the fire department insisted that the library have the fire alarm right at “kid height” next to the exit door; and kids tended to pull it fairly often. Our entire audience trooped outside, and the kids loved it when the fire truck arrived. We were a bit worried that those kids would be very disappointed the next time they saw a “Two of a Kind” performance if there was no fire truck appearance included! We thought that everyone would leave after the interruption, but the entire audience filed back into the library when they were given the “all clear” and we got to finish our performance.
Culture Queen: Wow! Talk about a show stopper! I think you might need to write a song about fire alarm safety! (Smiles) Shifting gears again: Have you ever had a challenging experience either performing or music business related? How did you recovered from it; and what lessons you learned from it?
David: In August one year, 4 large-scale songwriting residency projects that had been scheduled for that school year were all cancelled for various reasons. We were really depending on those projects for a huge part of that year’s schedule and income, and it came as quite a blow. After some soul-searching, we decided to swallow our pride and ask our fans for help. We sent out emails explaining what had happened, and suggesting that if people had been thinking of having us at their school, community event, etc., that this would be “a really good year” to make it happen. We were amazed at the outpouring of help, ideas, leads and suggestions we received, and it made us realize not only that people can be generous, but that many people feel honored to be asked for help – people actually thanked us for giving them the opportunity to help out!
Culture Queen: What a testimony! You both are so inspiring and I can tell that your fans really love you. What a blessing! You all have given me great advice in the past that I was able to apply directly to my career. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you pertaining to music business management and why?
Jenny: When we were just starting out we had dinner with some friends and their friend who is a professional juggler. He said, “Whenever you do a show, make an announcement that you do this full-time and that you perform at schools, libraries, museums, special events etc. and that you’d be happy to come to their venue to perform. Come talk to us after the show.” That piece of advice has been very helpful and helped us build up our list of contacts and get future gigs. Person-to-person is the best way to reach out. Also, you have to follow-up your leads.
Culture Queen: Excellent advice! Final question: In your opinion, what are some best practices that you feel that every professional children’s music artist should do?
Jenny: Firstly, I think that the number one thing that every children’s music artist needs to do is to demonstrate a commitment to the needs of children. I know it is impossible to put our egos aside entirely, but I think that we need to think of ourselves as serving children, which means putting kids first, not ourselves. Secondly, flexibility is an absolute necessity to be a professional children’s music artist – we are in constantly new and changing situations, and we have to be able to meet the needs of a given moment. Thirdly, I think it is crucially important to be a good listener, and to use that skill to listen to kids – what they want, what they are thinking about, the issues that concern them, etc. Lastly, I think it is extremely important to find ways to “be in the moment” all the time in our work with kids. I find that I am most successful and feel the best about the times when I feel truly present and connected with the children (and adults) in the audience.
Culture Queen: Thank you David and Jenny for your golden advice. To hear more of TWO OF A KIND’s amazing music, click here! Also, check out this super talented duo in action performing with their twin sons below!