April 19th, 2019
Matan Ariel’s young nieces and nephew live on the other side of the world, but they keep up with their uncle thanks to his music—and thanks to Google, too. Though they live in Israel and he lives in New York, the three kids love to ask the Google Assistant to play his songs, which have gone double platinum in their country.
Matan, or “Uncle Matani” as they call him, works in sales in Google’s New York office. But he also has another love, children’s music, which brought him a level of success he never expected before he headed to Google.
He first started singing full-time during his three years serving in the Israeli military. He was part of an entertainment unit for the navy, traveling from base to base to perform at various ceremonies, whether they were celebrations or memorials or something in between. “Think about it as a cover band for Israeli pop songs,” he says. “It was a range of different performances.”
It was during his years in the navy that he decided to record children’s music. Some people in his entertainment unit were babysitters on the side, and they lamented the lack of quality songs for kids. Matan took action, setting up time in a recording studio and coming up with a plan to record as Matan Ariel & Friends. They chose classic Hanukkah songs, since they were in the public domain, and recorded the album immediately after their service officially ended.
Matan and his group recorded modern covers of classic Jewish holiday songs, in Hebrew, and they filled an important need for families in Israel. “There were either the classic songs we all knew growing up, but recordings from the ‘50s and ‘60s that hadn’t been digitally enhanced. You could even hear hissing sounds from the original vinyl records,” he says. “Or there were newer albums where people were saying, ‘I’m going to create my own Passover or Purim songs,’ and they just weren’t as good.”
And to Matan’s surprise, the album took off, selling out its initial run in just a few weeks. “I got an email a few weeks later, saying, ‘We sold out of the Hanukkah songs, so can we have more, because Hanukkah is still not here yet? And do you have Passover songs, and something you can sell year-round?’” he says. “I said, Sure, I’ll get you that!’”
Eventually, the album of Hanukkah songs exceeded Israeli double platinum status. Matan Ariel & Friends recorded 17 albums and five DVDs, about themes like birthdays and animals and around holidays like Passover, Purim and Sukkot. Two of his favorites are an album of Israeli lullabies and an album of Israeli memorial day songs.
After he graduated from college, though, Matan decided to step back from music and focus on the business world. These days, he leads a team of ad sales executives who work with agencies to help small and medium businesses use Google ads. He saves his singing voice for karaoke nights with friends and the occasional Googler cover band. At work, sometimes he’ll hand out CDs to his coworkers with children, but there’s one problem: many of them don’t have CD players anymore, so they just stream his music instead.
Matan says the biggest reward he’s seen from his music has been with his young nieces and nephew, who he doesn’t get to see as often as he’d like. “I wasn’t a stranger to them because [my brother and sister-in-law] would play my albums to the children, and they would show the DVDs to the children. So Uncle Matani was someone the kids knew,” he says. “I would come to Tel Aviv and they would see me, and run to me and hug me. That to me is an impact that goes even beyond the sales.”