Lisa Roth often finds herself giving unlikely advice to musicians who are covering songs by the likes of Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, Jay Z and Kanye West.
“A lot of the times it’s, ‘I want you to produce this like there’s a baby sitting in your lap while you’re doing it,’” she says.
As vice president and creative director of the CMH Label Group, Roth oversees a branch of the label that produces the Rockabye Baby series, in which musicians have taken the aforementioned artists and created lullaby renditions of their best-known work. Roth created the series with co-worker Valerie Aiello in 2006, and she has since overseen more than 50 releases. Today sees the release of a Nickelback compilation.
“When we developed this idea, no one here had kids,” says Roth. “I am not sure we would have thought about lullaby versions of Tool if we did have kids.”
For the uninitiated, Rockabye Baby releases are like a private game of “Name That Tune” that parents can play while their little ones benefit from soothing arrangements of classic tunes. Where a song like the Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” in its original incarnation is characterized by its hard guitars crunching up against bombastic drums and Dave Grohl’s rock ‘n’ roll screams, the Rockabye Baby version is an instrumental playground, led by harmonizing glockenspiels and filled out by little bird chirps, rattles and cute little honks.
CMH Label Group releases about eight compilations per year, working with a small handful of producers, and Roth says the back-and-forth with a producer for each release could take as long as six months.
“There’s a certain amount of training that we have to go through with these people because it’s kind of nuanced: It’s not an easy thing to do. I think people have preconceived notions when it comes to a lullaby, as if you should just play quieter and slower, which is not the case at all,” she says. “First of all, we are a record label, not a children’s company. The music, whether the consumer notices it or not, means a great deal to us.”
Yes, the consumer in question is a baby, one who’s unknowingly being introduced to the greatest pop music of the past few decades (yes, there are people who would put Nickelback into that category). But the consumer is also the parent who can hear songs he or she already loves without having to suffer through nonsense by purple dinosaurs or men in brightly colored turtlenecks.
“I get to spend chunks of my day doing this thing,” says Roth, “and listening to music and deconstructing these songs and picking the instruments, and it’s like painting a little picture, and trying to do it with utmost deference and respect to the artists so they don’t get annoyed.”
And the cradle will rock...
Lisa Roth comes from a very musical family. Her brother is a guy who goes by the name of David Lee Roth, from a little band called Van Halen. Did her big brother ever sing her lullabies while growing up?
“Well, he never sang to me, but he was always singing,” she says. “And if he wasn’t singing, he was doing air guitar. … David was always — oh my God — I thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He always had music on like, Bob Dylan, Zeppelin, all that good stuff.”
More from CMH: Not Pickin’ one over another
The CMH Label Group doesn’t just release popular music as filtered through lullaby versions. They also release popular music as interpreted in bluegrass style (the Pickin’ On series) and through classical style (the Vitamin String Quartet). So of all of these formats, including the original versions
of songs, which works the best?
“I don’t know,” says Roth. “How can you have a conclusion like that about something that is as creative as music?”
Check out some of our favorite baby-approved Rockabye selections...