Musical artist Erica Rabner has announced the release of her latest collection of eight original songs via “The Covid Album,” which will be made available to the public on February 17th. This album was written as a response to the ongoing pandemic and it features kid-friendly safety, health-oriented, and emotional well-being focused songs that the entire family can enjoy.
While writing “The Covid Album,” Erica applied her background in research and early childhood education. She consulted with teachers, parents, and kids during the recording process and diligently tested titles and lyrics and performed songs to get feedback. One of the songs entitled “Wash Your Hands” was released in March and it was featured by the United Nations and became a source of inspiration for 593 unique TikTok videos. A suggestion from a pediatrician led Erica to write the upbeat “Mask On” in May, and schools around the country have been playing the song as students arrive in the morning. A new music video for “Mask On” featuring some of Rabner’s young fans, was also just released.
Erica recorded this album while quarantining in Austin, Texas, where she turned a closet into a recording both. She recently discussed all this and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and songwriting and did you always gravitate towards the children’s genre?
Erica Rabner (ER): This really is a three-part answer for me! I’ve been a singer my entire life and literally sang melodies from The Little Mermaid before I could talk. I grew up on Motown and musical theater. I learned to scat by mimicking Ella and belt by imitating Aretha. When I was old enough for voice lessons, I studied musical theater and classical voice which I kept up through college. I spent my junior semester abroad studying jazz vocal performance at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Songwriting is a whole other story. I entered the world of kid’s music sort of accidentally through kid’s media research. I was laser focused on a career as a children’s educational media researcher and studied psychology at Brandeis University, and received a master’s in Technology, Innovation, and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
After I completed my master’s program, I moved to NYC to do research for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Sesame Street but I never stopped singing. In September 2015, I attended my first HATCH event in Montana where I connected with Nick Cooper, a vocal teacher who invited me to work with him in LA for a week in March. While I was in LA, my friend’s brother connected me with his friend Brian Blake who was a music producer he thought could give me advice. Brian and I hit it off and we ended up writing my first song on the spot. When I returned to NYC, Sesame launched a YouTube channel and invited employees to pitch ideas for the channel. I went back to my desk and started writing two songs. Those songs became my first original kid’s album, “PB & JAMS,” which was recognized with a 2017 Parents’ Choice Recommended Award. Soon after, Sesame commissioned me to write, “The Thanksgiving Song” and I was hooked. At the same time, I continued writing soul/pop music and began performing my originals in NYC nightclubs. I love having both projects — they have different goals and tell different stories.
I also love that children’s music isn’t defined by any one genre. One of my children’s music projects involved writing 27 songs for an alphabet podcast. Songs ranged from country to rock to pop, soul, jazz, etc. giving me the opportunity to play in different sandboxes and learn about different genres. Another important distinction in my children’s music is that I aim to write music that speaks to kids and parents alike. My goal as a songwriter is that I want to listen as well. I test all my songs with kids, parents, and peers.
MM: How did you break into the industry?
ER: I got bitten by the songwriting bug a few months before my 25th birthday. The practical side of me knew I had one more year on my parent’s health insurance and gave myself one year to try out music and see what happens. I joined Rhumba, a recording studio that focused on creating music and audio for kid’s TV in NYC, to gain hands-on studio experience. At Rhumba, I saw the behind-the-scenes of creating music for kids TV. I also sang demo vocals for Nickelodeon and originated the singing role of Barbie for the preschool series, Dreamtopia. All the while, I continued my own songwriting — both kindie and soul/pop. I connected with Pinna, a children’s audio app, after they saw the Barbie music video I performed in, and began songwriting for them — first show jingles, then music for a full show, and then a tween pop album, “Real Me.”
MM: How did the pandemic affect you personally?
