What the Music Industry, in fact All People, Can Learn From Tic Tac Toe

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.
drawing of helping
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.

The Importance of Follow Up

Follow up is hard, but its importance can’t be stressed enough. Many artists send me demo packages, but few ever follow up. The same is true with EPKs or any other sort of submission. Let’s look at why follow up is so important and why it’s so hard.

Follow up is important because the goal is to get your submission noticed. It does you no good to send a package but never have it listened to, or even opened. The people that you are sending to are the people that you, and everyone else, want to notice you. Assume that they are blasted with material. What’s going to get you in the door? Follow up.

Try to make a personal connection. Email is just plain lousy for this. It is quick and easy, but fundamentally impersonal and too ignorable. The telephone is much better for personal contact and is why most artists avoid it, and most industry folk hide from it. You gotta do it. Furthermore, it is important to use a means of contact other than whatever you used initially. If you sent a kit by mail or email, it might have been lost. Using the phone will overcome that problem.

So why don’t artists usually do their follow up? Well, much like castor oil, it’s yucky. It takes time, and makes you feel vulnerable. You are opening yourself up to being told you’re not good enough. It’s understandable. However, your rejection is nearly certain if you don’t do it. So, pluck yourself up and make the call. The alternative reason for not doing follow up is plain old laziness. You can imagine that no one in this difficult industry wants to work with someone like that.

Make sure you send the right material for that person. If you are contacting a press agent or newspaper, you’ll want to send clippings, your CD, and gig schedule, as well as basic stuff like a photo (color, please), bio and onesheet. (If you don’t know what’s on a onesheet, email me). For someone like me, I don’t want press clippings, it’s just a waste of paper that tells me you didn’t make the package for me. Furthermore, as a producer, bands that send me finished CDs just tell me that they’re broke and don’t understand what I do (or can do for them). A demo is what I want. Further, I’m very interested in your past as well as future shows. Especially for EPK submissions, keep those up to date.

Imagine, if you will, my desk piled high with demos. I am often overwhelmed as I look at that pile. I try to get through them all. As you know, unlike so many others in this industry, I try to listen to all the songs, all the way through. That makes listening all the more daunting a task. So what do you think happens when some nice, chipper, friendly musician calls me to inquiry whether I’ve listened to their demo? Do you think I get pissed and burn it? No, I usually haven’t yet, and tell them to call me back in a week or so. Most often I find that I immediately pull their package from the pile, open it, and listen to it. Surprised?! The simple act of following up, got that artist out of the endless pile and into the player. Now, if they don’t suck, we’re in business. But, of course, you don’t suck, do you? So, put away your fears, I really don’t bite. Neither do most of my colleagues in this industry. Pick up the phone.

Shit Jordan Says!

Jordan’s Advice

Jordan Tishler’s Words of Reason (a/k/a Shit Jordan Says)

It’s incredible the number of useful things Jordan says every day, so we decided to document the most useful advice Jordan has for life and for music.

Money

First, do not be afraid to ask questions. “The only stupid question is the one not asked.  Okay, and maybe ‘can I ask you a question?’”

People always ask, “What gear should I buy?” Jordan’s simple answer will always be, “never spend your money on something because you can afford it.  Save your shekels until you can buy the best.  You’ll never regret that.  Bad gear will only make you life harder and have no resale value.”

“A product that does one thing really well will always be a better than something complicated that tries to do everything. Get the thing that gets you THAT sound with minimal fuss.  One trick ponies are great, when you want that trick!  API, Neve, SSL are great examples.”

“Software will never be an investment. Its financial value is nil as soon as there’s a new version! Only buy software that’ll immediately be useful for making money.”

Backing up and Archiving

I cannot stress enough how important it is to back up your music. Jordan is always reminding us to Back-up as well as Archive. It is important to understand the difference between the two. Backing up is using applications such as Time Machine to continually copy what is currently on your computer. This is useful if your computer dies, then you have your files back.  Archiving is keeping copies of your files when they are no longer on your computer!  Think of it as long term storage.

Jordan also says, “Data doesn’t really exist until it’s stored in three places.  Drives are cheap.  Copy your archives.  Drives die on the shelf.  Spin them up each year, and as drives get larger, copy your archives to new drives, but keep the old ones too (unless they die).”

Mixing

When it comes to mixing, there are a few things that are worth bearing in mind. Jordan suggests that when using an EQ, it is normally better to cut than to boost. So instead of boosting what you like, cut what you don’t like until you start to miss something.

Furthermore, there is no wrong way to mix something. If it sounds good, stick with it. There are also many ways to mix one song. Deciding which to use depends on your tastes and the tastes of the client.

Having said that, there is one fundamental point to remember when starting a mix. A good song, poorly produced will always sound better than a bad song that is well produced. The success and/or failure of a recording is almost entirely dependent on the quality of the song. If the song isn’t there, a good mix will not significantly help.

Finally, one of the most fundamental parts of the music industry is networking. Never underestimate the power of networking. Come to our parties!

Here are a few other of Jordan’s sayings:

– The whole point of life music is for people to get laid. It is your job as the musician to be the social catalyst that will make it easier for people to get laid

– Don’t ever wear your underwear on the outside!

– Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC