A Musical For Tweens Captures Its Audience - New York Times
Ben Sisario, February 8, 2006
Ben Sisario examines the marketing strategy that went into Disney’s High School Musical and how it was able to engage its target audience with not-yet-standard techniques. The movie premiered on the Disney Channel on January 20th, and by February 8th it was already making news for its popularity. The soundtrack released with the movie reached top 10 of the Billboard charts, made 45 percent of its sales online through iTunes and had no radio airtime outside of Radio Disney’s station, and that was only in the first two weeks.
Sisario quotes Gary Marsh, president of entertainment for Disney Channel Worldwide, as explaining the value of the story in its themes such as “express yourself, believe in yourself, celebrate your family, follow your dreams,” but it wasn’t just the optimism that made this movie and all of the other media associated with it into such a success. Because Disney’s presence exists across multiple forms of entertainment, it was able to use cross-platform advertising to build excitement about the movie before it was first aired. The show’s characters appeared on a New Years Eve show, the Disney channel played music videos from the movie’s songs “in heavy rotation,” and Disney even offered a free download of the song “Breaking Free” around the time of the premiere. After the movie aired for the first time, Disney directed viewers to a sing-along version online where they could download the lyrics. According to Sisario, the lyrics were downloaded 500,000 times in the first 24 hours. That’s successful cross-marketing.
Disney capitalized on its integration of web content into the TV market, something that they’ve gotten very good at of late. They also benefited from the fact that the movie and soundtrack were released in the winter, specifically because of the holiday sales of iPods and iTunes gift certificates.
Sisario sees this movie as the beginning of “a new musical phase,” referring to the previous cultivation of pop stars Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the members of ’N Sync. They are creating a new generation of pop icons following the success of Hillary Duff, which began with her TV show “Lizzy McGuire.” The most interesting element of the movie and album’s success is the fact that it did not rely on traditional radio or MTV for its publicity. They know that their audience, because of their age, is very comfortable with the internet and digital music, so they were able to make use of their own website and their relationship with Apple’s iTunes to set the movie up for success.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1999.W27 S62 1999
The nineteen forties left Disney headed toward failure with the loss of their international markets because of the war. They invested everything they could in a new feature animation: Cinderella (1950), and they ended up with a huge success. The fate of the company rode on the success of the movie because of all of the labor and money put into creating it, and with both its score and the song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi Bo” nominated for Oscars, Disney realized that their salvation was in the creation of more feature animated musicals.
Of course not every feature was as profitable. Disney invested over six million dollars in creating Sleeping Beauty (1959), its “most lavish and costly” film up to that point, but its initial release did not do as well as they’d hoped (p. 85). Luckily, Mary Poppins (1964) flew in with her umbrella and created a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious film that received thirteen Oscar nominations and five awards.
The authors mark 1984 as the lowest point financially for Disney theatrical releases in thirty years. Under the new leadership of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, though, the company started turning around. By 1989, The Little Mermaid put Disney back at the top. It was the first of five Disney feature animations in a row to win the Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Song, and it caused for “renewed excitement in the animation and musical genres” that set Disney straight for the next decade (p. 151). Beauty and the Beast, which was also nominated for Best Picture in 1991, Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Pocahontas (1995), followed equally strongly, and reinvigorated Disney’s animation department. Again, the cause for success was feature animated musicals that brought back both audiences and awards.
Following the entry for the final year, 1999, the authors take a look into the future at what Disney has planned for the upcoming century. They spelled out every bit of advance information they could get their hands on, and looking back, they were pretty dead on. Two of the major disappointments that they could not have anticipated were the movies Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) and Treasure Planet (2002). Their predicted success was based on the fact that they would have the same directorial and production staff that made the movies of the early nineties so incredibly successful. The missing piece? Music.
Call#: Annenberg Library Reference PN1995.9.M86 H57 2001
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first movie musical to produce a best-selling soundtrack album in 1944, and it changed the way audiences and studios alike saw children’s movies and animated movies in general, since it was the first feature length animated movie, at 83 minutes long. (p. 304). Mary Poppins was also one of Disney’s largest successes, with Oscars for Best Song, “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and Best Actress, Julie Andrews. For years afterwards, Disney and other studios attempted to copy the successful formula that went into the making of this movie. (p.209).
