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What makes a good children’s song? Station Little CEO on making great music for kids

Jordan Omley, co-founder of educational children’s music platform Station Little, and former producer and songwriter for the likes of Backstreet Boys, Brandy, Lady Gaga, Ne-Yo, Tori Kelly, Leona Lewis, and Pussycat Dolls, speaks to Headliner about his mission to educate kids through great music, the power of melody, and the launch of a new contest aimed at uncovering the best new songwriting talent…

Having penned and produced hits for some of the biggest names in pop and R&B, Jordan Omley is well versed in the art of hitmaking. His many successes with those aforementioned acts earned him a reputation as a major force in the LA music scene, notching up numerous credits on some of the biggest tracks of the past two decades. However, an unexpected Eureka moment during a cinema screening of Frozen 2 prompted a dramatic shift in direction that would, as he puts it, change his family’s lives forever.

By drawing on the same ear for melody that had served him and his collaborators so well in the pop world, Omley was now keen to apply his creative skills in a new sphere – one that would not only entertain and educate young children but would also be enjoyable for parents and educators alike. The result was Station Little, a platform that creates music for children just out of nursery school, founded on the same quality and production values that informed his pop output and the iconic musical moments that have defined so many Disney and Pixar films.

From a weekly YouTube animated series, as well as music featured on most streaming platforms, Omley is now looking to take Station Little into the realm of physical media with the launch of a new book series, as well as an educational curriculum that can be taught in schools. Furthermore, in partnership with Headliner, Station Little is launching a new contest inviting songwriters to submit a melody, with the winning entry forming the basis of a new Station Little hit. 

To find out more, Headliner joined Omley over Zoom from his LA home to discuss the future of Station Little, why kids are the most loyal and discerning audience for songwriters, and the art of great songwriting…

Tell us about the origins of Station Little. What was the initial concept?

Station Little was born from just being around six nieces and nephews under the age of 10. I’m very family oriented and am constantly able to see what they are ingesting online, and it was shocking the amount of content they were watching that was animated but had no substance. Like there was all these people making animated channels to get child viewership up but they weren’t giving them anything healthy to ingest. So Station Little was born out of necessity – there was a gaping hole in the marketplace for someone that could make something that would be entertaining for kids to watch and a resource for parents to use.

I approached my production partner Louis John Biancaniello and discussed what we liked the sound of musically. Everything we had been seeing was very cringey and not appealing to parents and educators. I started asking people what they like the sound of with their kids and the common answer was always Disney films, Pixar movies. These are beautifully scored, they have amazing singers, and are really well written songs, so we started thinking, 'why is there nothing out there that is educational, with character building life lessons, but sounds awesome'? That was the birthplace and that is what we spent two years creating - a programme where we could deliver weekly content for kids that parents also like to have on in the house.

Children are the most discerning and the most loyal audience. Jordan Omley, co-founder, Station Little

What platforms does Station Little exist on?

The initial goal was to launch exclusively on YouTube, which we have done, but we are also on all the DSPs, anywhere that you stream songs you can find Station Little music. It started as a web-based project. What was interesting is that it caught on like wildfire in the school system because there was nothing educational for kids that teachers were excited to play. They were so exited about the idea that it started going from school to school. We just landed in our 100th school and now we are taking Station Little to more tangible items, like an entire book series we are getting ready to launch. We have our first two coming out in March.

How have you found taking the format and transferring it to physical media?

It’s interesting because I started as a poet. Songwriting came second to me. I grew up loving to write and always had the passion for it, and I always loved to sing, so that turned into songwriting and gave me a great career. Now I’m going back to book writing, which is taking me full circle. We are writing great short stories that are perfect before bedtime and allow parents to get involved with their kids. We don’t want to it to just be a generation of parents who rely on devices to raise their children. Anyone with small kids probably understands that struggle, and there is a time and place for that as they need to understand that stuff, but there is still something amazing about sitting down with your child with a book, and that was the idea behind this book series.

Tell us about the new songwriting contest.

This is a fun one for us. So far every one of our Station Little songs has been written by me and my partner Louis, and this is the first time we are opening up the idea of giving the next great songwriter out there a chance to be involved with a great project. This is the Make A Melody contest.

