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Music and Film Execs Look to Strike a Chord With Kids

Chasing the ever-lucrative, ever-changing market for children’s entertainment has always been a struggle, and nowhere are the challenges more acute than in music.

Variety’s Music for Screens summit will bring together execs from Disney Channel, DreamWorks Animation and eOne, along with songwriters Antonina Armato and Kay Hanley, for a panel moderated by BMI’s VP of Creative Relations Doreen Ringer Ross to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing music in family entertainment.

One of the year’s most unexpected success stories in the kids’ music space came via the popular “Peppa Pig” (pictured). The first album from the long-running British preschool show got a surprise boost in publicity when rapper Iggy Azalea turned her competing release date into a pretend chart feud with Peppa on Twitter, which gave birth to all manner of memes.

“That definitely wasn’t in the marketing plan when we were getting ready to put that album out,” laughs eOne global music president Chris Taylor, who released the record. “But it was something we embraced and ran with. It probably gave the album an extra little push, but I think the longevity of the recording is related directly to the brand.”

Peppa’s “My First Album” was preceded by releases and live tours from fellow eOne kids property “PJ Masks,” with newer brand “Ricky Zoom” set to get the same treatment. Taylor calls the preschool music market underdeveloped, noting that many streaming services don’t even have children’s music categories in their drop-down menus.

“It’s currently a state that seems to be really dominated by the Kidz Bop brand, but I think you’re gonna see more character-driven brands developing and releasing more children’s music as they see the success you can have with it, the longevity and repeat listening.”

For DreamWorks Animation’s SVP and head of TV Music Alexandra Nickson, the key to success in the space is to let go of preconceived ideas about the taste levels of young viewers. “My philosophy is, there’s no kids’ music, there’s just great music,” she says.

Appropriately enough, the music on the shows in Nickson’s purview ranges from the more obviously youth-skewing pop of the “Trolls” spinoffs to complex scores from the likes of Jeff Danna and Alexandre Desplat on Netflix’s “Trollhunters” series.

Adds Nickson: “My [views] about music really came as I became a parent myself, and realized that my children, even as young as 1 or 2, were actually pretty sophisticated in their palates. It was not about dumbing it down for them, but just making sure they were listening to great music.”

Armato echoes those sentiments. A veteran pop songwriter, Armato’s Rock Mafia partnership with Tim James has provided original tunes for such massive young adult franchises as “High School Musical,” “Hannah Montana” and “The Descendants.” Though she says writing for young audiences works “the same muscles” as writing for adults, the approach is “completely different, but in just the same way it would be different if you’re writing for a hip-hop artist versus a Latin artist versus a pop artist.”

Most recently, Armato wrote for her first animated property, “The Addams Family,” as well as penning the viral hit “The Queen of Mean” for “Descendants 3.” Working on the latter, she says: “A lot of the artists we work with now are the new cool kids coming up now, the Generation Z’ers, this new community of music culture, and we’re completely influenced by them… I believe that when you’re writing a song, even if it’s for a younger generation, you have to remember that they’re so smart, and they’re so connected.”

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