Interview with Baby Einstein creator
MotherInc interview with Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of Baby Einstein
What inspired you to create the first Baby Einstein video?
Well I had a baby, a daughter, and I had left teaching, I had taught English Literature to high school students actually. And I left teaching to stay home with my daughter and I was looking for ways to expose her to the arts and humanities and classical music and all the things that I really enjoy and looked around and there was just nothing in the market, I was surprised at that. And I just decided that you know nobody else had done it, that I could probably do it. It didn’t seem like a difficult thing to make a video and so I did it and it worked out.
How did you go about creating the first video?
You know it was one of these funny things. During my daughter’s nap time I would honestly just go down in my basement and my husband and I had set up this make shift studio which was just a table top with a black velvet backdrop and then a white backdrop and we shot toys on there. We borrowed video equipment and filmed toys that we thought our daughter liked looking at and did like looking at. And it just was amazing, so we shot it that way. The hardest part for us and probably the most expensive part of it for us was getting the music right so we wanted to make sure that we had good music, it had to be high quality. We knew that the images could be simple and you know we simplified the music as well, but we wanted the music to be really good because a lot of the music that we were hearing on some young children’s videos was not that good. So it was important for us to ensure that the audio we were using was good.
So what sort of music did you use?
Well on the first video, which is our Language Nursery Video, ‘Baby Einstein’s Language Nursery’, we actually did most of that video set to foreign languages. So we had seven different languages, things like you know, we had English of course, and we had Spanish, we had German and we had Hebrew, and a handful of other languages and we had Native speakers of those languages, all women, come in and recite nursery rhymes, reading and counting in their languages and then we set that to music. After that, music became more important to us as we came onboard with Baby Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. All of that was such classical music and to us was really important because we just thought exposing kids to classical music was a good thing to do.
And what was your child’s reaction to your first video?
It was really funny because by the time I actually finished the first video she was too old for it but I was pregnant and I had another baby so I was lucky enough to have a second child who could actually appreciate it. (laughs) It was funny because when I came up with the idea for the first video my daughter Aspen was about one, and then it took me a good year to kind of put everything together and so by then she was say two and a half, and she had kind of graduated beyond the simplicity of that first video. But Sierra my younger daughter was born and so she enjoyed the video. So it was nice to kind of grow up with the girls.
Do you think the BE range helped your children’s basic development and enhanced their learning experience?
I think it enhanced it, I would say that it’s not you know, what I base my kid’s abilities on by any stretch of the imagination. But I think that you know, raising great children who are wonderful, curious kids, was a combination of things. And certainly exposing them to classical music and great things like poetry, words and reading was all a part of what made them great kids. It so it was just a small part of good parenting I think.
What were the steps you took to start selling your range of products?
I had no marketing experience, no experience in retail whatsoever, other than like a job I had selling shirts when I was 15! (laughs) So I had no experience doing anything like that but what I knew was that the product that I made appealed to me so I figured it would appeal to other women like me. And so I started thinking about the kind of stores I shopped at. And there was one store in particular that I shopped at, and actually it wasn’t even a store where I lived, it was a catalogue company, but there were several stores around the country, it was in the United States. And I decided that that would be a great home for my product because again it was you know women like me, mums like me, who shopped at that store, and if I was going to try to get the word out, I figured I had to do it through other people like me. So I sent in a copy of the video, they decided to take it on and give it a try, and it just you know, sold like hotcakes, it was amazing. It was tremendous how quickly word of mouth spread, it was great.
What was the reaction from some of the mother’s who started using the Baby Einstein range?
You know ‘nothing like it’, ‘unbelievable’. I think the most important thing that we heard from mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, godmothers and uncles was that you know I bought it because I thought that it would be good for my baby to be exposed to these things. That the great thing is my baby loves it and that was why Baby Einstein ultimately was/is successful. Babies really do love it and you know nobody I think could ever believe that you could expose really young children to things like classical music and they would enjoy it. But the truth is you know, babies are exposed to what we expose them to. You know they don’t have the ability to get in the car and drive somewhere and expose themselves to something, so you can expose them to anything you want so why not to great kinds of things.
