Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Interview with the Kidsville News

I did an interview this week for the “What’s It’s Like To Be...” column in Kidsville News!, which explores different occupations.

QUESTION: How do you pick the kids who sing on the Kidz Bop CDs?
We did a nationwide talent search to find Kyra, Becca, Valerie, Harrison and Dana – the Kidz Bop Kids. They can all sing, dance, and do a really good job of working together as a team.

Liz Nealon at work with Becca, Kyra and Valerie of the Kidz Bop Kids

QUESTION: How do you pick the songs?
Kidz Bop is all about having the top hit songs on the CDs, so we look at what is selling, what is being played on the radio a lot, and we also listen to kids’ feedback on We try to give you all your favorites on every Kidz Bop CD!

QUESTION: What's your favorite song?
Oh, my. Having spent my entire life working with and performing music, I’m afraid I can’t name just one. BBC Radio has a program called “Desert Island Discs.” It holds the Guinness World Record for longest running radio show, and on the show they interview celebrities by asking them if they were to be cast away on a desert island, what would be the eight pieces of music they would simply have to take with them? So, if you have room, I’d like to give you my favorite eight songs!

1. “Theme from Peter Gunn” - best action music ever written. The original by Henry Mancini is still the best, but there’s also a great, new French pop version which samples the Peter Gunn theme. It’s called “Peter Gunn (Turntable Detective)” and the artist is The Killergroove Formula. You can find it on iTunes – play it for your French teacher!

2. “Theme from Twin Peaks” by Angelo Badalamenti. Twin Peaks was a dark, haunting cult television series created by David Lynch in the early 1990s. The theme song established the mood from the very first second, and when I hear it today I'm transported straight back to the dark Pacific Northwest woods where the Twin Peaks series took place (same location as the Twilight series, by the way).

3. “Pump it Up” by Elvis Costello. My favorite song from the original punk era – the 1970s! Intense, energetic, just keeps building higher and higher. For years I tried to convince another singer, my friend (the late, great) Robert Palmer, to record this song – I thought he’d really tear the roof off with this song.

4. “In the Evening” by Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant has one of the most distinctive rock voices ever; I think this is his most powerful recording

5. “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. I just love the lyric "I am three thousand and eight, you're so two thousand and late.” Wonderful.

6. “Un Bel Di,” from the opera Madame Butterfly, by Puccini. You don’t have to know (or like) opera to understand this beautiful, sad song. Madame Butterfly is a Japanese woman who falls in love with an American Naval Officer who has left Japan for good. She dreams that he will one day come back to her, and she sings this song (“Un Bel Di” means “One Beautiful Day”) about how she imagines his return. One of the most beautiful vocal lines ever written. Even if you don’t understand Italian, it will break your heart!

7. “Glad” by Traffic. No matter how many times I've heard it, this song always makes me want to jump up and dance. The person playing keyboard is Steve Winwood, who is also a great vocalist. He was first known as “Little Stevie Winwood,” and started touring and performing with famous rock singers while he was still in elementary school.

8. “Julia,” by John Lennon. He wrote it as a tribute/love song to his mother, who died when he was very young. I love it because my daughter is named Julia, so it is my love song to her, as well.

QUESTION: What skills do you need to be the General Manager of Kidz Bop?
Well, I have a pretty unique combination of skills that makes this the perfect job for me. I majored in music in college and trained to be a music teacher (though I’ve never actually taught in the classroom, I use those skills all the time). I worked for a record company for five years after college, and learned about how a record label chooses its artists, how it produces the records, and some of the important things that a company needs to do to sell the artist. Then I worked for ten years for MTV, where I learned all about making music videos and producing Rockumentaries (and of course, we do this all the time at Kidz Bop). And finally, I’ve done a lot of work producing television shows that star teenagers, so I’ve had a lot of experience looking for good young singers, dancers, and actors, and working with them to teach them how to become professional performers. All these skills are very useful in running a record label like Kidz Bop.

QUESTION: When, and why, did you first become interested in this profession?
I have wanted to work in music since I was a young child – singing is the thing that makes me happiest in the whole world. If I could have had my dream job, I would have been a singer/dancer in the chorus of Broadway musicals. It turns out that I don’t have a good enough voice to make a living as a musician, but I have always found ways to make music be a central piece of the work that I do. And I still go to see musical theater as often as I can!

QUESTION: What do you do? Describe a typical day on the job:
One of the best things about my job is that it’s different every day. Today I'll be in the recording studio with a wonderful 12-year-old singer named Sinai Rose; earlier this week I was in Los Angeles with the Kidz Bop Kids, shooting our next television commercial.

QUESTION: What’s the hardest part of your job?
Telling a young performer that we’re not going to choose them.

QUESTION: What is the best part of your job?
Giving a talented young performer his or her first professional opportunity.

QUESTION: What advice would you give to kids who are interested in this profession?
First, work hard in school, and get a good education. Right now, going to school is your “job,” and developing the habit of working hard and being the very best you can be is a life skill that will help you succeed later in life.

Second, if you want to be in the music business, you need to be listening to music all the time, and you should listen to all different kinds of music (see my list above!). Start to be a discerning listener. What is an artist doing to achieve a distinctive sound? How are songs different from each other? Who do you think is a good lyricist (writer of words) and why? The more you think and analyze music, the more knowledgeable you will become, and this will make you a better music executive.

Third, take whatever music appreciation classes are available to you in school. The more you learn about the “greats” and why their music has endured, the better prepared you will be to produce great music yourself!

Kidsville News! is a fun (and free!) educational resource used by teachers, parents and children to develop and promote learning, literacy and character education. Our readers include children, kindergarten through 6th grade, as well as parents and teachers. Kidsville News! is currently published in 23 states, with monthly circulation exceeding 1.25 million.

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