“Poke” Olivier (left) and Jason Goldstein of The Kids Block
Photo: David Weiss
Sometimes when you listen to the music on a kids' show, you wonder if kids were in charge of making it, too. While there are always a few gems for the 2 to 6-year-old set, anyone with kids can attest to the relative weakness of child-centric broadcast music production.
A new show coming out of New York City with big ambitions and extremely high audio standards is set to drop a bomb on all of that. Spearheaded by Trackmasters, the successful New York City hip hop team of Samuel “Tone” Barnes and Jean Claude “Poke” Olivier (Will Smith, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey), The Kids Block (TKB) is set to be a uniquely satisfying, music-first learning experience for kids and their parents.
Inspiration for the show came from Sisqó's notorious “Thong Song,” of all places. “One day I got an epiphany,” recalls Poke, owner and chairman of TKB, in their Manhattan offices, where production for the first season's 56 30-minute episodes is well under way. “I was driving my young daughter to the babysitter, the ‘Thong Song’ was on and she was singing it. I was like, ‘I don't want you singing that song,’ but then I realized it was the melody and the beat that she liked, not the words. So I said, ‘Let's make a show that's character- and music-driven — something original.’
The cornerstone of TKB's approach is the same Platinum music production that Tone and Poke wielded as Trackmasters: Keep it real. “Coming from the music world, I didn't want to cheat the children out of real records,” Poke says. “The music is the driving force here, and we wanted to build the whole show to be very authentic and true to what hip hop is — the dancing, the clothing, the style, the attitude. I'm trying to make records that stand the test of time, so when we take the kids from baby to toddler to pre-teen to teen, the music stays in their head. You want some continuity with their enjoyment of the music so the educational aspect stays with it.”
TKB's on-screen visuals are a highly engaging mix of puppets, animation and live-capture footage that make up the show's fictional, urban-inspired world, where math, science, reading and geography take center stage. The audio production is an even more tightly controlled environment — in addition to the vocal mics and preamps, 100 percent of the music production takes place in the box.
The decision to keep everything sound-related in the computer at all times stems from Tone and Poke's experience working with TKB senior VP of music production Jason Goldstein. A longtime go-to mixer in their stable, with heavy credits ranging from The Roots to Beyoncé Knowles and Keith Murray, Goldstein feels lucky to be tackling the daunting responsibilities of soundtracking a full TV season with the tools available. “Doing a show's audio 100 percent in the box is economically, logistically and ergonomically more feasible now than ever,” observes Goldstein. “It makes total sense, and it's fortunate that you can do this now.
“In the planning stage,” he continues, “we were discussing how we're going to approach making these records, and the reason we're going into the box is out of necessity. There's so much content that has to be done in a short amount of time, and it's completely open to change. Our approach is that from the minute the first element is tracked, the song is being mixed, so when you get to the end, there's less work needed to put the polish on the record. Instead, we have Instant Recall and we can make changes on the fly.”
The tune “Electricity” explains the basics of electric energy with spirited, top-quality hip hop production straight from New York City's Hot 97 radio station, where not a single note or hook is a throwaway. And how about the call-and-response gang choruses of “Gravity,” where they chant addictively, “Dinky dink/What's the problem kids?/Can you please teach us what gravity is?”
At present, Goldstein heads up the mixing duties from a Mac Quad G5 — equipped suite, outfitted with a Pro Tools PCI HD Accel system, a Dangerous 2-Bus analog summing mixer and JBL LSR6328 monitors. “I've noticed that summing outside the box makes my life easier from a signal-to-noise perspective,” Goldstein says. “I don't have to worry about the summing bus being hit too hard, so I can make level adjustments outside the box — but still be in the box. I like the JBLs because they get loud, they're accurate and they don't compress like other powered monitors do. Plus, they have handles!”
By staying in the box, whether it's on Goldstein's current setup or the next planned round of TKB suites, which will be built around Euphonix System 5 consoles and 5-MC controllers, Goldstein and his staff will be able to stay organized.
“We're all into the cutting edge and doing something that no one else has done before,” Goldstein says, “but it's also important for me to do something that I'm proud of and give back. Plus, I've known these guys for eight years, and I'd like nothing more than to spend all day working with my friends. You can't beat that.”
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