May 4, 2005

ADVERTISING: Cradle rock - the record industry is on your case... UK)

Cradle rock

Just turned five? The record industry is on your case, says Caroline Sullivan

Wednesday May 4, 2005
The Guardian

This won't be news to anyone with offspring, but now it's official: the music business is coming for your children. That's the five-to-11-year-olds, who, it seems, comprise one of the hottest new consumer groups in pop. Yes, Little Miss over there, squealing along to Jamelia, and that mini-rapper practising his Usher dance moves - they're not just children, they're a new pop demographic. And the recording industry wants them.

The industry has woken up to the fact that most pre-teens are so pop-conscious that they can discuss the relative merits of Sugababes and Girls Aloud. They have an appetite for music that encompasses CDs, ringtones, downloads and all the associated merchandise, such as Peter Andre's (sadly discontinued) Mysterious Girl eau de toilette.

Moreover, as experts in the art of "pester power", they can afford what they want. And what they apparently want - once they've outgrown the Tweenies - is music of their own.

"We're targeting sophisticated, pop-hungry pop people," says Eddie Ruffett of Universal Music, who has produced compilation CDs called Pop Party and Pop Party II - the first compilations marketed directly at five-to-11s. This age group isn't interested in entire albums by individual acts; they just want hit singles, and the Pop Party series provides that. Containing only the most "essential" smashes by their favourite artists (eg McFly's Five Colours in Her Hair, Britney's ... Baby One More Time) plus bonus karaoke discs that allow kids to pretend to be Britney and McFly, the two volumes had a £1-million promotional budget.

TV advertising and tie-ins with Tammy clothes shops and McDonald's let children know that here was an album just for them, with no rubbishy filler and, as Ruffett puts it, "no teenage-boy groups like Limp Bizkit". The CDs sold almost 1m copies each - a vast number in a market where a successful compilation is lucky to shift 300,000.

Ruffett and colleague Karen Meekings have won an industry award for the campaign and rival labels are now hastily releasing their own compilations, with titles such as Ultimate Sleepover and Party Party Party, all stuffed with McFly, et al. Unexpectedly, almost as many boys (45%) as girls (55%) buy them, despite their looking, as one mum puts it, "all girlie and Barbie-pinky".

Uncovering a new demographic is exciting for an industry that has been hit by declining singles sales and illegal internet downloads. "This is an investment into the future," says Paul Williams of Music Week magazine. "The Pop Party audience will be the serious fans in a decade's time." In other words, once children start buying music, it becomes a lifelong habit, so get 'em young.

Steve Gallant of music retailers HMV says that, where record-buying once began at around age 13, "they start to consume at seven or eight now, because there are 30-odd satellite music channels, and they're aware at a much younger age. Previous kids' albums were either hits from Disney movies or stuff like Bob, but this is proper pop music, aimed at kids."

This isn't a completely new concept. In the 1970s, the cheesy Top of the Pops compilation series - a spin-off from the TV show - offered all the latest chart hits. Buyers were dismayed to find that those Abba and Brotherhood-of-Man songs werecover versions by anonymous musicians - but, with no alternatives, the series survived till the late 70s. The new compilations are in another league. Even the artwork is sparky rather than idiotic.

It sounds ridiculously obvious, which is probably why nobody had done it before. The trend was pioneered in Denmark five years ago, with an eight-volume series called Hits for Kids. At that time in Britain, the compilation market was dominated by the long-running Now That's What I Call Music! albums, pitched at teenagers. Hence, if a 10-year-old wanted a compilation to play at a birthday party, there was little choice. Despite the existence of a large prepubescent audience, who had discovered music via the Spice Girls a year or two earlier, it took UK record labels years to catch up.

Now it's clear that mini-CD buyers welcome the trend. Parents, though, are divided: some worry that their children are being prevented from developing their own taste. Others point out that, if they're reading the booklet and singing along, it's good practice for reading and poetry structure. And as music publicist Linda Rowe, mother of a nine- and four-year- old daughter, says, even if they're listening to rubbish, at least they're not eating and drinking it!


Chris Schuepp
Young People's Media Network - Coordinator
c/o ECMC (European Centre for Media Competence)
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