lIt’s 8:27 am and I’m bringing a toddler and a schoolchild into the car, a baby strapped to my chest to keep things interesting. From the driver’s seat of our sultana-studded Kia Carnival, I switch from my Spotify playlist “Breakfast Chill” to “School Drop Pump Up” and We Don’t Talk About Bruno from Disney’s Encanto soundtrack erupts.
Everything about the morning routine—from the oats I soaked the night before, to the toothbrushes kept by the back door to refresh our hygiene memories—is put together to ease a single order to the inevitable chaos that fills a house. belongs to children under six. The playlists are no less essential to our morning success than remembering to wash my oldest’s sports uniform on time.
For a generation of parents who have had more contact hours with children in the past two years than we ever expected, children’s music has become ubiquitous.
“I think the biggest difference in the way parents and kids consume music today, even compared to a decade ago, is how portable, adaptable and accessible it is,” said Paul Field, a music industry giant.
This difference informed its new offering, the early music brand Peachy Keen. Released through Apple Music’s independent music platform Platoon, the ambitious project kicked off this month with debut album Animal Songs.
Recorded with some of the best musicians in the country and composed by his brother John (who wrote over 300 Wiggles hits – their other brother, Anthony, is none other than the Blue Wiggle himself), Field says he has a wide range of sounds and focus on production quality (“when you hear strings on a song, it’s a real string quartet”) rather than focusing on a specific style or genre.
“We’ll just start with the music first [as opposed to creating a band], because in this way we can use a carousel of different musicians, singers and styles. I feel like that brings quite a bit of variation to the sound.”
As far as the industry pedigree goes, Field has good reasons to bet on himself. During his 24-year management, the Wiggles topped Business Review Weekly’s list of highest-earning Australian entertainers for four years, selling millions of albums and appearing on TV screens in more than 100 countries.
Even disregarding the stratospheric success of the Wiggles on the world stage, Australian children’s entertainment exports are over-represented abroad.
“Right now we have more listeners in the US than here,” said musician and comedian Matt Okine, half of the children’s entertainment duo Diver City; his partner is the musician and producer Kristy Lee Peters. He attributes this international success to the all-important peer recommendation algorithms on streaming platforms.
Music has historically been divided into age-dictated blocks; there is children’s music and then there is music for adults, one separated from the other. It is this tension, says Peters, that forms the origin story of Diver City.
“When you have kids, you listen to music over and over and over and over and over and over again,” she laughs. “Coincidentally, Matt and I both had kids five days in a row. We went on a family vacation and started chatting about it, and the idea actually came from finding something that could bridge the gap between children’s music and music that adults would enjoy or at least be bearable.”
For every “tolerable” piece of children’s music, there is a famously unbearable alternative. Korean entertainment company PinkFong’s repetitive techno juggernaut Baby Shark, which became the most-watched YouTube video of all time, is powerfully embedded in the amygdalae of parents around the world.
And while annoying parents with the musical equivalent of a mosquito can be lucrative, there’s fertile ground (and arguably longer lifespan) in making something they’ll enjoy with their kids.
“We’ve worked with many artists that adults will recognize,” said Okine, a Triple J alumnus. “That brings an extra layer for parents.”
These artists include Sam Cromack of Ball Park Music, Art Vs Science, and Peking Duk, just to name a few. The subject matter they explore ranges from the sublime inclusivity song Love Is Love (Rainbow Family) to the ridiculous Sad Spaghetti, written from the point of view of a lonely leftover piece of pasta. It’s straight out of the millennial parent’s playbook.
And indeed, Australia’s children’s music scene suddenly seems filled to the brim with artists who made it big making music for adults, became parents and then turned. Old-fashioned ’90s dance/rock favorites Regurgitator created the Pogogo Show for kids, reworking the lyrics of one of their NSFW classics into a kid-friendly I Sucked A Lollipop To Get Where I Am, alongside other tracks like Mr Butt. The Little Stevies—barely a household name in their past lives as folkloric outfits—have become much more successful since they were rebranded as the kid’s favorite, the Teeny Tiny Stevies.
As for the Wiggles, they play the game in reverse; the skivvy-clad icons have tapped a second wave of success through performances spanning over 18 years and a Tame Impala cover that crowned them the unlikely winners of this year’s Triple J Hottest 100.
If there’s a winning formula for making successful music for kids in this country, it’s one that Paul Field helped shape. “An important factor is seeing things through a child’s eyes,” he says.
“It’s not always easy because our audience ranges from pre-verbal to kindergarten and beyond, so you want to create something that appeals to all levels of cognition.”
But while looking through the eyes of children, the fact that we don’t offend adults’ ears has another advantage, he adds: the greater chance of more airtime. “In the world of early childhood… It’s personal recommendations that really matter.”
Few people in Australia are more confident in making these kinds of recommendations than Zoë Foster Blake, skincare entrepreneur, author and mother. A prolific curator of cool stuff—her blog Zotheysay once crashed under the weight of the traffic of her post about what baby products she used and loved—one of the tastemaker’s hobbies is creating playlists on Spotify.
“I get excellent feedback from parents,” she says of her playlist hobby. ‘I think as parents we are all snooping around for new ideas; we will try everything.”
In Foster Blake’s household, music is a vital pillar of family life and something her playlists – with names like “Hey Kids, Calm Down”, “Kids In The Car” and “Mornings With Kids” – reflect.
“Good music is good music,” she says. “Both The Wiggles and Queen have songs that the whole family can enjoy; it gives me great joy to find and collect them.”
Field’s Peachy Keen features many of the traditional early childhood themes you’d expect. There’s the gross motor encouragement in Jump Like A Froggy Does and the numerical repetition in Ten Koalas, while Tummy Time, a track that Field is tragically close to his heart, promotes safe sleeping practices after the father of five lost his daughter Bernadette to SIDS in 1988.
He doesn’t shy away from the simplicity of some of these songs, arguing “it’s actually great because, as we all know, in the world of early childhood everything is new. So what seems mundane or banal to two adults is actually magic to children.”
School and nursery delivery completed, again with full autonomy over the car radio, I must admit Field is right. One of the bops on Animal Songs† titled Ten Puppies, So Cute! plays: a jazzy Winehouse-esque vocals on a sexy Spanish guitar riff. I’ll have it in my head for the rest of the day, and I’m okay with that.