Not quite karaoke and not quite artist albums, several CDs aimed at the children's music market are delivering pop hits sung by fellow kids. Independent label Razor & Tie has developed the concept

Not quite karaoke and not quite artist albums, several CDs aimed at the children's music market are delivering pop hits sung by fellow kids. Independent label Razor & Tie has developed the concept into the successful "Kidz Bop" franchise.

On Aug. 12, the label will deliver the fourth volume in the series. The collection will include covers of 18 pop favorites, including Avril Lavigne's "Sk8ter Boi," Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" and Kelly Clarkson's "Miss Independent."

"It's a very simple concept," Craig Balsam says of the series he developed with fellow Razor & Tie co-owner Cliff Chenfeld. "He and I each have kids. And we thought to ourselves, wouldn't kids really love hearing kids sing popular songs and kind of take the edge off of them a little bit so that parents and kids both feel comfortable with it?"

The formula has worked well. Since the release of the first set in 2001, all of the "Kidz Bop" titles have either debuted at or reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top Kid Audio chart, including a 2002 "Kidz Bop Christmas" collection.

The titles have also steadily improved their performance on The Billboard 200: the first debuted at No. 76, 2002's second volume at No. 37 and the third set, released in March, at No. 17. Together they have sold nearly 2 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"I think it turns kids onto new music in a way, which is also a fun thing," Balsam adds. "Kids feel more connected and more involved if they're listening to something current and they can talk to their friends about something current."

Razor & Tie promotes a two-disc version of each "Kidz Bop" set through direct marketing television campaigns. Later, a single-disc is made available through traditional and online retailers. (The original version of "Volume 4" boasted 30 songs.)

While several independent labels, including Madacy Kids and D.M. Records, have released lesser-known sets in the same vein, the biggest competition for the brand will undoubtedly be Walt Disney Records' "Superstar Kidz." Due Tuesday (Aug. 5), the 18-track collection taps many of the same pop hits that make up the forthcoming "Kidz Bop" set, sung by a quartet of kids aged 10-12.

In addition, "Superstar Kidz" also offers renditions of two songs by the label's own Hilary Duff ("Why Not," "I Can't Wait") and of "Call Me, Beep Me!" from the Disney/ABC animated series "Kim Possible," originally recorded by Christina Milian.

"We've always been flattered whenever bigger companies have picked up on one of our ideas in the past," Balsam says. "I think we've built a solid brand that kids can identify and parents can trust." Asked if he thought there was room enough in the marketplace for two so-similar franchises, he said frankly, "I guess well soon see."

Through a partnership with Radio Disney, Disney Records plans to raise the ante a bit for "Superstar Kidz Volume 2," offering winners of a contest the opportunity to sing on the disc.

While no such changes are planned for the "Kidz Bop" audio discs, Balsam says his company is working on expanding the line with other products. Although he declined to offer details, he expects those additions to reach the marketplace in 2004.