Making Music for Kids at Home: An Interview with Marc Trachtenberg

May 28, 2020

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Lisa Marinelli


Amid the global pandemic, we’ve seen people across a number of industries pivot from their original plans and adapt to working remotely. Recently, we highlighted some of the ways folks in creative fields have continued to forge ahead despite the circumstances. And we have to say — we’re super inspired by the work that’s being put out into the world under these unique constraints!

To keep the inspiration and creativity flowing, we wanted to spotlight one of the freelancers who worked with us as part of the Wistia Creative Alliance. The WCA is a collaboration between the Wistia team and 30 freelance creatives that aims to bring more moments of delight to our shared community. Marc Trachtenberg was one of the creators who was part of the For the Kids series. Marc is the founder of Rock-a-Baby, an interactive music program for infants and toddlers featuring their puppets, Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony, who explore simple musical concepts. As part of the Wistia Creative Alliance, Marc created a video called “Harmony’s Farm,” which follows the puppet Harmony on a farm tour and gives an introduction to the cowbell — all for the kids.

Watch the full video for “Harmony’s Farm” right here:

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Ready to have some fun with your little ones? Get the wiggles out to some music, play along as you watch a puppet show, or join us on an adventure with the WCA’s For the Kids.

We chatted with Marc to find out more about his background, how the pandemic has impacted Rock-a-Baby, his creative process, and much more. Let’s jump into the full interview, shall we?

Wistia: To set the stage, we’d love to hear a little bit of background on you and what you do.

Marc: I’ve always been a musician and it’s kind of where everything starts. When I lived in New York, I was doing gigs and teaching piano lessons before I started Rock-a-Baby with my wife. I brought Wistia’s Dan Mills in as the first guitar player and then we kind of blew up in New York really quickly. We had an “in” at a place on the Upper West Side and things took off from there. Then I brought it to Rhode Island in 2010.

When this virus hit, we got shaken up completely, and my whole creative thing had to change 180 degrees. So I started getting into video editing. We started doing live puppet shows on our Facebook page for free to all of our families because they couldn’t see us in-person. We went to holding live puppet shows three days a week.

Wistia: Have you done a lot with video prior to the pandemic?

Marc: This is pretty new to me. I delved into recording,editing, and using a green screen. A family that had taken our class sent us a green screen, and I took it upon myself to learn how to use it for the puppets. We also started doing personalized videos for people who wanted a special shout out from one of our puppets. I’ll ask families: What does your kid like? What kind of animals do they like? What kind of activities do they love? And I’ll incorporate those things onto the green screen behind the puppet who’ll sing our original birthday song. In the past, I’d usually hand something like that off to somebody else and pay them to create a music video for one of our songs. We have a couple of those on YouTube, and a brand new one that came out a few weeks ago. Any videos I had done before this had just been me holding up my phone in class to post on Instagram.

Wistia: Do you think any of the things you’re doing now you’ll continue to do after quarantine is over?

Marc: It’s pretty much all that’s been on my mind because I know we’re not going to be able to transition to in-person classes anytime soon. There are five people that work for me, two of them currently have the other puppets. There are three puppets in total. Benny has one named Rhythm, and Rachel has one named Melody, and they’ve been doing their live puppet shows once a week from their homes. We trade off Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We’ve been chatting through email and we’re going to get together socially distanced at the end of the week to figure out what’s going to stay and how we can potentially monetize. So far we’ve only been asking for Venmo donations from time to time.

Benny is definitely interested in creating a TV show. He’s got a really imaginative mind and Rachel brings the fun with her unique creativity so I think the three of us plus our other three musicians would be a part of it in some way. It’s really hard to say what’s going to come next. We love what we’re doing. Like a lot of people, the government is paying us to do what we’re doing right now, which is great, but at some time we have to figure out how to make it work on our own.

Wistia: Have you felt pressure as a creator to be functioning at full capacity? Has it been hard to do your work and keep your spirits high?

