As many of us do, I recently ended up in a Facebook conversation about parenting or music. In this case, it was about both conversational mainstays: Namely, how do you allow a child in 2013 to decide to listen to something of their choosing?
“I’ve been thinking lately about the downside of having a digital-only music collection in relation to [my daughter],” said Thanx head of product Aaron Newton, formerly of Epitonic and CNET, the guy who started the ball rolling. “My friends’ kid used to go pull records and CDs off the shelf because he wanted to hear them. If memory serves, he had a taste for Miles Davis at age 2 or so. But [my daughter] can’t do this because our music is locked behind an interface that requires comprehension and dexterity that is beyond her. She pulls books down off the shelf that she wants us to read all the time, but imagine a world where her books are all on an iPad. It sounds ludicrous right? That one would put books intended for a one-year-old into a digital format… But that’s just what I’ve done with our music, and there’s no going back.”
He’s not the only one. Most people having kids these days, I would wager, are well past the days of spending a significant portion of income on vinyl. Many of them (ahem!) have even done the unthinkable, and moved out of Brooklyn.
The most obvious answer is to Google around for a probably-horrible-albeit-somewhat-kid-friendly MP3 player. If you don’t mind performing sysadmin duties every time your kid wants to put a new song on there, which might involve getting some arcane software to work, more power to you. Oh, and now you have to download stuff for them, too. Because, you know, you have so much extra time.
Vinyl records are an option, but kids scratch them, and toddlers can’t deal with all that paper and cardboard. One parent suggested printing out a book of album covers and having the kid point to a specific album when they want to hear it, a fairly inefficient kluge that still requires extensive parental intervention. Another suggested that — no offense to kids — even a monkey can use iOS. Sure, kids can figure it out eventually, and will, but A) music apps aren’t as intuitive as some other apps, B) kids sometimes delete things, and C) no matter what, they might throw a tantrum when you take the device away.
Warmer: Another parent suggested burning cheap CD-Rs and giving them a cheap CD player. Those have lasers in them, and they break. Also, with some models (of both kid and CD player), inserting the CD properly is going to be challenge.
And thus we arrive at the humble cassette deck as the answer to this question. In my case, it’s the recorder kind with the handle, from Radio Shack — a gift from my mother (who teaches music teachers how to teach music). A toddler can pick out a cassette tape, hit Eject, insert the tape, close it up, and press Play — or so we are hoping.
Cassettes are durable. You can pick them out by picking them up. The only hassle, really, is that someone has to make or buy the tapes for the kid to use, and that is a pain — even if you remember to poke out the tabs on the top to prevent the tape from being recorded over.
A better solution than all of these would be something like Spotify Box, a prototype that turns the subscription service into a physical player:
Rather than dubbing cassette tapes or burning CDs, a parent could simply assign various albums, playlists, or even songs to the tokens, which make themselves known to the player via RFID. The tokens could be any size or shape, really — even shaped like blocks, or made mostly of cloth — and they could have album covers on them, or labels, or even drawings depicting what the playlist is about: happy face, sleepy face, etc. And you’d be able to play them by simply placing the token on the player.
This would solve music for toddlers. Can someone please Kickstart it or something? I have a feeling adults might end up using it too, because after a long day of staring at a computer, driving on a road, and wrangling small humans, the last thing many of them want to do is get back on a computer and use something that looks like a spreadsheet.