It’s not often that kids and parents share a love of the same music. That’s all changing, thanks to Rockabye Baby. Developed by Lisa Roth (rocker David Lee Roth’s sister), the award-winning brand produces instrumental lullabies of popular songs by artists like Nirvana, Eminem, Kanye West, the White Stripes, Journey, the Rolling Stones, and of course, Van Halen. With more than 50 releases so far, it can be hard to choose your favorites. Beautiful and soothing, the songs are easily recognizable, while still gentle enough to put a baby to sleep. When I shared that I found myself reaching for a Rockabye Baby CD of Michael Jackson for background music while writing, Roth said that she wasn’t surprised – she’s had many people tell her they listen to it while working, students use them while studying, and they’ve even been played in yoga classes.
We caught up with Roth to ask her some questions about the unique concept of Rockabye Baby.
How did you come up with the decision to start Rockabye Baby?
I work for a record label [she is Vice President], CMH Records, and Rockabye Baby is a sub-label of that. After working in television and nutrition, I was offered a job here. When I first started, I was shopping for baby shower gifts for friends, and I was underwhelmed with the music choices. None were “parent friendly,” and I wanted to give a gift that parents could appreciate, with humor, irony, and had attitude without hitting them over the head. I wanted something that appealed to both dads and moms. I was working at the label and thought: “I have an idea.” My co-worker Valerie Aiello had similar idea, and Rockabye Baby was born a year later. Our gestation period was a year, as opposed to nine months!
Do you have a music background?
I can’t carry a tune to save my life, but I was a ballet dancer for many years and I played the trumpet in high school. I also learned how to play guitar, so I know how to read music and have a sensitive ear to music. I grew up in house filled with music, so I feel like I’m well-acquainted.
How do you choose the artists you do? What has the response been?
First, we keep the audience in mind. The parents and the music fan. Someone with a sense of humor who wants to share their favorite music with their little one. We have a rotating poll on our website and Facebook page where the general public can vote on the next artists. The label here is populated with music fans who vote, and we also keep trends in mind. We compile all that data, and we pick 6-8 new releases a year in advance, keeping in mind the voting results and trends. It takes a few weeks to a month to go through all the data, and then we pick from that. There is a balance between classic rock, modern, and other various kinds of rock. We’re branching into crossover artists that have the same attitude as a rock band, like Jay Z and Kanye. A couple new releases coming up include Bruce Springsteen and Eminem.
We’ve gotten positive feedback from artists, and even had artists who’ve written liner notes – Steven Tyler, Joe Elliot from Def Leppard. Elton John responded positively. We’ve never heard anything negative from the artists. We take very seriously the production of these things; this is a record label that has been around for a long time and makes good music. The production of everything is done with the utmost care and respect for the artist. As fun and ironic as it is, I have great regard for these artists.
You make vinyl versions of the albums, too. What prompted this?
We wanted to do something interesting, something we valued here, and vinyl is valued, we love it. Who else has ever done rock lullabies on vinyl? We created the first one for Record Store Day [the third Saturday of April, celebrating independently owned record stores], and did so well that we now release a new vinyl for every Record Store Day. Vinyl is making a comeback, everything old is new again, and it seemed appropriate to the brand. [The brand] was a rock series, so why not vinyl?
I have to ask, what does your rockstar brother think of the Van Halen Rockabye CD?
I didn’t do a Van Halen CD for six years after Rockabye Baby was created. Number one, it can be very hard to work with family! Number two, I wanted to make sure we had it down pat and could do a great job with it. My brother was the one who suggested I do it – if he’s suggesting that it’s time to do it, he thinks it’s a great idea. He’s very proud of me. I have such admiration for my brother and I’m so proud of him, and wanted to do a great job on the CD. It’s one of my favorites, not just because it’s my brother, but because of the way it sounds.
What goes into the production of each CD?
Cover art-wise, there is always a bear that’s befuddled. We wanted to add baby food recipes; I thought it would be really fun, and we make them tie in with the CD – we use song titles and skew them to accommodate one of the songs on the CD. So with each CD, there’s a recipe included. Chef Jeff, a real chef, creates the recipes and brings samples in and we all get to sample baby food. It’s really fun.
There are several producers all over the US They take the original songs and deconstruct them and put them back together using rockabye palette of instruments. My coworker James Curtis and I listen to each track and make copious notes about changing any instruments, the mix, volume, tempo, etc, and send them back to the producer. We can go back and forth three, eight, ten times until we get the Rockabye Baby nuance just the way we want it and strike the perfect balance of lullaby and whimsy, while keeping the attitude of the original artists and making it an homage to the original artist. It can take three weeks to three months for this, some take longer. Especially with an artist like Kanye, the melody doesn’t run through rap song same way it does a Rolling Stones song. It’s a little bit of an art form, and they do a great job.
Rock songs have a lot of minor notes, which aren’t comforting. We figure out how to use the minor notes and sprinkle fairy dust on them to make lullaby-friendly. We work hard to make them recognizable, since it’s hard sometimes [to do so]. It’s taken a long time to figure out how to do this so well. I don’t love to overdo the rock part of this with too many rock things or symbols. We want it to be more subtle, everything we do for each artist. We like to put little things in that a fan will recognize. It’ll be a little symbol or homage, but something a fan would find.
Where do you want to take Rockabye Baby in the future?
That’s a good question. It’s a baby product to me, a gift. It’s doesn’t have to stay a music brand, and I would like to expand into other merchandise – creating animated visuals, I’d like to expand on that. So I would say merchandise and entertainment – visual, beyond just music. The baby industry is perennial and huge, and the opportunities are endless. We have a very creative group, so our minds are always working. It’s a well-received brand and it’s loved, and I think that the future holds fun, good creative things for us.
Where can people buy the CDs?
They’re currently sold in bunch of places – our website, specialty retailers like BuyBuyBaby and Kitson, we’re also on amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble’s website, and in many independent record stores. Though not in the stores, you can also find them online at places like Toys R Us, Best Buy, and Target.