Joel McInnes chuckles when asked whether he ever pictured himself as a children’s entertainer with millions of adoring young fans around the globe.
Thinking back to his own childhood as one of four brothers growing up in the country town of Wickliffe, he says life was dominated by farming and footy – with a sprinkling of music in between.
Music took on a bigger significance during their formative years but it was the summer of 2011 when something special happened.
Joel and his brother Al, both teachers, were enjoying a family holiday in Port Fairy when they came up with a kids’ song called Bruce the Hairy Crocodile.
“The kids around the caravan park loved it and 10 months later we had about eight songs and we thought ‘we’ve got to do something with this’,” he recalls.
“The other boys in the family, who had always played in cover bands in pubs and clubs, were absolutely terrified by the prospect of performing in front of kids.
“But as soon as we did it and we saw the reaction of the kids, we were hooked.”
The Mik Maks was born.
Fast forward to today and the Geelong-based group has more than two million YouTube subscribers and their songs have been streamed more than a billion times.
This month marks another milestone as the group returns to the stage for the first time since the pandemic put a stop to live performances.
The Mik Maks Let’s Party – a 40-minute show aimed at children aged 2-8 years of age – is now on tour and hits the Geelong Arts Centre on April 24 for three performances.
“Being back on stage will be brilliant – we’re actually feeling a bit nervous,” Joel admits. “It will be pretty much 12 months to the day since we did a show.”
The group’s strong online presence allowed them to stay in touch with their audience throughout 2020.
“We’ve come through it pretty well so we are very, very grateful for what we have been able to do in the last 12 months,” Joel says.
“Having those systems already there allowed us to drop the live stuff and really sink our teeth into creating content for all of our online streaming platforms.
“It really gave us a focus and time to reflect, strategise, develop and grow.”
He says it is heartening to know they could bring some energy and fun into households during lockdown.
“Every day we’d get a message from someone, especially from overseas via our YouTube channel,” Joel says.
“Just to reach out and let us know the difference we are making in their family’s lives which is lovely.”
It is no surprise their catchy tunes have struck a chord with millions of children well beyond Aussie shores.
Just one song, such as their popular versions of the five-finger song, can attract up to 200 million views.
“Two percent of our viewership on the online platforms comes from Australia which is still thousands upon thousands of kids in Australia,” Joel says.
“It’s just that the appetite is so large from other countries. America makes up pretty much 20 per cent and then you go to Brazil, Indonesia, England and India which are enormous markets.”
Joel says their songs aim to educate, entertain and bring families together.
“We’ve always said our main aim is to have families dancing together in their lounge room or singing together in their car,” he says.
“And to be having conversations about the lyrics in the song or the visuals or themes that are sprinkled through songs.
“We are conscious not to write to send a message to push down the throats of kids but we just sort of sprinkle them over the top of a clip about friendship or respect or about working together.”
Joel says The Mik Maks prides itself on being a family group – having started with brothers Joel, Brian, Al and Dean (and their faithful sidekick Drums the Panda).
Brian, a plumber, left the group in 2016 when they went on tour and Dean sadly passed away in 2018 from health complications.
Losing Dean, a beloved sibling and popular Mik Maks member, was incredibly tough but Joel says he is sure their brother would be proud of what they have achieved.
“Once Dean passed, we took stock for about 10 weeks and just asked ourselves all the questions, ‘could we do it?’, ‘why are we doing it?’ and how it would effect things,” Joel explains.
“If it wasn’t for our fan base – all the messages and cards and constant reminders of how much their kids missed seeing us on the screen or live – that is what really drove home to us that it was something we wanted to do and something we enjoyed.
“It was a great way to immerse ourselves in Dean’s legacy and continue the work he started. And every time we are on stage we do feel very, very close to him which is lovely for us.”
More recently Joel’s daughter Ava has taken on a bigger role with the group.
Other family members also star in their video clips including Joel’s younger daughter Willow, 10, and son Sam, 8, as well as Al’s three girls – Layla, 12, Jaz, 10, and Isla, 5.
“Ava in particular loves her performing arts and theatre, she has done a couple of professional musicals,” Joel says.
“She really adds value to our group in terms of her vocals and her acting ability.
“One thing we always lacked a bit over the years is that female influence, it’s been a bit masculine, so having Ava there gives a broader range of kids something to connect to.”
With their fourth album due for release next month and a welcome return to live shows, 2021 is looking bright for this popular Geelong export.
“We’ve had 12 months to create so we are just busting to perform again,” Joel enthuses.
“It’s why we became Mik Maks in the first place … the buzz and the excitement of seeing you are making a difference.
“You are bringing joy, education, a bit of fun and musicality to young families.
“In this new show people can expect the Mik Maks classics but also some brand new songs and possibly a brand new – well, not a brand new person – but a person that rarely appears, to come on stage and sing a few songs with us.”
The Mik Maks Let’s Party forms part of the Love Central Geelong Family Magic 2021 program at Geelong Arts Centre.
The shows are at midday, 2.30pm and 5pm on April 24. For tickets go to geelongartscentre.org.au/whats-on/family-magic-2021. For a full Family Magic program head to geelongartscentre.org.au/family-magic-2021/