Muppets, Teens, Tweens & Tots Take Center Stage at Billboard Film and TV Music Conference
Muppets, Teens, Tweens & Tots Take Center Stage at Billboard Film and TV Music Conference

The Kids Are Alright: "Writing for Teens, Tweens and Tots" panel (from left): Kelly Edwards, Executive Director of Music & Programming, Radio Disney; Danny Jacob, Composer "Phineas and Ferb;" Abbey Konowitch, former Hollywood Records GM; Ben Wynn, Composer, "Avatar the Last Airbender," "Kung Fu Panda;" Jeremy Zuckerman Composer; moderator Phil Gallo, Senior Correspondent, Billboard (Photo: Arnold Turner)

"Writing for Teens, Tweens and Tots" kicked off the panels, with Billboard senior correspondent Phil Gallo moderating. What was most striking about the conversation was how porous the curtain between music for children and their parents has become. The challenge now is to write a song that "both the kids and their parents want to turn up in the car," said Kelly Edwards, Executive Director of Music and Programming for Radio Disney. One of her aims for the youth culture powerhouse was to move away from songs that were pitched to the toddlers to music that appeals to preteens. There was some early push back from the company's standards department. She identified Taylor Swift as one of the up-and-coming stars she wanted Disney to feature, but the lyrics "we're on the phone and you talk real low/'cause it's late and your momma don't know" raised red flags and the song was nixed. (Disney later did research and found that Swift was acceptable to parents as a role model for their kids and she is now a mainstay on their playlist.)

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Even lyrics that seem relatively innocent can be misconstrued. Former Hollywood Records GM Abbey Konowitch brought up Rihanna's "Up All Night." Adults immediately hear that song and think of the song in terms of dangerous misbehavior. But for kids, the very idea of being up all night is mischief enough. "They're probably just playing Scrabble or texting," he said.

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"The Music of the Muppets"
presented by ASCAP and moderated by the society's EVP for Membership Randy Grimmett, was easily the happiest panel of the conference. And how could it not be, with performers, composers (including the ASCAP president and legendary composer of "Rainbow Connection," Paul Williams), arrangers, and executives from the Muppets' long movie career, including clips and stories about their upcoming holiday release, the first Muppet movie in a decade.

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While everyone on stage was in good spirits, it was quite obvious how seriously they took their jobs. Director James Bobin (who previously worked with Sasha Baron Cohen on "Ali G" and "Borat") wrote five-to-six page essays on what he wanted each of the film's dozen songs to accomplish, sounds-he pushed for lots of banjo and tack piano, even ideas for lyrics. (If you think a dozen songs is a lot, nearly 85 of the movie's 90 minutes include some form of music.) He said part of the reason he spent so much time was because the songs not only have be great pieces of music, they have to work visually.

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Bobin saw his job as "paying homage to the '70s Muppet movies and shows that everyone loved, but stay contemporary." Williams added that he thought it was a "natural progression" to move from Ali G to the Muppets. "They both mix sentiment with silliness," and "they neither of them speaks down to their audience."

It's Not Easy Not Being Green: "The Music of the Muppets panel (from left): Chris Caswell, Arranger; Bill Barretta, Muppet Performer/Associate Producer & Puppet Captain; Christophe Beck, Composer; Jeannie Lurie, Co-Songwriter " Pictures In My Head;" Paul Williams, Songwriter, "Rainbow Connection"; James Bobin, Director; Ed Mitchell, Music Producer; Kaylin Frank VP Creative, Music & Soundtracks, Walt Disney Studios; moderator Randy Grimmett, Executive Vice President, Membership, ASCAP. (Photo: Arnold Turner)

The music supervisors were also helped by the good will everyone seems to have toward the Muppets. Even Nirvana, who was asked to license "Smells Like Teen Spirit," came aboard. "They've almost never allow that song to be used," Kaylin Frank, VP Creative, Music and Soundtracks for Walt Disney Studios, says. But when they heard how it was going to be used (sung by a barbershop quartet, they not only agreed, but one of the members appears in the film.

The publishers of Cee-Lo Green's "F--- You," also balked until they were told the song would be clucked by a bunch of chickens. When they ran the idea by Green, he was more than happy to make the deal.

The Rainbow Connection: Composer Paul Willians (left) whose song "Rainbow Connection" was nominated for an Academy Award, with Billboard Senior Correspondent Phil Gallo (Photo: Arnold Turner)