Why the name ‘Baby Einstein’?
You know it was funny, I thought of the name around the time I was just conceiving of the idea of the video. And I was making a product that was stimulating; it was about arts, the humanities and great things and in my mind it just seemed like a natural thing. I mean Albert Einstein encompassed all of those things, he was not only a genius intellectually, he played the violin, he loved the arts, he loved the humanities, he read veraciously, and so it just seemed like a person who embodied everything that I wanted ‘Baby Einstein’ to be.
Why the likes of ‘Mozart’, ‘Van Gough’, ‘Vivaldi’ etc?
Mozart happened to be my favourite composer and he is also very child friendly. He’s a very baby friendly kind of composer, he wrote his first music when he was under ten years old and so it seemed like a natural start. And I think if you were to ask anybody, even people who aren’t that familiar with classical music, who would you name, everybody would name Mozart, everybody would name Beethoven, most people would name Bach. Similarly with art, the reason I chose Van Gough was that the colours are so vibrant, Van Gough’s paintings tend to be child-like in a lot of ways, he used large brush stroke, there was again really vibrant colour, so it seemed like a good fit. And you know just kind of stuff that made sense to me and to be honest, selfishly it was stuff that I liked.
How important do you think it is that parents interact and engage with their children when they use developmental products?
I think it is the most important thing, I think that there’s nothing more important that you can do as a parent. You know I’m not a researcher, or a scientist, but my opinion as a mum and as a former teacher, is that engaging your child and talking to your child and listening to your child is the most important thing you can do. It’s tremendously important to just listen to your kids, and when they’re asking a question that is the best, because at thirteen, they’re not always asking questions. So you know I think that when they’re really young, say ten and under, it’s such an important time because they’re still listening to you and they’re still asking questions and engaging them is easy. It’s much harder to engage them when they’re teenagers. So do it while you can.
Speaking from experience, what three tips can you offer to first-time parents?
Interacting with your child is incredibly important, read to your children constantly, my girls now are veracious readers, even at eight years old. My daughter just finished ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ on her own. You know it’s so important to set a good example by spending that time with them. I would say too, don’t assume that your children can’t enjoy being stereotypically considered adult, which is what Baby Einstein was really all about. People didn’t think again, how could you read Shakespeare to a baby? But I think in my opinion by hearing the rhythm of a poem, it’s fantastic. Don’t just read your child baby books, read them lots of things, talk to them constantly. I can’t tell you how much I talk to my kids. I mean it was sort of in vain, I remember driving in the car when my daughter was a baby and she’d be in her car seat in the back, you know she couldn’t crawl yet, and I’d be like’ here we are at the subway, the light is read…blah blah...’ just because I had read and believed that talking to your children is really important. The third tip I would say is to listen to your children. I mean if your kids are asking questions, don’t put them aside, really listen to what they’re saying, you know that goes all the way down to when they’re babies. You know kids need love and they need that to feel secure.
From your perspective what are the key ways that parents can interact with their young children?
Ok well say with ‘Baby Einstein’ videos for example. If you’re watching Baby Van Gough together, sit with the child on your lap, open the book, have the book in front of you. So how great is it to be able to watch the video with the child on your lap and interact? It’s so great if you can watch these videos with your kids. In terms of the videos what’s nice and one thing that we heard from parent’s all the time was ‘thank you for making something that I can sit and watch with my child. It doesn’t drive me crazy, it doesn’t irritate me, you know it’s full of really lovely images, and great music. It’s a good thing to have on.’ So that’s really nice to hear.
Do you think it is important that a child’s learning experience is made fun and entertaining?
Completely, I think it has to be. A good example is that you don’t learn your alphabet by hearing it one time; it has to be repeated and repeated. And that’s the same with everything. I think that if you can make it fun, kids will watch it, kids will learn from it. And children love repetition, that’s how they learn. So if you can make it fun and you can make it watchable, and something that they enjoy, kids will use them and they can and will learn from them.