ER: Before the pandemic, I lived in NYC and spent nearly every day/night co-writing and networking. My new years’ resolution had been to collaborate more so I set up six-seven in person sessions per week. I spent my nights at mixers, events, and shows, learning and connecting. All of this came to an abrupt halt mid-March. At the time, we were all stuck inside and scared. My calendar went from completely booked to empty. I canceled a mini tour in LA, recording sessions for two different projects in LA and NYC, and a slew of shows in NYC. I had planned an artist rebrand for April that was permanently put on hold and got dropped by a PR firm that was planning to launch that project as no one knew what was happening and they wanted to focus all their attention on current clients.
I had no idea what to do. The only clear message we knew was legitimate was washing your hands so on March 10th, I wrote a song called “Wash Your Hands” which I released two days later. It was picked up by the UN and inspired nearly 600 TikTok videos. It also caught the attention of children’s media producer Kristen McGregor who suggested we collaborate and make a music video. She assembled a team of creative freelancers across the country and in Canada and we devoted the following week to outreach and music video production. The video was the exact distraction I needed and it garnered over 62k views on YouTube.
The following week, my siblings and I returned to quarantine with our parents at our childhood home for three months. I spent hours sitting at the piano writing moody songs and love songs, unrelated to kid’s music.
When my lease was up in July, I decided to take a break from NYC and change up my scenery. While I hoped my scenery would inspire me, the real impact has been conversations with kids and families, educators, and news articles. I realized in December that I wanted to package a toolkit so to speak with songs that support kids and families. I ended up writing so many songs to address so many issues and themes I realized I needed to create two albums.
MM: You did a lot of research as you wrote songs on “The Covid Album.” What was the toughest thing to write about?
ER: In the past I’ve written songs that were challenging because every expert you ask has a different opinion. For example, when I wrote “Allergies” on my first kid’s album I spoke to allergists, pediatricians, parents of kids with allergies, adults with allergies, kids with allergies, and researchers. Some thought the message needed to be more foreboding focusing on the worst-case scenario, others wanted me to list a variety of allergens, and my job was to take all that information and find the best compromise to make the best song. I didn’t want to scare kids and knew I wanted to tell a relatable story.
With “The Covid Album,” the challenges related more to crafting the vignette segments rather than any specific song lyrics. An integral piece of this album is the “real talk” vignettes where kids reflect on their experiences during the pandemic. Responses ranged from deep and vulnerable talking about missing friends and family to surface level and fun, talking about what kind of mask they wear. My job here wasn’t to craft a lyric but to string together different kid’s stories and showcase a variety of emotions and experiences.
Grandma, I miss ya was very personal for me because my grandma passed away a few months ago. I wrote the chorus one night in bed at 3am when I couldn’t sleep. In the morning I listened to the voice note and started freewriting about loss. While writing, I realized the emotion I was struggling with was longing which so many kids have been experiencing for the first time throughout this pandemic. I decided to pivot and write the verses with kids in mind to allow them to sit with those emotions.
MM: How did you get your first two singles from this album recognized by the UN and schools nationwide?
ER: While there are so many wonderful songs about handwashing now, at the time that I wrote “Wash Your Hands” there weren’t many available. None of us knew we were in a global pandemic at the time I began writing “Wash Your Hands.” We were being told to wash our hands and there was mixed messaging about staying inside and wearing masks. None of us had any clue what to do which was disarming as adults and I kept wondering how kids were processing. I wanted to take the only thing we knew for sure and make it fun. I shared it and it took on a life of its own. “Mask On” resonated with schools in particular because it’s a message they need to reinforce throughout the day. We all know masks can be a nuisance and for young kids, since reading facial emotions is so challenging. This song brings the good aspects to the forefront.
MM: Out of the eight songs on the album, do you have any personal favorites? If so, which ones and why?
ER: It’s so hard to pick a favorite! I’m very proud of the impact “Mask On” has had in getting kids excited to wear their masks. I’ve performed “Imagination Station” over Zoom and loved seeing how kids interpreted the song and danced along. I also have a soft spot for “Grandma, I Miss Ya,” which is very sentimental and personal to me and my entire family.
