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Songwriter and singer Elliott Park’s fans are getting much younger.
With three children’s albums, two “Sesame Street” segments and other kids-related projects stacking like LEGOs on his resumé, the Clyde native who roped a Billboards No. 1 songwriting credit in country music with the single “I Loved Her First” is crafting newfound success in a different niche.
“I’m gonna kind of put a foot back in the country world and see what happens, but I just keep getting pulled out and distracted by yet another project that’s cool,” Park said.
Part of the appeal of crafting children’s songs and videos is targeting another demographic in the same endeavor. Tucked in Park’s songs, many with jaunty music and breezy lyrics, is something deeper “where I’m giving the parents a little nod or a wink,” Park said.
A recent example is “The Mouth,” on the same-titled extended play album released in June.
“I can drink juice, sip soup, fake toot, laugh out loud.
The brain makes the words but they go through me,
The official spokesperson of the whole body.”
The strategy is “kind of like the Disney model of making the two hours in the theater also fun for the parents. The challenge is to try to make it clever enough on the deeper level that the parents and adults enjoy it,” Park said.
Sometimes the production is multi-generational too, with Park tapping into his four children’s vocal and visual talents.
Though Park initially found fame in country music, his storyteller style is atypical of songs on top 40 radio, diverging from the airplay formula popular today.
Beyond talent, however, he has three factors in his favor: his ability to record and produce music, the explosion of digital downloading and registering his work to ensure financial credit.
“It’s difficult for songwriters and creators and artists to collect all of the revenue that you know is happening out there in the ‘Wild West’ of digital streaming and stuff. But on the other hand, it has created so many genres and subgenres and subgenres of subgenres that it’s exciting,” Park said.
“There’s so many crossovers and gray areas and blendings of music to choose from. I both love and hate these times in music.”
Park’s divergence into children’s music started in 2010 with his inaugural album “Fly Boy,” a collection of songs magnifying both the seemingly mundane and monumental moments in family life. Although an adult album, his ability to craft songs with dual appeal to different age groups is evident in such tunes as “Simple Song.”
At the beginning, a young child’s voice solos, then gives way to Park’s weathered voice accompanied by a banjo. As the song progresses, the instrumentation expands and the voices grow to a chorus.
“Are you stocked up for a winter of despair,
Waiting for a meteor to burn your hair?
Well If you ever feel the urge
To take a breather from your dirge,
Here’s a little coin for you to keep,
A simple song that your heart can sing.
Not too long, rather short and sweet,
Like the birds in the apple trees,
Let the world hear your simple song.”
SiriusXM marks the spot
Fast forward six years, when a friend stumbled across Kids Place Live Channel 78 on SiriusXM and encouraged Park to reach out to the channel.
He didn’t have a SiriusXM subscription at the time. After some research, though, he sent a CD to the channel. Shorty after, some tracks made the airplay rotation.
“Two or three months later, I got a check in the mail,” he said. “… It was a pretty good check. I was, ‘Man, this is legit,'” Park said.
That introduction to the children’s music market came shortly after Park and his wife, Pam, and their three daughters, Anna, 19, Autumn, 17, and April, 15, moved in 2017 to Columbia, Tennessee, near Nashville.
Their oldest son, John, is a videographer based in Abilene.
The transition came after years of commuting between Clyde, where he operated a recording studio for a time, and Nashville’s Music Row.
“I had every intention coming up here and finding a publisher and just going back into writing country music. That was the plan,” Park said in a phone interview from his home.
“But that material I sent Kids Place did so well. I was kind of seeing the possibility of what could be done, what can be achieved there financially, so I kind of shifted gears when I got here.”
He called kids “a blank slate,” and upon that canvas he uses a variety of instruments to explore musical styles.
“They just like things because they like them. They don’t have to like them because it’s the popular thing to say or whatever,” Park said about the children’s audience. “It’s just an unpretentious fan group. It’s just very open to experimentation with music, which is really cool.”
All in with the children
He released in 2018 the full-length children’s album “Just Be.”
