Like many, I find most children’s music to be insufferable. I cannot tolerate choruses of shrill-voiced children singing watered down versions of pop songs, and long before my son was born I declared our house a BFZ (Barney-Free Zone). I have always been a bit of a musical explorer and have enjoyed trolling for new artists to listen to. While I was pregnant I collected a handful of children’s albums but I figured I would find lots more in the coming months. However, after my son was born, I (shockingly) found myself with very little time to scour the internet for interesting children’s music.
Enter: Pandora. This free internet-based radio service has become an absolute constant in our house and I now wonder how I ever lived without it. You can access it via any computer or smart phone. It’s completely free but you do have to listen to 30-second commercials after about every 4 songs. You can pay for a premium account for $36 a year if you don’t want to listen to the commercials.
The site has pre-set stations you can tune into based on genre (ie Country, Classical, etc.) and this does include some children’s stations. However, I have found way more success with the “Artist Station” feature, which is wickedly cool. Key in the name of an artist you like, and Pandora creates a station of their music which includes that artist as well as many others that Pandora thinks you will enjoy. It’s basically doing the research for you. I start with one artist and make a station, which leads me to other artists that I start to love and then I create stations from them, and so on and so on.
I have collected quite a few stations that I adore. Many of them are artists that were once part of grown-up bands, had kids, and now are creating music for families that parents + kids all can get into. I am so grateful for them. Here’s some of my top stations/artists. Enjoy!
Asylum Street Spankers
This is hands down my favorite station. Remember the Squirrel Nut Zippers? Imagine if they decided to sing fun, swingy kids songs. That’s the Asylum Street Speakers. I am in love with them and this station plays upbeat, positive songs artists. Pretty much on at my house 24/7.
Dan Zanes (Children’s)
If you’re into roots and alt country like I am, you’ll dig this. Dan Zanes (former frontman for the Del Fuegos) writes kid’s music that you won’t even realize is kid’s music. This station also throws in some really well selected and appropriate grown up stuff (Van Morrison, etc.), making a perfect variety.
Ziggy Marley (Children’s)
I’m the first to admit I’m not a huge reggae fan. But this station mixes up lots of different calypso, Caribbean, quazi-ska and folk tunes in a way that works (and doesn’t make me feel like I’m in a bad margarita bar) and when I see my son’s little hips moving I realize that island music is HAPPY music! You can’t help but sway along.
Bobby McFerrin (Children’s)
Many years ago, I had the great privilege of seeing Bobby McFerrin perform a children’s concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and it was absolutely phenomenal. He is way, WAY more than “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and if that’s all you know of him, give this station a shot. He has a way of lighting up your spirit and his style of music truly transcends genre. I know I’m gushing a bit but I kind of heart him a lot.
Lunch Money (Children’s) Lunch Money’s lyrics are super clever and their songs have great rhythm and syncopation. This station features lots of fun upbeat songs that you’ll be clapping along to. You’ll love this if you’re into smart songs that will have references your kids won’t get but will make you giggle.
They Might Be Giants (Children’s)Like many, I was into TMBG for about 10 minutes in 1992. And I admit, a bit sheepishly now, that ever since I’ve always found them more than a little grating. However, when these guys started writing kid’s music I think really they found their true calling. They are so fun, and silly, and positive, and theatrical, and somehow the same guy’s voice singing about 123’s totally works and is completely not annoying. This station also knows its target audience: it features a healthy helping of classic Sesame Street and School House Rock.
Caspar Babypants I had no idea this guy was in The Presidents of the United States of America (remember “Millions of Peaches”?) until I googled him to write this post. He is brilliant! His simple songs are easy to get into but won’t give you week-long insomnia inducing ear worms like Raffi (sorry, Raffi). This station features a lot of his work, Jack Johnson, and other folksy types. Very fun and upbeat stuff.
Fair warning: These are my favorite stations, but all of them at one time or another have hiccuped a and come up with something I consider on my Do Not Play list (*cough*Dora*cough*). However! The site has two little thumbs down/up buttons on it which you can hit to let it know you are – or are not – pleased with its decision. This helps the magic Pandora elves know what you’re into and shift the algorithm to avoid those songs in the future. Brilliant. Happy listening!