Children's music lures recording giants


LOS ANGELES -- With his pleasant tenor, gentle manner and inventive arrangements, Raffi, a Canadian singer-songwriter, is the Bruce Springsteen of the under-10 set, selling more than 6 million records over the years.

It is far from clear who is the children's Madonna or MC Hammer or U2, but the success of Raffi and others is leading a number of big entertainment companies into the rapidly growing business of children's music.

Sales increased last year by more than 50 percent, to $300 million, and while that is only a fraction of the $7.5 billion music business, some executives believe it will be one of the hot areas for growth.

Responding in part to a new baby boom, Time Warner Inc. and the Sony Corp. this year joined other entertainment conglomerates in the children's music business.

Last year, MCA Inc. acquired the recording rights to Raffi and his library of albums. So although Raffi recently said he would no longer record children's music, MCA still has his existing hits.

"There are going to be a lot more success stories coming out of this," said Geoff Bywater, senior vice president of marketing at MCA Records, who oversees children's music. "People going into the business know there is business to be had."

Until the recent boom, only two big companies, the Walt Disney Co. and A&M; Records, which previously handled Raffi, competed in the market. Additionally, there are perhaps 200 small independent record labels, many operating out of performers' homes. For them, selling 10,000 copies is an achievement.

But with the arrival of other big labels, which have both marketing prowess and large national distribution networks, the dynamics of the industry are changing.

Most children's records had once been sold mainly in specialty shops instead of music stores. Now, more albums are being delivered to record and chain stores, increasing the chances of producing big-selling albums like Raffi's "Singable Songs for the Very Young," which has sold a million copies since 1984.

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