Keyshawn Solves It

I’m so excited that all of the episodes from Keyshawn Solves It are now available, wherever you like to listen to podcasts, and maybe more importantly, wherever you like to listen to podcasts with your kids, including PBS Kids, YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music.

I composed the mystery hip hop score and theme song. Created by Ed Jenkins, the Keyshawn Solves It podcast is an 8-episode serialized mystery about a 10-year-old African-American boy who inherits a set of keys that can unlock almost any door. With help from his friend Kiki, Keyshawn uses these keys to help solve the mystery of disappearing bikes in his North Minneapolis neighborhood, ensuring that his community’s Juneteenth bike parade can go on. Listeners will be introduced to Juneteenth and its origins, as well as to social-emotional “keys to success” such as resilience, self-worth, and responsibility. Geared to children 5-9, Keyshawn Solves It is produced by GBH Kids and distributed by PRX and PBS Kids with funding made possible in part by Black Public Media.

Happy Anniversary Agency SOS

A hearty congratulations to John Kovacevich on the one year anniversary of Agency SOS. Way to go John! As part of the anniversary festivities I joined in the fun of creating a few new versions of the Agency SOS theme song. I did the “love ballad” and the “bossa nova” version. Be forewarned, I’m singing!

I’m the music producer and music supervisor for a podcast pilot. What does that even mean?

The title music producer is used for many different roles in the music industry. I’ve worked awhile as a composer and songwriter, and I’ve met a lot of people who introduce themselves as a music producer, though to be honest I’m not always sure what they do! A music supervisor is another title that is generally a little more straight forward, but might not always be that clear to everyone. While I can’t speak to what all those other folks do on other projects, I did get the opportunity to function as a music producer and music supervisor on a podcast. So what do I do?

As a music producer and music supervisor, my primary job is to make sure we have the right, great music that matches our exciting, educational and fun story. Also, I’m committed to making sure it is really great-sounding and broadcast quality. In a nutshell, this means leading and owning the efforts of music discovery, music direction, casting, (a little) composing, mixing, editing, and revising. I’ll break down each of these activities a bit further down in this article.

Keyshawn the Keymaker is a fictional podcast for kids that takes place in modern-day Minneapolis. Keyshawn is an 8-year-old on a quest to help someone in his community. In each episode adventure, listeners discover new types of careers and learn key career values. You can listen to it here, (as well as the rest of the fantastic podcasts in the PRX accelerator program I participated in):

Here is a break-down of how I approached each these roles:

Music discovery and direction Before we could start creating, gathering and listening to tracks, we needed to metaphorically sit down and figure out what we wanted. The process was a bit like building the train tracks at the same time as building the train, since we had to figure out what music we needed, at the same time as we were writing the podcast.

We knew we wanted hip hop music to be the musical heart of the podcast. As we began analyzing different styles of hip hop, we realized we wanted to focus in on traditional, boom bap and more modern, trap. One thing that came up was that many of the beats we listened to for reference felt a little slow for a kids project, so we knew we would need to speed our beats up compared with standard tempos. I also realized pretty early on that this project would need great music for kids, but not necessarily kid’s music — a subtle, but big difference.

By the nature of our development process, I was functionally an embedded regular show producer, not just a music producer (not that there’d be anything wrong with that of course). This meant that I was reviewing scripts and helping guide the direction of our show. We went through a broad process of “I wonder” and “what if”. We kept everything on the table and we tried to create quick prototypes where we could decide what was working. We explored whether we wanted singing, rap, instrumental tracks or other songs. We ultimately decided on instrumental tracks for this pilot. We also made the choice not to include very much background music under the dialog, since we were concerned this would be too stimulating for the younger end of our demographic (4–8 year olds), and we really wanted to make sure that they were able to focus on the story.

The best way for us to streamline the process of finding the right music was to create a playlist of reference tracks, based on music that already exists. As we were trying create a playlist of music we thought would work, sometimes we found it helpful to note what music we thought definitely wouldn’t work, so parts of playlist came together by exclusion.

