This is an older article I wrote in 2009, published here among other places, but the more I look around, the more I realize that these lessons are becoming MORE relevant daily, not less. I thought re-posting this piece would be a good idea.
When my daughter was 5 years old she learned and readily mastered Tic-Tac-Toe. It is a game we all know, relatively simple in nature, and if you’re paying attention, always leads to a draw. For this reason, adults who are not playing with children, rarely if ever play Tic-Tac-Toe. Yet, at age 6, she managed to distill out of the game a life lesson, a keystone for rebuilding the Music Industry, that most adults never conceive.
Now, my daughter often says things that stun me with their worldliness. For example, the other day we had a memorial ceremony for our departed pet fish. When I suggested that we flush the toilet in salute, she said, “no, that’d waste water, ” so we made flushing sound effects instead.
And, at this age playing Tic-Tac-Toe, when neither she nor I could ever win, she really hit upon the essence of the game. I made the “mistake” of admitting once to letting her win. She knew she could not win on her own; a draw was an inevitability bore out by countless, fruitless games. This is not unlike most artists’ careers in music if we’re honest about it. Suddenly, she let me win a game. Then I let her win another. She gleefully accused me of letting her win, so she let me win the next one.
My six year old was pointing out the obvious: in a closed system, no one can win all of the time. Furthermore, the effort of trying to win all the time was wasteful, disheartening, and ultimately fruitless. Tic-Tac-Toe was much more fun when we played to let each other win in a pleasant and reciprocal fashion. We both got to enjoy a game that we had otherwise thought was a dead-end.
So, what has this got to do with music? Everything. The uber-competitive, “I have more talent than you,” scrambling over each other in the muck mentality has to stop. It is counter-productive, like trying to win at Tic-Tac-Toe. Cooperative, fair play leads to a better experience for all. Whether we are discussing musicians getting their music ripped off by self-righteous consumers, or studio owners having unsustainable rates forced on them by musicians unwilling to pay enough to cover the studio rent, it comes to the same thing. The world is getting smaller, people will do better, get along better, enjoy life better, make better art if they learn to value each other as participants and contributors to the game we are all playing.