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Insider Beat: Rutgers alum Laurie Berkner on finding inspiration from Brower Commons

Rutgers alum Laurie Berkner has captivated children's minds for decades with her fun and imaginative music. – Photo by @LaurieBerkner /

When Laurie Berkner was deciding where to go to college, she wasn't completely sure of what she wanted to do. One option she mulled over was going to medical school. Unfortunately, the decision was partly out of her hands — she was paying for a majority of her tuition and needed something affordable.

One of her only conditions was that she wanted something different from where she grew up in Princeton, which led her to the "big city" atmosphere of New Brunswick. But, once she arrived at Brett Hall on the College Avenue campus in her first semester, her plans were upended — she wanted to pursue music.

"Once I was there, I realized like, 'Oh, there are people doing music here,'" Berkner said. "I feel really lucky that I was able to meet so many people who did do music, some of whom I'm still in touch with."

There was plenty of opportunity and inspiration around campus, whether it took the form of recommendations from her co-worker at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus or her efforts to impress her boyfriend at the time.

"The first place that I ever played guitar in front of people was at Rutgers," she said. "(My college band's) first show was at the Douglass theater."

This, in combination with the courses she was taking for her newly chosen psychology major and experiences at a nearby daycare, ushered her into the niche of children's music.

Still, she had some doubts — it wasn't until after she graduated and she began playing music for her students that she realized the potential impact.

"I was writing those songs really just for self-preservation when I started," she said. "Parents would come in and say, 'So, my kids are coming home and singing songs that I don't know' … I decided to record (the songs) mostly as a service for the parents so … they could sing the songs with their kids."

She's become one of the faces of the "kindie rock" scene, which blends elements of independent rock music with educational themes suited for children and families.

While many Rutgers students probably grew up listening to her music or watching her appearances on Nick Jr., she's still managed to remain relevant to today's generation of kids. Her consistent release schedule has kept her playing on loop in households — last month, alone, she released two songs, "I Am Curious" and "Onyx The Octopus".

In the face of seismic shifts in the industry, Berkner's continuously managed to adapt. Streaming services, in particular, have completely altered the way most listeners seek out and consume music.

Berkner, who rose to popularity through the sale of physical media and word of mouth sales, saw a silver lining. Early in her career, it was difficult to convince businesses to sell her CDs and cassettes — now it's all streamlined through platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

"What's better about streaming, honestly, is that you don't need a store," she said. "It was just this real sort of needle in a haystack to get people to listen and discover … (Now,) people have that availability of like, 'What does this person's music sound like?' Think just hit a button."

Another key change for the industry has been adapting to TikTok — for years musicians and record labels have been experimenting with formulas to maximize viral sounds and view counts to battle shortening attention spans.

Berkner says there hasn't been much of a learning curve for her — she's always made it a priority to engage and cater to what kids want to listen to. This is evident in her work, from fan favorites like "We Are The Dinosaurs" to more recent hits like "Chipmunk At The Gas Pump".

"It's about images that are fun and funny, like a chipmunk trying to reach the gas pump and can't so he jumps," she said. "Kids want to jump and it's those feelings of movement, playfulness — images that are fun to imagine when you hear the words."

Berkner also highlights TikTok as a means for her fans, now grown up, to rediscover and share her music with their own children.

"I'm shocked at how many kids who grew up with my music, are on TikTok now," she said. "They’re teachers and they’re sharing the music with the kids that they teach. That’s unbelievable to me and like the most wonderful, wonderful thing."

To those struggling to find a voice in the chaotic music industry, Berkner offered a piece of advice — be open to new possibilities.

"One of the things that I found was really helpful for me was to notice what I was good at and enjoyed," she said. "I noticed the kids songs I was writing were the things that people wanted to hear. That allowed me to be a musician and do something that I enjoyed and that I was good at … I think if I had kind of ignored that … I have the feeling I would not have been very successful."

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