Music direction and supervision When we selected our beat maker, it was my job to create a written brief to figure out the music we needed in each spot. This activity is similar to when a composer has a spotting session with a director in a film. In this case, I created a document where I could confirm our music needs with the creative team and communicate those music needs to the beatmaker. I found myself referring back to this as we started selecting tracks. Once we generally had an idea of what we wanted, it was time to find a beat creator.

Casting Once we had our definition of what music we wanted, it was time to find the right band, musician, songwriter, composer, or in our case beatmaker. We chose one person to create the intro and transition beats. I could imagine using more than one person on a project this size, especially if there are multiple episodes and certainly multiple seasons.

From the outset, we were determined to find a beat creator from Minneapolis who shared the lived experiences with fictional Keyshawn. After a few starts and stops, we were introduced to Devron Mitchell, who grew up in Minneapolis, and currently lives in sunny Georgia. Devron was able to provide us with a small, original collection of music choices that I picked through, edited and mixed.

Composing I did contribute a little bit of composing in this project, adding sound elements to our intro, since we wanted some sound design from our key machine to be included rhythmically in our intro music. I built a musical sound design layer on top of a customized track that our beat maker created.

Mixing I used our reference tracks here, to help us define our overall sound. It’s important to pay attention to what you like about a track — sometimes just the sound of a reference track, the mix, is a crucial part of what is making the track sound good. Also, it was very helpful to have access to separate tracks, as I found myself muting some of the instruments channels. If you don’t mix the tracks yourself, at a minimum I would recommend making sure you have access to the stems of the tracks you’re working with so you can have maximum flexibility.

Music editing and revisions When we felt like we had the right music, we needed to make sure the tracks interacted with the story naturally; that all the entrances and exits sounded right. Each track needed to be edited for length. We were moving pretty quickly with changes and revisions to the dialog, so I made the music edits. Given some advance planning, some of the music editing could be achieved in pre-production by a composer or beatmaker if you ask for various edit lengths and clean endings.

In summary One of the biggest differences for me in this project compared to my work as a composer, was that I started with a wide, macro lens. When I’ve worked on a project as a composer, someone has usually already identified that I’m likely the right fit for the project. During this macro step, I was able to be more strategic since the planning happened early on, during the development of the project. This process was generally new to me, but it was a step that I enjoyed, and one that I hope to be able to participate in again.

Do you need a music supervisor or music producer? It really depends on how big a role music is playing in your podcast. If you’re feeling confident, and you have access to great music that you can obtain legally, I say go for it — place some music into your podcast and see if you like it! If you’re not sure about your confidence, and you’re on a small team, from what I’ve heard anecdotally, these roles will get filled by default by someone, often the audio engineer. It’s possible this person can do a great job with this. However, if there is a whole lot of work on their plate, as is often the case, it might be good to bring someone in, even for a short period of time to help you with music discovery, help you source what you’re looking for and to help you put a plan together as you move forward. It’s possible that it could save you time in the end, and very likely that it could improve the quality of your podcast.

Care to share? Do you have any experiences that you’d like to share as a music producer or music supervisor? Do you have an experience to share about working with one? Do you have a music producer or music supervisor question about your podcast? I’d love to hear from you!

Jerome Rossen is a composer and songwriter who focuses on kids media for apps, internet, podcasts and TV. Jerome is the music producer for the podcast Keyshawn the Keymaker. He has created a series of ABC songs for preschool kids in South Korea and, music and sound design for the math app Math Tango 2. Jerome creates the music for the Happy Tree Friends, a very funny (though very violent) cartoon for adults and mature kids, with a huge cult following. In addition, Jerome has placed his music in major TV shows like “The Bachelor” on ABC, MTV’s “The Challenge” and USA Network’s “Temptation Island”. He runs Freshmade Music, an independent audio studio. 

Keyshawn the Keymaker – pilot completed

Would you like to listen to the future of podcasting for kids? Listen to these six podcasts to see where this industry is going! I had the privilege of attending a PRX accelerator program over the last few months, and helped to create the pilot episode of Keyshawn the Keymaker. I’m so fortunate to be on this team! I’m the music producer, Ed Jenkins is the writer and executive producer and Avery Moore Kloss is the audio editor and sound designer. Our program was funded by Corporation for Public Broadcasting in partnership with PBS Kids. 

Listen to the pilot episodes of all six teams here:

Once Upon an Upset podcast by Jessica Laurel Kane launched

I’m so delighted to share a new podcast that has just launched. My friend, Jessica Laurel Kane has created “Once Upon an Upset” for kids 9 and up. She describes it as “stories and conversations to help make sense of difficult times”. I had the pleasure of creating the music for her. I hope you’ll consider listening and subscribing.

Song Form Song

Every spring for the last 10, I’ve collaborated with 2nd graders to write songs. They provide ideas about a character trait or something fact-based, I turn their ideas into lyrics, then add music. Once it’s finished they work with their music teacher to learn the song. The physical distancing situation that we’ve been in for the last year has meant that this project was in jeopardy of happening at all. But when there’s a will… let’s just say we figured a bunch of workarounds!

During the first session of our songwriting workshop I teach about pop song form. This year I made a video! I formalized it a little more than usual. Here is the “Song Form Song”. I used the 80s rock ballad genre (of course) for the music.

Happy New Year 2021

I recorded this a few years ago, but the song Auld Lang Syne is timeless. For me it’s that bittersweet message of saying goodbye and hello at the same time – keeping the good parts in your heart, and being open to the new ones. Here’s to a clean reset for 2021 – to safety and good health.

I Stayed Home in 2020 and Met People From Twelve Countries

I’m an independent composer and songwriter. I focus on kids projects, for TV and the internet.

When the pandemic hit the US, it seemed apparent that the typical projects I work on would be placed on hold, and after a few weeks it turned out I was right. I was unsure where to turn for networking and new business opportunities. After a few months of new normal, I wearily signed up for my first virtual conference, not really sure what to expect. As a natural skeptic, it was easy to for me to make a list of the what I thought wouldn’t go well. Here’s what was going through my mind-

The downsides seemed obvious:

  • I wouldn’t be with actual humans (though of course that’s the point), where you meet, have small talk, read body language.
  • No chance for randomness. Sometimes the greatest parts of conferences are the random meetings, or casual conversations. Or running into folks I’ve met before, where then introduce me to someone new. In person, this all happens very organically. In a virtual world there would be no framework for this type of serendipity.

To be fair, I was hopeful that it would be time well spent. The plus sides seemed pretty clear:

  • Cost – travel, food and lodging = $0. (Of course it’s not lost on me that all the folks in the travel and related industries rely on folks like me to travel for their income. Reason #27 why I can’t wait to travel again.)
  • Time – no commute or travel time. I could hang out with my family while I wasn’t virtually attending the conference. I could also continue my regular work, which is kind of nice.

The parts I wasn’t sure about:

  • I didn’t know whether there would be a typical exchange of ideas or learning.
  • I didn’t know whether it would feel like an escape from my usual routine.

I attended that initial conference and it exceeded my expectations! I had some great one-on-one conversations and saw different insights into creative process, and I got to learn about some really fun IPs that have a lot of potential. This first conference went so well for me, that I signed up for two additional conferences with slightly different formats.

Over the course of 2020, I stayed home and I met with people from twelve different countries. I watched 15 kid’s animation pitches for new shows, and witnessed some great feedback by industry veterans. I screened a bunch of new cartoons that are currently being broadcast in regions around the world. I was inspired by so much amazing content.

Things I’m grateful for:

  • I got to meet people from all over the world in creative industries that were really nice.
  • In this dark time, folks who were strangers at the beginning of my zoom call were genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of my family.
  • I got to meet with inspiring, seriously creative, funny people from all over the world with seriously creative, funny ideas.
  • I got to learn about projects and meet people who share values that translate all over the world, like this one: Educating kids through diverse, creative content, with stories that come from a diversity of voices is necessary and possible in so many creative ways.

 No, 2020  hasn’t gone the way any of us had planned, and I fear that 2021 could get off to a rocky start. But I’m so glad that I was able to make the most of it, and to “travel” by meeting so many folks, with interesting voices and perspective from all over the world.

When we journey forward into the new normal, I look forward to a hybrid world that will include travel both IRL and virtual. I hope that by including virtual travel to conferences in the future, we will see that there are at least a few positive experiences that we can bring out of this unfortunate time. I look forward to seeing you, or “seeing” you in 2021!