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The Business of Rockabye Baby!, the Million-Selling Kids' Music Series from David Lee Roth's Sister

Updated

Do you ever wish your kid’s music was a little more… rockin’? Do you want your kid to be the hippest one on the playground, humming “Enter Sandman” while the rest of the class works on “Row, Row, Row Your Boat?” Then you should really check out Rockabye Baby!

If you’re unfamiliar, Rockabye Baby! produces kid-friendly, instrumental albums of material from artists as wide-ranging as Bob Marley and Metallica. While some seem like a natural fit (it’s not too difficult to reimagine “One Love” as a child’s song) others require more work (for example, the upcoming Slumber of the Beast: Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Iron Maiden, or their version of “Under the Bridge” (a Red Hot Chili Peppers song about heroin).

Rockabye Baby! is the brainchild of Lisa Roth, vice president and creative director of L.A.’s CMH Label Group (and sister of Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth). Roth founded Rockabye Baby! in 2006 and has overseen the release of 78 albums, which have sold over 1.6 million physical units (CDs) and notched 1.5 million single downloads and 100 million-plus digital streams. The series is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Friday, so PEOPLE got Lisa on the phone to talk about the art of making heavy metal jams appropriate bedtime material. “There’s a lot of babies out there,” she says. “They’re not a trend, I’ve been told.”

Check out our exclusive stream of Rockabye Baby!’s 10th-anniversary album.

How did the series get started?
The first week I was working here at the label, I was going to a baby shower for a friend who loves music, and I thought, “It should be easy to find a gift.” So I went looking for music, baby music, and I really didn’t see anything adult-friendly that I would be excited to give as a gift, so I went back to the label, said to my boss, “We should get into the baby business and create a music series that’s for the adult as well as their little ones.” And our art director at the time, Valerie Aiello, presented the concept Lullabies of Metallica, and I thought, “That’s exactly what I’m thinking!” She became the primary artistic person for the brand for the first year and a half, and I took over a little over nine years ago.

How did you arrive at Metallica for the inaugural edition?
When we were in creative discussions about this idea, I wanted something that had a little irony. That was what I was looking for. And I was thinking, “Baby’s First Sex Pistols” or something like that, and Valerie said, “Lullabies of Metallica,” and we just went, “Okay!” In fact, we released three titles for the first go-round: We did Metallica, Radiohead and Coldplay. And so we covered all three genres of rock. And I guess I would say the series was primarily a rock series in the beginning and more recently we’ve been branching out. I believe every genre has its rockstars, and I love a lot of different kinds of music, so we’ve been broadening our scope.

A lot of baby music is like Baby Einstein — classical music. Have you had any pushback from people who would argue that this stuff is inappropriate?
They’re instrumentals only, so no bad words, no inappropriate lyrics. The parent knows what the lyrics are, so they can secretly enjoy it while they’re sharing their renditions with their babies. But our renditions are whimsical and fun and sweet and not harmful to the ears, but very recognizable and retain the intention of the original song. So it’s fun for the parent, it gives them something that bridges their lives pre-parent and their lives as a parent, and they can share their love of music with their little ones. I think the “inappropriateness” of a lyric or a song is what lends the irony to the whole thing.

I’m thinking specifically of the Sublime album, where you have “Caress Me Down,” which is a song about handjobs.
[Laughs] Exactly.

How do you pitch these? What’s the process?
Before we start producing we create a tracklist, which we populate with hits, deep cuts for true fans, and some of our own favorites. Then we contact the publishers and/or owners of each song and obtain a license. And then we distribute the albums to a handful of producers that we use and they start deconstructing each song and putting it back together using our Rockabye Baby palette, and myself and my listening partner, James Curtis, sit and listen to every single note of every song and send back fixes. Then they send us fixes, and this goes back and forth six, eight, 10 times before we get the perfect rendition.

Would I be surprised by any of the producers you have working on these? Bob Rock? Mutt Lange?
No, that is something I would love to do, though. The production of these is a bit of an art form, believe it or not — not as easy as it sounds. The three producers that we have — Leo Flynn, Andrew Bissell and Steven Charles Boone — are so good at this after so many years. They have all the little tricks up their sleeves that are need to turn, say, a minor chord into a sweet sound.

Earl Gibson
Earl Gibson

What were some of the reactions you’ve gotten from musicians or the people actually recording the music?
Mostly positive things. Steven Tyler from Aerosmith wrote liner notes for us, as did Joe Elliott from Def Leppard. Elton John has talked about us numerous times in the press. As far as our producers … I don’t recall hearing anything from them when we pitched them other than a snicker or a laugh. We get almost universally positive feedback, from parents to yoga teachers to fans. It’s very pleasant work.

What led you to this particular niche of the music industry?
Well, I’ve been at the label for 11 years. I had no intention, ever, of being in the music industry. I can’t carry a tune, I played trumpet in high school and I was a ballet dancer — that was the extent of my musical talent. Before the music industry, I was a nutritionist for 20 years and I worked in television. I kind of bumped into the music industry; I met the owner of the label and we became friends and he and his business partner offered me a job and here I am 11 years later.

How do you generate ideas for new editions?
We got through our own record collections, but we first and foremost keep our audience in mind. The greater the irony an artist’s name brings, the better! For example, Lullaby Renditions of James Taylor doesn’t have quite the same punch as Lullaby Renditions of Metallica or Eminem has. We have rotating polls on our social media accounts where fans can let us know. Our label is, of course, populated with music fans, so we poll people here internally. We keep an eye on what’s popular and we come up with a release schedule of six to eight albums about a year in advance. It changes, sometimes I get to sneak in a favorite. And sometimes we get lucky: our version of Adele‘s songs happened to come out when her new album came out, just by chance.

The full range of Rockabye Baby! releases are available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rockabye Baby siteSlumber of the Beast: Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Iron Maiden, is out Oct. 28.