Michael Keefe isn’t your ordinary CEO. For a start, he’s only 11 and his board-level title actually stands for Children’s Executive Officer rather than Chief Executive Officer.
But he has the self-assurance of a new media entrepreneur and seems confident he can change the soundtrack of his peer group and their younger siblings by plugging a gap in the music market. His record company, Zeamu, makes polished pop songs with lyrics that are sung by and targeted at primary-school children.
Parents who squirm over One Direction singing “what a mess I made upon your innocence”, and who are intrigued by the promise of tunes which are less mind-numbing than toddlers’ usual fare, might have a lot to thank young Michael for.
The same might not apply to his own father, who is the subject of the song “Doing the Robot”, a tale of child excruciation at the sight of dad dancing. “He feels the need to prove, that he’s still got those dance moves,” goes the lyric, sung by Michael under the name “Aki”, a spiky-haired avatar.
While a market for representing a child’s view of the world is well-established in television and book publishing, it’s an area where the music industry has struggled. Instead, young children are drawn to pop songs which, if they are not explicit in their lyrics, are not written for kids.
Meanwhile, technology has made it easy for children to obtain music without the knowledge of adults.
Home from school in Knebworth, Hertfordshire, Michael talked of the company’s mission.
“It’s an alternative to mainstream pop that’s completely innocent and children can relate to,” he said. His role is to identify “the best type of genre to go for, that children of my age like”.
He also hopes to discover primary-school-age songwriters to build on Zeamu’s catalogue of songs, which encapsulate such themes as falling out with a best friend or feeling isolated in the playground. The tracks are written by producers from the music industry.
Paul Sumpter, who has previously produced music for commercial clients including Nike and Mercedes, is the composer of Zeamu’s best-selling track on iTunes, “It’s the Weekend!”.
He said: “It’s trying to get kids excited about it being the weekend, seeing their friends and not having to go to school – but not basing it on a saccharine backing track. A lot of kids’ music tends to underestimate how astute they are as listeners.”
Michael was brought into Zeamu by his aunt, Natalie Barowitz, the company’s head of music.
“He’s very mature and very musical,” she said. “It has been amazing to have his input.”
Fionn King, a child psychologist, warned that a full diet of such controlled content was not ideal because adult messaging suggested to children they should conform.
“You are showing the child how you and your cultural group manage these situations,” she said. “But I can see there is an enormous gap in the market and concerned parents who want the best for their children will just leap on this.”
She said she would also encourage primary-school children to listen to some adult music.
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