Performing for Kids
Everything I could ever tell you about …
NAME: Joe McDermott | AGE: 45 | HOME: Austin | QUALIFICATIONS: Former rock musician and Montessori schoolteacher • Has performed at more than four hundred birthday parties and released four children’s albums (his fifth, Anything Is Possible, is due out this fall) • Took second place in the 2004 International Songwriting Competition’s children’s music division.
The secret to good songwriting is not grabbing your pen and pencil and saying, “Hey, kids like dinosaurs. I’m going to write a dinosaur song.” You have to really think about what you loved when you were a kid and about what you love like a child now.
I get hecklers every gig. But I heckle them too. I say a lot of silly things. At this one show in San Antonio, I asked, “Is everyone having fun?” And they all said, “Yeah!” except for this one little kid, who shook his head no. So the rest of the show I would ask him, “Are you having fun now?” Then, after a while, he started saying, “I’m not having fun yet!” He was five.
The best time for a show is in the morning or early evening. Nap time, of course, is to be avoided at all costs.
My sister is a costume designer, and she just made me this shirt with embroidered kangaroos. I don’t generally do bright, cute stuff; I’m not one of those performers. I wear vintage cowboy shirts, things with contrast. The kids like that.
I know that I’m doing a really great show when I hear a dad or a mom jump in.
I wrote pop songs before I ever wrote kids’ songs—I’m nothing but a pop writer. But writing for kids is a lot more fun. You can pull out all the stops: write about whatever you want, decide a song needs a bass clarinet.
If I have a hit song, it’s probably “Don’t Drop a Brick on Your Foot.” I think it’s popular because it’s a true story.
As a performer, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of “Wow, look at this audience. They came for me.” But I’m always reminding myself that I’m there for them.
I feel very at home, very comfortable with children. I guess I just don’t quite get the adult thing.
Think back to your childhood, to that feeling when you wake up on Saturday morning and the sun is shining and your bike’s outside and your friends are in the neighborhood and you know something great is going to happen. When I write a song and it makes me feel like that—that feeling of “Wow, the world’s a better place than it was a few minutes ago”—that’s when I know it’s a good song.