May 10, 2014

David Lee Roth explains the "no brown M&Ms" contract term.



The brown M&Ms strategy is discussed by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in "How to Trick the Guilty and Gullible into Revealing Themselves/It starts with a basic understanding of game theory and incentives."

Levitt and Dubner are the "Freakonomics" guys. They have a new book coming out Monday: "Think Like a Freak."

IN THE COMMENTS: I Have Misplaced My Pants said: "This American Life covered that territory years ago (explaining the brown M&Ms clause)." I don't know when the video I've embedded was recorded but it was uploaded in 2012. The "This American Life" episode — here, "Fine Print" — originally aired in April 2011, but Ira Glass is quoting David Lee Roth's autobiography, and that was published back in 1998. So Roth told his own story first. I'm just seeing it today because of that "Think Like a Freak" piece. I figure if I haven't seen something before, maybe you haven't. That said, I'm a big fan of "This American Life," and I've listened to nearly all the episodes, but I don't always remember what I've heard before. That "Fine Print" episode is one of the most law-oriented ones.

21 comments:

tds said...

Prominent placement of review of this book from Malcolm Gladwell is a perfect illustration of nigerian scammers weeding technique

Phil 3:14 said...

Brilliant

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Eh haven't watched the video but This American Life covered that territory years ago (explaining the brown M&Ms clause).

William said...

Maybe the point of Miley Cyrus's antics is to make sure that all of her fans are idiots. It worked for Michael Jackson.

St. George said...

Roth's uncle owned a NYC nightclub...Diamond Dave must have learned from his elder....

Big Mike said...

Now all you Meade and have to do is figure out how to make your comments into a self-weeding garden and you won't need to moderate your comments anymore.

After that perhaps Meade can tell me how to make my lawn self-mowing.

Larry Davis said...

Thanks for the "heads up." I read the first two books and ordered the new one through your Amazon link. I want to reread the first two books before starting on "Freaks." These books really made me think.

Bob R said...

I've heard Roth's explanation for the Brown M&M rider before, and it always struck me as "truthy." I'm sure they were pissed off by promoters not reading their rider or ignoring the conditions. And that probably led to the Brown M&M clause. But the idea that health and safety issues were at the top of Roth's priorities in the early '80's is a bit of a stretch. The road crew had checked the power distribution long before the band got to the dressing room. That check revealed more attention to detail than the M&Ms.

Bruce Hayden said...

Agree with Larry Davis. These "freaks" really make me think. So often, what is readily apparent isn't the reality. This article combined Nigerian scammers, brown M&Ms, and Soloman's swords, along with mideval trials by torture. The game theory thesis is that you can sometimes rig contests and the like to give different incentives to different groups of people, allowing them to sort themselves by their selections. Why do those Nigerian email scams appear so preposterous? Because they are designed to separate the extremely gullible from the rest of us, because almost all the work involved by the scammers comes after the first response. They want to eliminate up front all those who are the least bit suspicious, so they won't waste their efforts on them.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

The Smoking Gun has a copy of the '82 tour rider, complete with brown M&M's here

Freeman Hunt said...

Self-mowing lawn.

allison said...

In the 90s, out college dorm booked bands --relatively well known indie ones-- several times a year. We routinely had difficult to obtain contract terms, and a few college kids certainly weren't looking to not read the contract or stiff the talent. It was just the spoils of being a rock star.

The funniest for us was a band that demanded 6 clean towels. LSD, coke, crystal, vegan meals (remember the 90s), special pizza, these we could all manage in Cambridge, MA. But clean towels?????

Kristian Holvoet said...

In Megen mcCardle's 'The Up Side of Down" the point wasn't just to find out if they had read the contract. The point was whether they could TRUST the venue to have met all the technical requirements (power mostly). Brown M&Ms meant CHECK everything. No brown M&Ms meant they could provisionally move on through a 'normal not paranoid' set up.

It is an interesting diagnostic.

Larry J said...

My son is a nurse in the Navy. Several years ago, he was stationed at 29 Palms working in the ER. An east coast paramedic worked a shift with him. He was David Lee Roth. According to my son, Roth took the job very seriously and was even trained to work with SWAT teams. My son said, "Having David Lee Roth follow you around for 12 hours calling you sir was very cool."

Jason said...

Most military units - especially in garrison - have one or two 'pet peeve' items that are generally trivial, except that they are visible and easily checked. It could be something about the hat. It could be all the vehicles parked in a string-straight line in the motor pool. It could be a belt buckle thing. Whatever it was, it usually made no sense to the Joes. But what it did do was give the 1SG, XO and CO, CSM and Bn Commander a ready gauge on which NCOs and junior officers were A.) paying attention to detail, and B.) Willing to assert themselves to ensure that the orders got carried out.

For me it was maintenance. Other units had other gauges.

jr565 said...

The only problem with the brown M&M's as a check to see whether the promoter read the rider is if they always asked for brown M&M's. Then, you could know what to expect from Van Halen and simply make sure there were brown M&M's and never actually read the rider.
It might be better if it was changed up in every contract. So today it was brown M&M's. Next time it was Red Starbursts, or Yellow M&M's.
Actually, in keeping with the M&M's they could simply request different color M&M's at each concert, and then buy M&M's in bulk. As they go through the M&M's they narrow down the color but don't have to buy new M&M's ever time. They just pull the M&M's from an existing stash.

Bob said...

I go chop your dollar:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJOuvEcarNs

You be de mugu, I be da mastah.

cubanbob said...

Interesting premise. I ordered the book. On reflection it does make sense of a lot of seemingly stupid actions provided the actors really are the sharp as opposed to just being jerks or morons.

tola'at sfarim said...

heres a 3rd wsj story from todays paper that we need commented on
"A New Length for Men's Shorts"

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304831304579546312161483266?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304831304579546312161483266.html&fpid=2,7,121,122,201,401,641,1009

EDH said...

Explains what Obama surrendered to all sub-national enemies by categorically forswearing enhanced interrogation methods, even if the intention is to use those methods sparingly or not at all, which I think was the calculus of the Bush policy.

Aside, the technical and catering portions of the rider are typically followed by different promoter reps so it's really a stretch to assume inattention to
one detail implies inattention to all. But should you really assume the person separating the M&Ms used gloves or a spoon to extricate the offending candies from the others?

Scott M said...

I've interviewed DLR a couple of times. It's great. All you have to do is get him on the phone, say, "So, Dave, what's up?" and then you can leave the studio for twenty minutes or so.

The guy used to have a box of index cards that he would leaf through and belt out whatever story or catchphrase was on them. I know this because he got them out of order once while doing post-interview liners for all the DJ's on the station I worked at and he screwed up on mine. I kept the screw up in regular rotation, of course! Much more funny.