The entry in the encyclopedia for The Walt Disney Company continues the timeline, noting the enormous success of Mary Poppins (1964) as the musical that “rivaled those of Hollywood’s golden age.” (p. 343) Following that movie, though, few were really notable until a major resurgence in the early nineteen nineties with year after year of animated musical hits, featuring: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Mulan (1998), and Tarzan (1999). Many of the individual entries for each of these later movies compare the scores to Broadway musical scores and credit them for reviving what had been a long stretch of unsuccessful attempts in the Disney feature animation department.
It’s so wonderful to see the scores and songs of Disney animated musicals get the credit they deserve for first creating the identity of Disney features and then reviving that identity after many years of hiatus.
MEDIA; The Top-Selling Tunes on Billboard, Sung by Children for Children - New York Times
Robert Levine, March 6, 2006
The New York Times considered the growing market of children’s music important enough to report about. The news isn’t exactly news: music for kids, especially music recorded by other kids, is going to sell. Following the success of the soundtrack for High School Musical, which was the top album for 2006, other recording companies are seeing an opening for more albums for kids. The article highlights Kidz Bop, a series of albums containing covers of famous pop songs sung by children ages 8-12 with an “intentionally imperfect style.” The idea is that kids listening will want to sing along and can more easily imagine themselves as the rock star when the singers on the album aren’t easily identifiable and the vocals are less impressive. These albums, with the eleventh released this year plus a number of holiday and special edition releases, are part of the recent resurgence in children’s music.
A quick check on Amazon.com reveals some interesting consumer reviews. Most of the reviews actually hate these CDs, but of course the reviewers are adults. They say Kidz Bop is ruining perfectly good and generally appropriate popular songs, and that some of the songs they’re picking are so far from appropriate that even when they’re edited it’s strange to hear such young kids singing them. But there are over thirty hits when searching with the terms “Kidz Bop” under Music on Amazon, so they must be doing something right.
When the soundtrack for “High School Musical” was number one on the Billboard chart, spots two and three were also albums made for children. As most of the other music genres are noticing a decline in CD sales, children’s music is stable if not increasing. Recording labels are starting to take an interest in audiences too young to pirate their music. Razor and Tie, the independent label responsible for Kidz Bop, does most of their advertising directly television, and so far it’s been working well. They’re in direct competition with Disney, which has access to both the Disney Channel and Radio Disney to promote its music. At the time of the article, Disney was coming out with Devo 2.0 on its new label Disney Sound, described as “still safe, but it’s got a little bit of an edge,” by a marketing vice president at Walt Disney Records.
JSTOR: Music Educators Journal: Vol. 32, No. 5, p. 18-19. April 1946
This article analyzes the use of music in animated cartoon movies, contrasting its use with that of live action films. Since animated movies are more exaggerated and are filled with constant motion, a composer needs to make his music do the same. Rodriguez begins by examining the role of music in movies more generally. He defines the difference between a screenplay with music and a musical by stating that screen plays use music to enhance the emotion of a scene or clarify a point to the viewer, but they keep the plot is still the central focus of the movie. In musicals, however, the plot can be completely swept to the side to make room for a musical number that has little to do with the actual story of the movie but is there for pure entertainment.
Because cartoons are by their nature based in fantasy rather than reality, Rodriguez states that a composer working on a score for an animated movie has a much greater task ahead of him than if he were working on a live action film. The actions of the animated characters are timed down to the frame, which is 1/24th of a second. In order to fit the action perfectly, then, a composer must change his frame of reference from the usual beats per measure approach to beats per frame. This argument seems to work for live action as well, since in the end everything is broken down into frames to be projected, but Rodriguez claims that synchronization of action with music in live action films is coincidental and unlikely while it is “almost a rule of life with animation composers.” (p. 19) The music must be constantly active and moving, simply because the characters are. A good composer must know how to make his music as humorous and exaggerated as Donald Duck of Goofy but also be able to convey the tenderness and emotion found in many animated films. Rodriguez specifically mentions Dumbo, Bambi, and Pinocchio in the latter category.
Although the subtitle of the article reads, “Will ‘Cartoon’ films have a place in music education?” the author only mentions music education in passing in his last paragraph. He laments that not enough researchers or critics are writing about how well cartoons can teach music to children. His idea of music instruction is creating an animation that is didactic in nature, instructing children about notes, musical structures, harmonies, and other complicated elements of music that are not easily explained otherwise. The fact that music can be added to animation would only serve to illustrate the different sounds that would be taught in the animation. In my opinion, his focus on education is quite limited to high level music theory and could be extended much further. Rodriguez mentions Fantasia in a reference to animation set to pre-composed music, but he failed to note how the animation visually conveyed the different elements and tones in the music, making the music’s qualities apparent both to the ear and to the eye.