They Might Be Giants Expands Its Kids' Music Empire

Billboard, February 8, 2008
by Evie Nagy

NEW YORK (Billboard) - In the animated video for They Might Be Giants' song "One Everything," a singing globe helps a little boy deal with his overwhelmingly messy room by invoking the unity of the omniverse: "If you go out and count up everything, it all adds up to one."

The song is from TMBG's new children's release, "Here Come the 123s," but it plays with the kind of braininess that has attracted loyal adult fans -- many now parents -- to the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell throughout their 25-year alternative-rock career.

The Disney Sound CD/DVD, released February 5, is a follow-up to 2005's "Here Come the ABCs," which has sold 110,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and reached No. 6 on Billboard's Top Kid Audio chart. That project was backed by Disney after the unexpected success of 2002's "No!," TMBG's first children's effort and a No. 1 entry on the Top Kid Audio list. U.S. sales for that effort total 144,000.

"The first kids' record seemed like such an incidental thing at the time. We were working on all these other projects," Linnell says, adding that "No!" jumped between labels for several years before Rounder agreed to distribute it on the band's own imprint, Idlewild. "Then it completely outsold our adult work of that year, and that got everyone's attention."

Success in the kids' market, however, has fed rather than replaced the band's adult music output, and Linnell says he and Flansburgh take a nearly identical musical approach for both audiences. "A lot of parents want their kids to like the same thing they like, so they're pushing this stuff on the kid and the kids are going along with it," he says.

CROSS-GENERATIONAL APPEAL

According to Walt Disney Records executive VP/Disney Music Group general manager David Agnew, it's TMBG's unique simultaneous appeal to kids and adults that inspired him to executive-produce both Disney projects with the band.

"I've been a fan of the Giants since the '80s and have always thought of their music as being smart and fun -- both prerequisites for good kids' music," Agnew says. "The Giants can play a sold-out concert at noon in a beautiful theater to a thousand kids with their parents singing along to songs about letters and numbers, then later that night play in a sweaty club to a thousand teens and adults."

Indeed, along with planned family events tied to "Here Come the 123s," the band will maintain a heavy touring schedule this spring to support its 2007 adult release, "The Else."

A key promotional element for "Here Come the 123s" is TMBG's Friday Night Family Video Podcast, a free weekly download launched in January that features videos from the "123s" and "ABCs" DVDs, hosted by Linnell and Flansburgh puppets. A selection of the videos, created by independent artists and animators in collaboration with the band, will also be in rotation on the Disney Channel.

But beyond promotion, TMBG's success in the kids' market has a lot to do with a singular musical identity, built with dozens of releases and TV themes, that has evolved into a brand. Linnell says that with Agnew's guidance, the band has leveraged that brand into a series of products that kids and parents recognize and anticipate -- next up is an album of songs related to science, which Agnew says could be released as early as next year.

"There's a way that stuff gets marketed that I have to say, I was kind of ignorant of," Linnell says. "But it's become incredibly clear to me that creating a franchise is important. It's something that we did without thinking in those terms in the first place with They Might Be Giants, which is that we just made lots and lots of records."

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