Van Halen, M&Ms, And The Next Market Downturn

by Adam Taggart, Peak Prosperity:

The planet-sized egos of rock & roll performers are legendary.

Few things symbolize this better than the outrageous requests they often make when on tour.

These requests are referred to as "riders", and appear in the contract a tour venue receives in advance of the artist's arrival. These contract riders specify the physical conditions that the singer/band requires to be in place before arriving to perform. Stage lighting settings, sound equipment, furnishings, etc -- that kind of stuff.

And these rider requests can get pretty funky - often extremely so -- when it comes to backstage perks the performers want.

For example: A wooden pond filled with koi carp (Eminem). A driver who will not speak or make eye contact (Katy Perry). 20 white kittens and 100 doves (Mariah Carey). Seven dwarves (Iggy Pop). 50,000 bees (Slayer). A sub-machine gun (Mötley Crüe). And, yes, even a great white shark (Hank III).

The practice of making these kind of outrageous demands stems from a rider Van Halen inserted into the contract for its 1982 world tour, which insisted on a bowl of M&Ms to be provided backstage, but with all of the brown M&Ms removed.

As this image below of the actual rider shows, the band was very explicit in its seriousness about this:

vanhalenrider.jpg

Once the media got whiff of this, it had a field day roasting the band's narcissistic chutzpah. A new high-water mark of diva capriciousness had been established, which quickly became legend. A feat of prima donnapampering that subsequent performers have been trying to top ever since.

But as crazy as it sounds, Van Halen's "no brown M&Ms" rider had nothing to do with caprice. There was a solid rationale behind it.

In fact, it was quite brilliant.

The Importance Of Effective Indicators

Van Halen's 1982 world tour was a massive production, involving a tremendous amount of gear and technical complexity. The contract the band sent in advance to venues was so thick due to all the details within, it was referred to as the "Chinese Yellow Pages".

Non-compliance with the requirements in the contract could have serious consequences that could ruin the show, or even jeopardize lives.

So when the band rolled up to its next venue, it needed a quick way to determine if the stage crew there had complied with all of the specifications within its contract.

And that's why the "no brown M&Ms" rider was inserted. The band could simply hop off the bus and check the candy bowl. If they found brown M&Ms, they knew the contract hadn't been carefully read. And then they'd immediately call for a full-line check of the entire set.

As lead singer David Lee Roth detailed in his autobiography:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes …” This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

Genius.

Through its rider, the band had created a easy-to-monitor and trustworthy indicator. No brown M&Ms, and the show was likely set up to go smoothly. But if otherwise, don't perform until the entire venue is scrutinized for other missed requirements.

The lesson to take from Van Halen's wisdom is that having good indicators is key to achieving success.

This is also extremely true for the world of investing, where you are deploying capital based upon an expected future return. How do you determine when it's a good time to enter into an investment? Once in it, how do you monitor the conditions supporting your rationale for holding it -- are those changing? And if so, are they getting better or worse? When should you exit the position?

For all of these questions, the better the indicators you use, the more accurate and informed your decision-making will be. And the better your returns as an investor will be.

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