As songwriters, we usually start with a great melody and build it up from there. With this we want to reach out to all the songwriters from around thew world and say give us your strongest melody that you feel sounds like a hit. We’ll listen to everything, pick some finalists and then pick a prize winner to bring in and be a part of the project to create a song together and watch that come to life. They will have a share in the publishing credits and revenues from that song, and it lets someone else have a chance to break into the music business through their talent.

Has your background in the music industry given you any expertise on how to navigate writing the perfect melody for children’s music?

A lot of people associate kids’ music with nursery rhymes, and there are a lot of great channels out there that offer those easy to digest melodies - a huge portion of the population loves and needs those. Station Little comes in a little bit above that; we take over where nursery rhymes leave off and cater more to fans of Disney films and those big musical moments that give you chills. We try to bring in everything we’ve learned from the success we’ve had on radio and bring that to writing songs for kids and families. We’re getting messages every day from parents saying they’ll listen to the songs even without their kids, which is awesome to hear!

I left the movie halfway through and told my wife, I have something that will change our lives. Jordan Omley, co-founder, Station Little

How challenging is to write a piece of music that connects with children? Kids are the most discerning audience in many ways.

They are the most discerning and also the most loyal. If a kid loves a song they are going to listen to it again and again. A lot of the songwriters out there are so focused on being cool that they don’t really think about writing great material that can help kids and families get through some tough days. I hung up my cool hat years ago! I’m trying to make something that educators, parents and kids can fall in love with.

When did you first decide to launch Station Little? Did you have a lightbulb moment that sparked the initial idea?

There was absolutely a lightbulb moment. My wife and I are big cinema fans and I get inspired by movies all the time. We were watching Frozen 2 together and during the film I had this feeling of a warm blanket come over me, I felt something happening in my soul. And it hit me: why can’t anybody figure out how to make these amazing sounding pop songs but give them educational substance? So the school systems of America, which are struggling so much with their arts and music departments, can have something they feel proud of to let kids learn? I left the movie theatre about halfway into the film just writing notes furiously on my phone and I said to my wife, I have something that is going to change our lives. We are going to shift focus on what we do and create this kids’ series that sounds like what we just listened to but is educational.

And it took two years to build, it wasn’t overnight. It was a lot of work. We had to find animators, take meetings with school boards, parenting groups, and find out what they wanted their kids to be learning about. The research alone was around six months full-time doing all of that.

What can you tell us about the rest of the Station Little team?

There are three people mainly. Myself, my wife Suzie, who is the producer of all the animated parts, then there is my songwriting and production partner Louis. That is the primary team, but we have an amazing YouTube team who make sure we are doing all the right things when we put up a new episode. It’s a real team effort. We have been lucky enough as songwriters and producers to build up a roster of amazing vocal talent we can call on, as well as good friends of ours like the Backstreet Boys who have lent us their voices.

What are some of the key values or messages you like to convey through the music?

When you go to figure out what you are going to write about next there is an endless sea of ideas. In the children’s world that narrows a little bit. We try to focus on messages of doing good in the world. Things like healthy eating, sharing with people, dealing with tough times. We are always trying to focus on what will make someone feel good at the end of it.

Are you looking at pushing on into the next phase of the audience’s development?

Yes. I spent about two months creating a curriculum. When I first went to the school boards and talked about introducing Station Little to the schools, they loved the sound of it but were like, how do we teach this? I had to go back to the drawing board as to how we make it a teachable moment. I started creating a curriculum for educators to use in a classroom environment and that is the next evolution – taking it from the home and cars and bringing it into classrooms. We created an entire curriculum that is amazing and we are being added into more and more schools.

Have you had many conversations with parents or kids that have helped shape the work of Station Little?

All the time. It’s so cool because we get messages almost daily from parents about songs they really latch onto, but they are also suggesting things they would love their kids to learn. We’ll be out in public and see a kid with their parent going through a situation in real time and we’ll think, ‘that’s a great idea for a song’. We are inspired every day.

You can listen to an extended version of this interview below.