If you want to get into the music biz these days, it turns out there's a ground floor available.
Sure, Raffi is everywhere. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made records. Barney's first album is due next month -- on his own Barney label, and no, the Barney label will not be presenting the "Jurassic Park" soundtrack, thank you.
Peter, Paul and Mary recently cut their second children's album, "Peter, Paul and Mommy Too." Bobby Goldsboro cut a children's record. Waylon Jennings, of all people, just cut a children's record. Tom Paxton has cut a couple of them. A group called Riders in the Sky plays cowboy and Western songs in a style aimed at children, with adults encouraged to tag along.
The Pediatric AIDS Foundation last year issued a very successful fund-raising album with guest tracks by the likes of Bruce Springsteen ("Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips") and Bob Dylan ("This Old Man"). Mr. Springsteen used an out-take from that project, "Pony Boy," on his "Human Touch" album.
A whole stable of artists, unknown to most adults, work the children's market exclusively. Rhino Records started a children's division last year, called Kid Rhino. Sony and EMI are among the majors that have launched children's music projects.
But despite all this activity, the Recording Industry Association of America says children's music still constitutes only a tiny fraction of the music market -- and Howard Leib, a New York attorney who sold this year's New Music Seminar on a Kids Music Seminar, says part of the problem is that despite the number of children out there, the music biz hasn't begun to explore their potential as music consumers.
"There really is no children's music industry," says Mr. Leib. "Which is fine if you're content to sell your tapes out of the trunk of your car at birthday parties. . . . But we could use it."
Mr. Leib took the plunge into children's music himself three or four years ago, and while trying to help mold an industry out of many related but separate elements, he co-hosts a radio show, "Laughtrack Jr.," with his 5-year-old daughter, Abigail, in New York.
The lack of a children's music industry -- which does exist in other countries as nearby as Canada -- has several implications, including a lack of promotion and a lack of places where parents (who, of course, buy most children's music) know they can find children's music.
"In most record stores, if they stock children's music at all, it's in a ghetto next to comedy," says Mr. Leib. So a lot of parents who would love to buy something for the children besides Raffi or a Saturday morning cartoon product soundtrack don't know what's available.
This also ties into another problem: the lack of radio or TV stations which play children's music. Children, perhaps even more than any other consumers, want something they know, and they're unlikely to learn of the possibilities from top-40 radio or MTV.
Many children's artists, then, like artists in other specialty fields like Christian music, end up selling their own tapes at live shows or perhaps through direct marketing. But for an artist like Mr. Paxton, sales aren't the main point: "I enjoy children's music. It's a chance to do something different. The most fun for me is playing it live at concerts."
Mr. Paxton does add that he sees no reason children's music that goes beyond Raffi or Sesame Street can't become more popular, since most parents today grew up on rock and roll, folk, rhythm and blues and other styles which can easily be adapted into music they would love their kids to play.
"There's a growing range of kids' music available," says Mr. Leib. "There's pop, rock, folk, classical, even rap. There's a dearth of blues and jazz, but those tend to be more mature styles."
Children will listen to almost anything, he says. "We play maybe 150 CDs at our house, and the kids will listen to all of them, including "Guys and Dolls." The hard part for most parents is getting kids away from the TV set long enough to listen to anything."
Mr. Leib does think a children's music industry will develop over the next decade, because there's a profit potential. His next concern, then, is the shape it will take. If the major labels get involved, he suggests, they may ignore unique artists in favor of "recordings" by Barney or other licensed characters, who are pre-publicized and thus largely pre-sold.
What happens on the ground floor today, then, may determine what goes into your child's tape player in the year 2000.