MM: What was it like to turn a closet into a recording studio?
ER: I’ve actually turned quite a few closets into recording studios over the pandemic and have improved and learned a lot. My biggest lesson: not all closets are created equal! I’ve become a master at dampening sound and knowing which blankets/clothing to keep in the closet and what kind of stand to bring in. I was lucky to record my last two albums in a closet with a light switch but one of the earlier closets I recorded in during the pandemic didn’t have lights so I’d record with my phone on airplane mode with my flashlight on and computer screen brightness amped up. I’m also glad I’d invested in a Neumann TLM 103 before the pandemic and had a lot of experience recording in my NYC closet prior so I had all the gear I needed and felt comfortable recording myself.
MM: What do the music videos for these songs look like?
ER: Both “Wash Your Hands’’ and “Mask On” feature kids whose parents filmed them during the pandemic. The goal of these videos were to make these mundane tasks fun and exciting by featuring lots of different kids.
“Grandma, I Miss Ya” was inspired by my grandma who passed away this summer and I wanted to pay tribute to her in the video. I found a sketch artist and shared footage from home videos that my dad shot of us in the 90’s. After I received the sketch video, I integrated some of the real video.
The “Love Trumps Hate” video tells the story of this period we’re in. It celebrates diversity, positivity, and love. The video opens with two friends putting lawn signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Love is Love” into their lawn. They later join friends and make signs to attend a rally with signs reading ‘Choose kindness,” “We are all immigrants,” “Hate has no home here,” “we love essential workers” and “women’s rights are humans rights.” We see friends of different colors who speak different languages getting along and using their voices together.
MM: How is living in Texas different from New York? Has the change of scenery affected your creativity at all?
ER: The biggest difference right now is the weather! I feel lucky to be able to go on warm walks and clear my head. During the mixing and mastering period of an album, my job is to listen and nit-pick. I listen in every way possible — good speakers, computer speakers, iPhone, headphones, the car. While I do a lot of listening by my computer so I can take a note and time stamp every imperfection, I also like to listen on the go and see what stands out to me. The fact that I could walk around in shorts and a t-shirt while listening during January was wild to me.
MM: How have you been keeping yourself and fans entertained during the pandemic?
ER: I’ve performed at virtual concerts on Zoom and Instagram guested on friends’ Facebook Live events. I flirted with TikTok here and there, though Zoom is my favorite platform as I get to interact with my fans. I’ve really missed playing off of fans energies and involving them in ways that virtual performances don’t allow but I’ve pivoted and found other ways to take advantage and leverage the pros of technology like adding fun backgrounds that tie into songs and using visuals to tease songs and invite kids to guess and interact.
MM: What’s the best fan feedback you’ve gotten about your music so far and what has been the highlight of your career?
ER: I always love when parents send me videos of their kids singing my songs or using my songs as tools. I’ve received videos of kids trying new foods for the first time while listening to “try new foods.” Many parents prepared their kids to wear a mask with my “Mask On” song and sent singing videos of their kids washing their hands to “Wash Your Hands.”
A clinical therapist who was teaching social-emotional skills to kindergartners reached out to tell me she had been using my “Manage Your Feelings” song with her kids and had her brother create a video with visuals. She later invited me to perform at a spring concert for one of the schools she worked with and I got to sing that song and many others to 800 kids who knew all the words.
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next five years?
ER: I’d love to write music for children’s television shows and sync my songs to TV and films. I’d like to partner with more organizations, songwriters, and producers. I definitely intend to keep writing and performing both music for kids and families as well as my soul/pop music. I’m also interested in officially rebranding my artist project to create two unique brands geared towards kids and families and peers.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
ER: Ultimately, I’d love to sign with a publishing company and work with a team that supports me in reaching a larger audience. I have so many stories to tell. Check out the album order link, here: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/ericarabner1/the-covid-album-songs-to-help-kids-and-families-cope
To learn more, visit Erica Rabner’s official website: https://www.ericarabner.com/