“Dinosaurs and Monsters” is the latest addition to the award-winning “Dinostory” series by Howdytoons, a band known for their popular “dinosaur rock” albums and animated videos which are is closing in on a billion YouTube streams. The fourth album is scheduled to debut on September 30, 2022.
Howdytoons is the creation of Toronto-based musician Mike Whitla, and is famous in the kids’ world for heavy metal-inspired dinosaur songs. Howdytoons’ songs fire the imagination with amusing complexities that require the full attention of the listener, regardless of age. Hence, parents love the music, too!
Mike Whitla studied at Toronto’s York University and now runs four YouTube channels under the Howdytoons brand which feature work in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Across the brand on YouTube, Howdytoons has scored more than a billion views (with 10 million more added each month) and currently has more than a million subscribers. YouTube has honored Howdytoons with “Silver Play” buttons, denoting more than 100,000 subscribers, for its Howdytoons, Howdytoons Extras, and Howdytoons en Español channels. As a solo artist, Mike Whitla has been honored with numerous awards including Parents’ Choice, NAPPA, Indie Music, Academics’ Choice, Creative Child, Tilliwig Toy, Mr. Dad, and more. He was a finalist in the Great American Songwriting Competition, a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition, and was nominated as “Best Children’s Entertainer” at the SiriusXM Indie Awards.
Mike recently discussed his career and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and songwriting and did you always gravitate towards the children’s genre?
Mike Whitla (MW): I’ve been interested in songwriting since I was in my early teens. As I learned to play the guitar I was always experimenting and writing songs. I’ve been working with kids and music for over 20 years, but that was after making a living as a musician for more than 10 years before. I don’t think about the music I write as being only for children, I write the same kind of music for kids as I would for adults. I guess what changes is the content in the songs. If I am writing for kids I may make it more about science, though I do get lots of notes from dinosaur geeks of all ages that they love the music too.
MM: How did you break into the music industry and how would you describe your style?
MW: Our big break came when our video for the song “Brachiosaurus” went viral on YouTube. This video was released in 2013 and now has more than 55 million views.
I do write in a variety of mediums but really what sets my music apart is that it has heavy prog rock roots. This means that many different things can be brought into the music. Crazy time signatures like 10/4 or 13/4 and the use of exotic instruments from far off places can easily be included. The music that my fans really latch onto is the heavier music I’ve written. If I had to call it something I’d call it DINO METAL.
MM: Why do you focus so much on dinosaurs per se?
MW: 1. Because dinosaurs are awesome. 2. There was a serious lack of music about dinosaurs, especially heavy music.
MM: How did you think up the idea for Howdytoons?
MW: After I wrote my first dinosaur album “Dinostory: The Ultimate Dinosaur Rock Opera,” I knew that the project needed to take on a life that was different than “Mike Whitla” the musician. Then the idea of “Howdytoons” came into my mind. I also liked the double meaning of the word “toons” that could also be spelled as “tunes,” the toons for the cartoons we make and the tunes for the songs we write!
MM: How did you get into animations and using YouTube as a platform to spread your work?
MW: I’ve always been a starter of projects. I’ve not had a job working for someone else since I started a t-shirt company with some high school friends at age 16, and after I wrote the first “Dinostory” album I knew I had created something special. I knew it needed another life other than just the music. I thought perhaps a live show would be an idea, but that would be too expensive to put on. Animation was also expensive but not as expensive as putting on a live show with dinosaur robots, so I dove into animation. I used money from my other business, “Rainbow Songs.” to fund the first several animations in the hope of getting someone interested in turning it into a TV show. I put these first videos out on YouTube initially as a promo to try and get funders but was amazed when my “Brachiosaurus” video started to go viral. With this success, I realized I could reach a massive audience on YouTube alone. Since then, “Dinostory” has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese and has over a billion streams on YouTube alone.
MM: Out of all songs on the new album, do you have any personal favorites? If so, which ones and why?
MW: I think “Allosaurus” and “The Kraken” are my favourites on this recording. “Allosaurus” is special to me because it has a reimagining of my Sstegosaurus character and music woven into a song about another dinosaur. The song is in two parts: the first part is about Allosaurus and the second part is a musical battle between Allosaurus and Stegosaurus. Each dinosaur also has its own drummer, and the two drummers battle. The drum that accompanies the Stegosaurus is the mridangam (a south Indian drum), which is played by my guru, Trichy Sankaran, with whom I studied music in University. It is a great honour for me to have Sankaran in my “Dinostory” universe. The Allosaurus is accompanied by the mighty Marco Minnemann on drum kit, and to hear these two world-class drummers on my song is amazing. “The Kraken” was written by my son, Jake Django, and to have him work with me on this song is something that makes me so proud. To welcome my son into Howdytoons fills me with so much joy. Plus, the song is an absolute banger!
MM: What’s the best fan feedback you’ve gotten about your music and/or videos?
MW: One of the songs I wrote is called “Quicksand.” In this song, one of the main characters in “Dinostory,” Stegosaurus, dies saving Terri the Triceratops. This upset a lot of fans and created an interesting exchange with one parent whose child kept watching the video and crying. Initially they were upset but then the parents realized that their child was using the video as an emotional outlet to help them deal with a loss in their life. That my music could connect to someone in this way deeply moved me, as we need music for all the emotional needs that we have, for the happy times as well as the sad.
MM: How would you describe your live performances?
MW: When I perform live it’s always an expressive performance. Due to logistical reasons, there is no live “Dinostory” show that exists, but you can see us on YouTube.
MM: How do you envision music videos for these new songs looking?
MW: A bunch of the songs already have videos made for them and can be seen on YouTube, but for the new ones we are trying out some new ideas. We are doing more traditional animations for “The Kraken” and “Allosaurus” for the main Howdytoons YouTube channel, but we are also making a more abstract version of “The Kraken” video, which we hope will appeal to a much wider demographic. We are really excited about this new direction.
MM: How do you hope your career evolves over the next five years?
MW: We plan to continue the two series we already are producing: DINOSTORY – The epic tale of Terri the Triceratops who, as an egg, was separated from her siblings and hatched on her own. Terri has lots of adventures as she searches for a community that she can call home. PREHISTORICA – Songs about all the amazing prehistoric animals like Woolly Mammoths and Smilodons! But now we also have the focus of a new project called MYTHOLOGICA, where we are exploring mythical creatures for cultures all over the world. It has been great in more recent times working with other writers, such as my “Prehistorica” partner Jimmy Reid, Dov Beck-Levine, and my son Jake Django. Deepening these partnerships, as well as bringing in more talent, is in the works.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
MW: We want to keep reaching new people with our music and hope it enriches more people’s lives. I am so thankful that I get to make a living by bringing quality music into people’s lives.
To presave “Dinosaurs & Monsters” follow this link.