David Lee Roth’s sister Lisa Roth is the label VP and executive producer of Rockabye Baby, the company who has released a CD of lullaby versions of Van Halen songs. Daves’s sister Lisa just gave a new interview in which she talks about the CD, her brother Dave, and Van Halen, below. (And make sure to check out the video above of Lisa and Dave joking about the CD)!
From The Business Journals:
I spent a good 40 minutes on the phone withLisa Roth recently — and waited a polite 30 before asking the question everyone wants to ask her: What’s it like to be David Lee Roth’s sister?
She expected it, of course. And she was gracious.
“How do I describe that?” she said with a laugh.
Roth loves her brother, the lead singer of Van Halen — even got a little choked up at one point as she talked about his influence on her. She didn’t piggyback on his success to launch a singing career of her own; she admits she can’t carry a tune. But she is in the music business.
Roth makes records that turn rock and rap anthems into lullabies.
Roth, 56, is the vice president and creative director of CMH Label Group, which launched Rockabye Baby back in 2006. The brand has since created more than 50 albums sold in specialty baby retailers around the country and online.
The product is niche, but that has been good in a constantly changing music industry, Roth explained. While music buying has gone almost entirely digital, Rockabye Baby CDs are gift items, meant to be wrapped and presented to a glowing mother-to-be. That said, the label is thinking digitally, and selling that way too. Combined CD and digital downloads over the past nine years total nearly 1.6 million for Rockabye Baby, and track digital download sales come to more than $1.3 million.
All that is to say that Lisa Roth is much more than David Lee Roth’s little sister. Here she is on everything from the brand and the business to her preference for red M&Ms.
On the big idea: Roth doesn’t have children of her own, but she has lots of friends who do. And when those friends hit her with multiple baby shower invites all around the same time, inspiration struck.
“I love music, and I was looking at what was out there for music, and it was not anything that appealed to me, nor did I think it would appeal to the personalities of the recipients,” she said. “I am not a mother, and my real interest was in entertaining adults.”
At the time, she was one week into her job at CMH, a small, independent label that’s been around for 40 years.
“I had no clout, no insight,” she said. “I was brand new here and happened to have about three baby showers that I had to provide gifts for.”
One of her coworkers, Valerie Aiello, had a similar idea, so together, they pitched Rockabye Baby. It clicked.
On the beginning: No one on the Rockabye Baby development team had kids or was even close to having kids at the time, and Roth now firmly believes the label never would have happened if parents were involved. The business plan centered on the idea that parents would willing play softer renditions of Tool and Metallica for their children.
“Who would do that if you had a child?” she said with a laugh. “I think you would feel more protective. You would want to protect them against that. But for me, it was the irony of it that I just loved.”
So did the press. Soon after the business launched back in 2006, Roth was at a music convention in Florida and got a phone call letting her know the company’s website had crashed. The New York Times had featured the company. All that attention was too much for the site to handle.
The label took the crash to mean the product would have mass appeal. But when they released it to mass markets, sales lagged far behind expectations.
So the label stopped and hired an outside marketing expert, who suggested pulling Rockabye Baby from mass distribution and keeping it to mom-and-pop baby boutiques and specialty stores. For the most part, that’s the retail model that still works for the brand, Roth said.
(Full disclosure: I unwrapped Rockabye Baby’s Metallica CD at my baby shower. My aunt, the one with the Tool tattoo, gave it to me.)
On making the music: Each Rockabye Baby album can take anywhere from three months to a year to produce.
But the process starts with data. There is a running poll on the Rockabye Baby website and Facebook page that collects feedback from customers on what artists they’re interested in for future releases. The label also polls people within the company, to tap into their broad tastes and music industry savvy.
Once a year, the company takes that data and analyzes it, picking from that information the next six to eight releases for the coming year. You might think there could be no bad ideas for something like this, but Roth sees them all the time. It may seem like weird logic, but while someone like Kanye West is a resounding yes, someone like James Taylor — one of Roth’s favorite musicians — is a no.
Taylor’s original music is already sweet and melodic. No Rockabye baby necessary. But Kanye West, although not technically a rock star, has that “strident rock attitude,” she explained.
“We try to stick to the artists with the attitude that we intuitively feel is correct for the brand,” she said.
Once the artists are selected, the label licenses each individual song so everything is above board, and then they get to work producing the music. That’s the part that takes time. The label has worked intensely to refine the sound of the brand, which Roth describes as “a very organic sound, a lot of clunk, a lot of tinkle,” she said. “It has to have the right amount of clunk and tinkle.”
On her big brother: Roth waited five years to do a Van Halen Rockabye Baby album, in part because working with family isn’t easy, she said. But she also wanted to do it right. Her brother is crazy — she joked that he ran around screaming at the top of his lungs as a kid and then made a living doing the very same thing — but he’s also “one of the smartest, most creative, interesting, talented-in-ways-you-don’t-even-know person I’ve ever met.”
And he’s given her a profound appreciation for musicians.
“The way that I approach the brand and the way I want to represent the artists is informed by my respect for my brother as an artist,” she said, stopping when her words get caught in her throat. “I’m getting emotional. That’s so funny.
“For what he had to do at the beginning to make a name for himself, it’s not like it is now,” she continued. “Those guys pounded the pavement and put in years and years and years of work, and I know the amount of effort and thought and energy that goes into a career like that.”
In the end, the Rockabye Baby Van Halen album has become one of her favorites. “Not because of my brother but because the sound of it is so nuanced and beautiful. I love it,” she says.
On M&Ms: One last point about her brother: You know that urban legend about the brown M&Ms? How Van Halen’s performance contract stipulated that a bowl of M&Ms be placed backstage, with all the brown candies removed?
It sounds like a diva move, but in reality, that was David Lee Roth’s way of ensuring that every line of that contract had been read. It was a test, and anyone who failed to remove those brown M&Ms likely failed to read the more important provisions in the contract.
“That is a perfect example of the ingenuity and the care for what he does,” Roth said.
If it were her, she added, the M&M color would have been red.
Here’s a 2010 video of Lisa Roth talking about company:
And the cradle will rock! “Rockabye Baby: Lullaby Renditions of Van Halen“ is a surprise best-seller at VanHalenStore.com. It’s the perfect gift for a newborn, new parents, or yourself.
Some Song Samples:
Hot for Teacher
Dance the Night Away
Lisa Roth told Forbes that while babies tend to respond to the music, the lullabies are really something the parents dig. “It’s more for the parent than the child but it calms the child at the same time,” she said. The ‘Rockabye Baby!’ records are also a good way for rockers to give their kids an early start on their musical education. Parents can prep their kids for a life of rock by introducing the to the soft, innocuous versions of rock tunes at first. The rest will come in due time.