The song “All Ways” charted on Kids Place Live for more than two months and held the No. 1 spot for two consecutive weeks. It also won first place in the International Songwriting Competition’s children’s music category that year.
The album “Songs of My Daughters” followed in 2020. After occasionally providing background vocals on previous tracks, the girls took a prominent role, either together or in duets with Park.
2020 also saw Park hit No. 1 for three weeks on “Kids Place Live” with his single “Love Will See Us Through,” featuring then 8-year-old Lilah Benjamin. Initially released in time for Valentine’s Day, the song became an anthem during the pandemic, he said.
This year’s EP “The Mouth” is in collaboration with 8 Pound Gorilla, a new children’s record label.
Park’s music is available at his website elliottpark.net, and “The Mouth” is on several streaming platforms, including Spotify and Pandora.
Some of his songs also are available for the Yoto Player, a screen-free device developed by a London-based company and being introduced in the United States, he said. Children can play music and stories using cards about the size of a credit card, or listen to radio-style content that is ad-free.
“It’s kind of a throwback to a time when it’s not so device-oriented,” Park said.
Park has found another creative gear after partnering with John on a stop-motion video for “Baby Snake.” The whimsical song is about a little boy whose excitement at finding a snake turns to disappointment when he realizes it’s “just a worm.”
The “just something fun” project for father and son has garnered more than 1 million views since uploaded to YouTube in January 2018. John has since turned videography into a career, working with Columbia Records, Texas musicians Koe Wetzel (from Stephenville), 2021 Abilene visitor Parker McCollum and others, Park said.
“We were trying to kill time during the holidays and went to Walmart and bought some clay and a dry erase board. Just off the cuff, we came up with that,” Park said about the video.
The “Baby Snake” video caught the attention of an independent “Sesame Street” producer, who in early 2020 hired Park to do a song and video for “B is for Block,” a 60-second segment.
As the pandemic restricted travel, however, Park focused on the music. A veteran “Sesame Street” team crafted the video, which aired in spring 2021.
“They were happy with it, and that led to another video that I just finished a couple of months ago,” Park said.
On “P is for Pretend,” the music and stop-motion paper animation capture the escapades of two children playing in the rain with a cardboard box. Park, assisted by Autumn, used multiplane camera technology pioneered by Walt Disney.
Ten photo frames were needed to create one second of action, which meant more than 1,100 photographs, he said. The project took about three months to complete.
“There’s probably ways to do this with software and let the computer do a lot of the work, but I’m sort of a traditionalist, and I kind of wanted to do something that I could tell the difference between analog and digital,” Park said.
The father and daughter also collaborated on the stop-motion video for the song “The Mouth,” featuring clay.
Park said he has relished working with his children. But it’s a business-like arrangement, which included registering his daughters with American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to ensure that they receive royalties.
“I wanted to do that to be fair, and so that they could actually see that they can professionally do something, if they choose, in the music world and be set up correctly to do that,” Park said.
The girls’ enthusiasm for collaborating at the keyboard and mic escalated when they received their first checks and heard themselves on SiriusXM, he said. He also asks – not demands – they they set aside studio time with him.
“They’ll do it. They’ll make sure their homework’s done, and we’ll spend a couple hours in the evening together,” he said.
The reward is more than financial for Park.
“We’re having fun with the kids stuff right now. And, working with my own kids, it’s been a blast the last couple of years,” Park said.
His connection with kids
Park credits his grandparents and growing up in a creative environment for his ability to tell stories musically.
“My grandmother was the best storyteller I’ve ever known and an amazing musician. She was just full of life. Same with my grandad on my dad’s side,” Park said.
He gravitated to a way of telling stories “that doesn’t give too much away, and let’s the listener be involved, with prompts and cues to set up the ‘big finish,'” Park said.
His goal in children’s music is to foster that older style of communication and interaction that doesn’t belittle the listener.
“One of my greatest joys is to see a child’s eyes light up when their imaginations begin to take the reigns and they become active partners in a story song – picking up on what I’m not spelling out for them,” Park said.
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.