Lisa Roth, executive producer, Rockabye Baby
PHOTOGRAPHY BY EARL GIBSON III
By Jaclyn Trop
May 18, 2016

Can’t take another round of “The Wheels on the Bus?” Maybe you’d prefer to send your baby off to the Land of Nod with Rihanna’s “Umbrella” instead.

With Rockabye Baby, a children’s music series created by Lisa Roth, parents who love Rihanna—or Adele, Led Zeppelin, or David Bowie—can find new musical common ground with their children. Roth’s lullaby renditions of songs from rock, pop, and R&B artists include 76 albums (the Rihanna record, the latest, came out this March) and have since sold a total of more than 1.8 million units.

Given that Roth is the sister of Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth, you might think music was a natural fit for her career. Not so, she says, swearing that she can’t carry a tune. Another reason she’s an unlikely lullaby mogul: Roth doesn’t have children. Yet she insists that being kid-free was key to her development of Rockabye Baby. “I don’t think we would have thought of this if anyone here had had children,” she says. “I think I would have been too protective of my child to consider lullaby renditions of Tool.”

Roth, 58, told Fortune about how she got started, why her lullabies resonate with parents, and why she’ll always be in business.

Fortune: How did you get the idea for Rockabye Baby?

Lisa Roth: Necessity is the mother of invention. I was shopping for a baby shower gift, and I didn’t see anything out there that was adult-friendly. I wanted to give something that was a little bit of a reflection of my tastes, and I wanted something that had a sense of humor and a little irony, something I would be excited to give as a gift. I was working at the record label, and I thought maybe we could do something about this. My coworker at the time, Valerie Aiello, had a similar idea and a year later Rockabye Baby was born. We released three album to start because we figured three makes a series: Coldplay, Radiohead, and Metallica. They also covered different rock genres, so we kind of wanted to cover our bases with the first three, kind of make a statement about what Rockabye Baby is in one fell swoop.

What is the process for creating each album?

We start by contacting the publishers and obtaining licenses for each song of an album that we want to do, and then we assign an album to one of our producers and they deconstruct each and every song and put them back together using our Rockabye Baby palette of instruments. We use all kinds of things—xylophones, marimbas, wood blocks, celestas, glockenspiels, and I’m not going to give away the whole sauce. Then the producer sends us a first draft and myself and my coworker, James Curtis, sit and listen to each and every note and send back notes to the producer, and this goes back and forth six, eight, 10, 12 times before we get the perfect balance of clunk and tinkle. We work on it until we have the fairy dust effect that we want.

 

The first babies to hear Rockabye Baby are now 10 or 11 years old. What kind of role do you think your albums have played in their upbringing?

I have only ever heard very positive things, compliments from the parents and that their kids are still listening. I know kids, I’ve heard of kids that are still going to sleep at age 10 to our Rockabye Baby CD’s, and the cool thing is that babies are going to be around forever. It’s not a trend and so it continues to be popular, once the first babies start to grow up sometimes a second or third baby comes along. So I think once you’re a fan, it keeps us in business. After 10 years, you have the perennial albums. They’ve been on the market now for so many years that they appear to be the most popular, but out of the gate, Taylor Swift and Blink-182 knocked them out. How’s that for diversity?

Rockabye Baby is entering its 11th year. What has been the key to your success and the brand’s longevity?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure I consider myself an entrepreneur. This is definitely a team effort. I think it’s also about paying attention to detail. Being honest in your choices, whether they be creative or business. Keeping your ear to the ground, anticipating change before it happens. Being a step ahead of the changes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from people inside or outside your personal circle or industry. Pay attention to every detail, no cutting corners ever. Whether it’s how you set up your accounting, the color of your logo, the verbiage in a marketing blurb, or in our case the sound of every recorded note and the look of each album cover, every single thing matters.

This series was created for parents. That is who I identified with—the adult—and I wanted something they would appreciate and enjoy. It’s also for the baby, but it’s primarily created for the adult. It addresses the part of them that sometimes they feel like they have to leave behind when they become a parent.

 

 

 

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