by Silke Hartung

Itty Bitty Beats: Bubbling With Kids’ Music Ideas

by Silke Hartung

Itty Bitty Beats: Bubbling With Kids’ Music Ideas

Cantabrians Jenny Payne and Lucy Hiku met when studying at Christchurch’s jazz school (now known as Ara), and have been performing as childrens’ music duo Itty Bitty Beats for seven years now. Two children’s music awards later, this July, the colourful two released ‘Itty Bitty Bubbles’, six bubble-themed songs for our youngest Kiwi ears. Ever curious about niche genres, Silke Hartung quizzed them about the more serious side of their job. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

Children’s music is pretty obviously more about a fun branding than most other genres of music. Can you reflect on your look and brand for us?

The fun and creativity in children’s music allows us to have a lot of fun. Our Itty Bitty style and branding has developed over the years as we’ve journeyed on this colourful, wonderful musical outlet together. Funny story, our dresses came about because we had nothing to wear for the NZ Music Awards, we wanted to have matching dresses without looking like bridesmaids and found these! They have since become a huge part of our look.

Looking at Itty Bitty Beats as a business, what are your main income channels as children’s musicians?

We’ve worked hard to build our catalogue, knuckling down particularly hard in the studio and playlisting to produce as much music as we can this year, giving us ever building content to grow our presence on Spotify. Digital streaming has become our biggest income stream in 2021. 

Do you split up the task of managing the band between each other?

We both love to write, we’re both constantly having new song ideas, which we to and fro until we get the song to a point where Jenny starts the arrangement and production on the track, before handing it over to our producer to bring it to life and ready for our vocals.

Graphic design, lyric videos, digital distribution, admin etc fall under Jenny’s umbrella, while Lucy is our whizz with Spotify, curating playlists, social media updates, building relationships and distribution of our music to our contacts.

Is there any place outside your hometown of Christchurch that you perform at more than others?

We both have busy lives, with kids at different stages of life, family and work commitments. It can be a bit of a juggling act trying to fit everything in. We love performing but it’s not something we do super regularly. When we do, we seem to spend more time performing in Auckland than here in Christchurch, especially since we released our book with Suzy Cato and Scholastic.

Your songs have bravely touched upon big, and not much-talked-about subjects such as baby loss – are there subjects you wouldn’t write a song about?

Great question! Music is such a great way of including people, growing strength, showing kindness and building others up. As you mentioned, we’re not afraid to talk about taboo subjects and are passionate about kindness and humanity, so if there’s a subject we feel strongly about then why not put that into song and help make a change? 

What are some of the challenges you encounter that other musicians might not usually deal with?

After releasing our baby loss music we receive messages from families experiencing loss, asking if they can use our songs for their children’s funerals and memorials. These messages are especially tough for Jenny, and Lucy found them very difficult to reply to during her latest pregnancy… So we keep in touch and tag team when needed.
Lucy has a spinal injury and sometimes finds gigs challenging, especially when kids jump up for a spontaneous hug! 

Lucy, what do you admire most about Jenny as a musician and businesswoman?

Jenny is extremely hard working and goal orientated, so she anchors my wild creative side. She is a fantastic instrumentalist and can bring lots of my oddball ideas to a more structured piece of music. Her voice is heaven, it is a truly beautiful thing weaving our harmonies together. 

And vice versa, Jenny?

Lucy is an incredibly creative woman, she always has a new song idea or three in her head! Her voice is absolutely stunning and our musical partnership is a beautiful pairing. As a businesswoman I admire her excellent interpersonal skills and how she is so giving of her time and energy for other children’s entertainment artists.

You both went through jazz school in Christchurch, graduating in 2002. What was the most important lesson you learned there that you still apply as practising musicians?

Jazz school (now Ara Music Arts) was such a wonderful foundation of our musical skill set. Jenny has gone full circle and is now a vocal tutor there too! Jenny studied under the jazz course and those influences shine through in our musical arrangements. Lucy studied contemporary and commercial music and has found that although musical prowess is awesome, relationships are really important.

Being reliable, honest and kind can be the difference between a band surviving or falling apart. We both met our husbands there, and another fun fact; we share the same wedding anniversary (five years apart)!

You’ve just released the ‘Itty Bitty Bubbles’ EP – who else did you work with on that?

‘Itty Bitty Bubbles’ has been such a fun project! Some of the songs were written and waiting in the wings for years before they came to fruition on this bubble-themed project.
We are very lucky to work alongside our talented other halves. Jenny’s husband Rob is our producer and his musical arrangements, killer instrumental skills and creative vision really brought this bubbly EP popping into life!

Lucy’s husband Clay is a talented director and is the mastermind producer behind our super fun, colourful and poptastic video Bubble Shop. He really jumped on board with the idea of a bubbles shop being set in a ’50s-style diner and brought the story to life.

To get to the children, you’ve got to get through to the parents, adding a whole new layer to getting the word about your music out there right?

We’ve compiled an ever-growing list of radio stations and blogs that we send our new music to. Creating playlists on Spotify has led to us having 4x or 5x as many listeners in the US versus NZ. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with our fans. Suzy Cato has been an incredible advocate for Kiwi kids music and she has been instrumental (excuse the pun) in helping kids music as a genre reach further. 

You were lucky enough to get NZOA funding for the EP. How does funding change the final outcomes of such a release?

Funding is a game-changer for us – it allows us to pay our Itty Bitty team for the work they do! Being able to pay for extra production time gives us beautiful, fully arranged high-quality tracks and the resources to fund a music video that meets the high-quality prerequisites for TV play. We also were able to have a vibrant and fun photoshoot with Charlie Rose Creative. The images elevated our social media, website and Spotify bio.

What’s next for Itty Bitty Beats? 

We have soooo many songs ready and waiting for production, we’re releasing as many songs as we can this year to grow our catalogue even more and reach a wider audience.

We’re lucky to have been collaborating with some other wonderful children’s music artists both here in NZ and also internationally. These songs are incredibly exciting for us as we are working with artists we really admire. In December we’ll be heading up to Auckland  to do some more shows and promote our ‘Christmas In Summer’ book with our dear friend Suzy Cato.