Children's albums -- Walt Disney Records is no longer the only place to release music for kids

Music for little ones is now big business. For years Walt Disney Records, the children’s-music powerhouse, seemed to have the field to itself. Lately though, the category has become crowded with major players. Sony Music Video has launched Sony Kids’ Music, with plans to release 12 albums this spring (the roster includes such established performers as Tom Paxton, Tom Chapin, and Rory). ”This division was started 10 months ago,” says Linda Morgenstern, the label’s director of children’s programming. ”I work fast.”

Also hard at work is Lou Adler, whose Ode Records was big in the ’70s, with hits by Carole King (her 1970 Tapestry album has sold more than 13 million copies) and Cheech & Chong, among others. His new venture: Ode 2 Kids, which . prominently features Shelley Duvall, Adler’s longtime pal. Her Sweet Dreams was among the five-month-old label’s first releases. Forthcoming albums include next month’s Here’s the Huggables, and the audio versions of Duvall’s acclaimed Showtime series, Faerie Tale Theatre.

Earlier this year the Germany-based Bertelsmann Music Group created a new division, BMG Kidz, to form joint ventures with Discovery Music, home of singer Joanie Bartels’ popular ”Magic” series, and Rincon Children’s Entertainment, which released last year’s hot-selling Barbie album.

To Jim Deerhawk, vice president of seven-year-old Music for Little People, the benefits of such a partnership are obvious. When Warner Bros. Records purchased a 49 percent interest in the Redway, Calif.-based label last August, Little People was able to take ad-vantage of the larger concern’s expertise, resources, and clout. This fall, the Warner presence will make it possible for Little People’s albums to be featured in major record stores. ”A lot of times, to record-store buyers, kids’ music equals Disney or Sesame Street,” says Deerhawk. ”But there’s so much more music out there that kids love.”

”People have finally realized that children and their families are viable music purchasers,” says Mark Jaffe, vice president at Walt Disney Records, whose current Beauty and the Beast soundtrack has sold more than 1 million copies. ”It’s very gratifying to see so many other major labels getting involved in expanding the repertoire for quality children’s music. The more people we have to mine it, the greater the repertoire of music we have for kids.”