How do you pivot from rushing to hit a client’s commercial music deadline to gleefully banging toy drums with giggling kids at a chocolate factory? Plus an Emmy nomination?
Like many of you, Andrew Barkan and Polly Hall kicked off their careers in New York, composing music for advertising clients and scoring indie film projects. Polly eventually founded Antfood Music + Sound, and the couple’s course was set for the usual ad music orbit within the Big Apple.
One night, out of the blue, they tumbled on a whole new audience. One that loved anything Andrew and Polly put their voices to: Polly’s two young nieces.
“We noticed they really liked us singing in harmony together – any song or lullaby,” says Andrew. “We had some microphones and Pro Tools and a laptop, and we were like, ‘Hey! We should make some songs for them!’”
“It was like a magic trick: something about singing in harmony would make our friends’ kids calm down,” Polly adds. “Maybe it was the sweetness of our voices, but they just dug it!”
Next came a little album they made for friends (and their kids), which went viral just enough to land them a dog food commercial.
They soon booked it to LA, where the couple now have the best of both worlds. Part of the year they spend composing music for TV shows and advertising. Then when Summer hits, “Andrew & Polly” pack up and hit the road to musical Candy Land.
“We weren’t interested in being performers – we like creating music,” recalls Polly of their early days in LA. “But the more we played, the more we got asked to play. We were kinda good at it, and we wanted to be better at it.”
“It’s a totally different experience from being under the gun on an advertising brief with six hours in a studio and all your electronic equipment,” adds Andrew. “And then you just go sit a coffee shop or library and you sit on the floor…”
Polly jumps in: “…and you make a note and kids giggle!”
She says the joys of crafting children’s music also allow for boundless creativity.
“The combination of this freeing experience, plus this great feedback of ‘Oh my gosh! Can you do this more?’ Even when you’re a working musician you don’t get that – you do the job, you get paid, and you move on.
“You don’t get someone saying, ‘You just made my day. You made my lifetime!’ It felt really good to have music in our lives in that way.”
The love has grown strong between Andrew & Polly and their young audiences: their live performances have sprouted multiple CDs and award-winning children’s podcast Ear Snacks.
And it just keeps getting better: Andrew & Polly’s whimsical prowess with the high-chair set has landed them repeated composing gigs with Nickelodeon, Disney and Sesame Street.
“The advertising world is pretty close knit. So is the children’s television world,” says Andrew. “They’re pretty intertwined.”
It also helps that their kiddie tunes often get featured nationally on both Spotify and SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live.
Oh, and Polly’s Emmy nomination was pretty sweet. Especially as revenues from broadcast have soured.
“We made a conscious shift to step away from advertising,” explains Polly. “Because of that, we’re less in touch with what shifts are happening. But one shift we’ve noticed, just from the work that we get: we always see budgets shrinking.
“We see broadcast budgets shrinking, but we don’t necessarily see digital budgets. We see less royalties from broadcast, to small royalties for digital.
“We see union lines being cut, and the back end of performance royalties being smaller.”
Andrew adds, “We see music houses ask for library tracks when they want you to write original tracks.”
“I see a really oversaturated market and people struggling to make it work, which makes me a little sad,” says Polly. “We kinda knew advertising music wasn’t 100% for us, so we’ve been lucky that we’ve found some other things. We can make enough money to live and create music that’s rewarding, too.”
While their younger listeners gain their sea legs (target audience: 2-7 year olds), Andrew & Polly have one BIG lesson to share with parents: let your kids shape their early musical experiences.
“All kids can access music. What that looks like ultimately depends on the kids,” says Polly. “The best experiences I’ve seen between a parent and a kid are exploratory – they’re following their child and exploring in a creative way. That’s when you really see music happening for kids.
“As adults we forget – we’re so used to hearing Top 40 music (made to be listened to, a polished thing). That’s not what music is for kids. It’s an experience. It’s not a product. Encouraging that in a child is the best way to get it into their lives.
“When a kid bangs on a drum, it’s ‘Let’s do this now!’” concludes Polly. “It’s not ‘Let’s play a rock beat!’ It’s ‘Let’s bang on stuff!’”
And parents? What are they looking for in a musical act?
“A break!” laughs Andrew. “Their kids were happy and on it for 25, 35 minutes? And they got to zone out for that period of time? That’s a really nice break for them. We don’t need to change their lives definitively in that half hour. It’s just a breath of fresh air.”
Do you have or know a kid/mini producer already itching to jump into the drivers seat and jam out with their own sweet podcasts? Check out Andrew & Polly’s non-profit, KidsListen.
There kids can learn how to create their own podcasts for a target audience they know better than anyone – other kids.