Marc: I struggle with it when I’m not working. When I go to bed at night and I’m talking with my wife, that’s when I struggle a little bit. I’m like, “Oh my god, how am I going to put together a cool and different show two days from now?” But, as soon as I start writing my script for the live show I’m instantly transported to this magical world of creativity, and it just snaps me out of whatever funk I’m in. I’ll picture kids watching us through their computer, their phone, or their tv, and responding to the things our puppets sing and talk about. There are so many silly things I could come up with.

“As soon as I start writing my script for the live show I’m instantly transported to this magical world of creativity, and it just snaps me out of whatever funk I’m in.”

Aside from that, there are so many tiny projects I’m working on throughout the week. I keep getting motivated every time something new comes across my desk like one of those personalized birthday shout-out videos I was talking about. It’s just so fun to imagine putting my puppet out there and knowing a child on the other side is going to react. The parents tell us how amazing their reaction is to our stuff and that’s what keeps us so excited about doing it.

So on the creative front, it’s up and down behind the scenes, but as soon as I’m working on the script or putting that puppet in front of the camera I’m just in the zone.

Wistia: When it came to making the video for Wistia Creative Alliance, what was your process for thinking through the execution of that video?

Marc: First I got a call from Dan, where he told me about this idea. I was like “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing the past two weeks, let me try this thing!” I had the green screen so he suggested the bare-bones idea of what the video would encompass. As soon as I hung up that call, I jumped right into it and started writing a script, imagining all of the things you see in the video. It just happened very naturally and quickly. Like, “Oh I know what I’ll do, it’ll start in the office and [the puppet] will talk about grown-ups and the crappy work they have to do.”

The video starts in this realistic way, like “Hey your parents have all this hard stuff they’ve got to do so we’re going to give you something entertaining and a little educational to enjoy for five minutes so your parents can do that really boring stuff.” And then Harmony sings Old MacDonald. In our in-person classes we also have what’s called “Spotlight.” For five minutes we’ll take a brand new instrument kids may have never seen before such as the cowbell and we’ll let them all touch, play, and use it for the song we’re playing during it. That’s what brought me to my final segment with the cowbell.

Wistia: Have you been binge-watching a show, listening to music, or reading with any downtime you have right now?

Marc: Right now my wife and I are watching The Morning Show. It’s really good. Kind of dark and hard to deal with, but it totally takes us away from what’s going on. Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way has been on repeat at bedtime for me. It’s really meditative, deep, and has a lot of different moods in it. The kids are watching The Simpsons every morning when they wake up with us, and The Simpsons will make an appearance throughout the day.

Another thing about music — it’ll save you. In the darkest times of my life, music was there to give me that support. There’s so much out there. I’ve found that I’ve had more patience for jazz lately. I studied jazz in high school, through college, and then I kind of dropped away from it for many years. I couldn’t even stomach it. During the pandemic, though, I’ve come back to it because there’s more space and more time. We’re not in a rush to go anywhere.

Wistia: Do you have any advice for other people in creative fields with how to keep forging ahead right now?

Marc: I have asked myself that question several times: What pushes me to keep going and do new things? And I keep coming back to this mantra of “Keep trying new things. Nobody is in a place to be judging anyone else’s work because it’s ridiculously crazy.” Knowing everyone is in the same boat has helped me to forge ahead with new ideas that I wouldn’t have done before. I would have never tried a green screen in my life if it wasn’t for the pandemic.

“I keep coming back to this mantra of ’Keep trying new things. Nobody is in a place to be judging anyone else’s work because it’s ridiculously crazy.'”

I think a lot has to do with how much time we have on our hands. Obviously, if you have very young children it’s going to be harder, but if your kids are older or if you don’t have children at all, you’ve got time to watch a YouTube video or a thousand YouTube videos on how to use a green screen, or what’s the best software for video editing. I’m on my second software for video editing right now.

There are many ways to slice up your time right now. Give yourself a schedule and really delve into new things.

We love the work Marc and his team are doing for folks out there with little ones. If you haven’t yet, check out “Harmony’s Farm” on For the Kids, and keep up to date with Rock-a-Baby on Facebook and YouTube. Be on the lookout for more chats with freelancers from the WCA in the weeks to come, and tell us about how you’re continuing to stay creative these days in the comments below!

May 28, 2020

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Lisa Marinelli


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