State of the Reviewer: The Famous Final Scene

Entertainment Music
Justin Roberts at Symphony Space in New York City, 2018.

Thirteen years ago, my son Ben started to listen to music while he ate breakfast. I would throw on a Sesame Street CD or one of the homemade “birthday CDs” comprised of pop tunes and the Wiggles. I also printed out the playlist from iTunes—and Ben would mull it over, looking at the cover art and telling me which songs “lacked” representative illustration. I never imagined that years later, those early selections would lead to more than 750 event previews, live event and music reviews, and interviews, as well as commentary about children’s music and more.

I’ll get to the historical perspective, but most importantly for artists who have contacted me in the past two months—I am done for 2019. If your video, song, or album had a 2019 release date, I apologize but the shop is closed for the year. I will be forward-thinking from this point on. More to the point, I am also phasing down my children’s music portfolio. It’s been coming for the past year, as Ben has long aged-out of the demographic. But his younger brother prefers modern pop (think Imagine Dragons) and sighs heavily if I suggest bringing new, unplayed kids CDs on our road trips. You see the number of posts dropping, year over year. That’s not by accident.

The Dirty Sock Funtime Band at Kidstock 2017

In the oft-told tale, family acquaintance Uncle Rock (Robert Burke Warren) began recording children’s music and we bought his first CD. When “Rock and Roll Babysitter” was played on Bill Childs and Spare the Rock (STR) radio show and podcast, that inverted the paradigm. Suddenly, we were immersed in the “kindie” (kids independent) explosion. Sure, Ben was seeing Dan ZanesTom ChapinJustin Roberts, and even Ralph’s World at Symphony Space. Now there were a myriad host of others, and he began to develop his own tastes, scanning the STR song list and selecting tracks for me to purchase and save.

The inaugural Stink kid’s music showcase was in 2008, but we missed it due to a scheduling conflict. In 2009, we made a point of attending the event, held at Jalopy in Red Hook, Brooklyn. First was a Ralph’s World concert at Symphony Space in the morning. We walked in, ran into Ralph Covert, and said, “We’ll see you later in Brooklyn.” Five hours later, I was next in line to use the bathroom at Jalopy. As Ralph exited the facilities, I said, “As I was saying…”

Stink marks the first time that I broke out the camcorder (later iPhone) and began recording artist performances. This was our first experience with Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, but certainly not the last. Nine years later, we’d see Brady at a show at the Quogue Library and Ben would feel comfortable enough to walk to the mic and sing along.

Ben sings with Brady Rymer, 2018.

Leading into Stink, I started to publish Ben’s playlists on my blog. I set up the Blogger page to “save” articles written for a Queens weekly newspaper that stopped publishing. Conveniently, I could now dedicate the blog to children’s music. The first playlist (May 1, 2009) was an eclectic mix of kids (The Jimmies) and pop (Whitney Houston, Jack Johnson, and Weezer). I hadn’t learned how to coordinate my social media and I don’t think I was even on Facebook yet.  About six months in, I wrote a “mission statement,” called “Music for Kids, Not Children’s Music,” to more fully explain my methodology.

Artists started to contact me directly via email, but I wasn’t doing regular reviews until after Kindiefest 2010 (the renamed Stink). Once or twice a month, I ran a review. Kindiefest shows, and later Kidstock in Port Washington, became big occasions to shoot performance videos for my YouTube channel. Things exploded in 2012 as multiple PR people began deluging me with CDs and offers to attend New York-based events. Ben now had a toddler younger brother and these concerts were often inappropriate for him, so we would pass. Instead, I concentrated on reviews. By September of that year, I was up to weekly articles.

Fast-forward in 2018 when I added GeekDad to the chore list—publishing an astounding 78 pieces in 52 weeks—and turned down stuff along the way, but not enough. Finally I hit full capacity. The part-time hobby became burdensome. I found myself previewing stuff and realizing my kids would not be interested. But I wasn’t interested either. So why was I bothering? Because I had given my word. And thus my time was no longer my own.

Fids and Kamily is sunsetting because of real-world challenges. I fully understand that there are currently more opportunities and pipelines for children’s music such as Spotify and Soundcloud, yet there are fewer reputable outposts to review those offerings. Early into my GeekDad tenure, I explained to site managers that my reviews are concise because parents have limited time. Therefore, I don’t pad my articles with CD track listings.

I also don’t want to feel resentful towards the artists I’m reviewing. On more than one weekend, I’ve sat down with a stack of upcoming releases to “knock out” 1-2 articles. Late this year, I had a bottleneck of reviews for CDs being released the same day, with holiday videos and songs pushing back Dog On Fleas from October 18 into early December. That opened my eyes to saying “no” more, for my own sanity.

I’m not going to stop writing. I’m not pressing Ben to make playlists every morning and he routinely skips them on his own. I’m writing more adult-centric material (you can follow me at Medium). There will be some reviews and one-off pieces on this site as well, although I don’t know if I’ll hit 3,000 articles (I’m just under 2,900). Have a great holiday season. Enjoy your family. Eat in moderation. Breathe. See you in 2020. Stay healthy.

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