Interesting Inspection Technique

Love this story ... hope its not apocryphal

That got me to thinking about a wonderful story of how one of rock's legendary bands ensured that their shows were set up properly - and safely.  Van Halen's contracts would spell out any and everything that had to occur before they would go on stage.  Not surprisingly, since these contracts covered everything but the kitchen sink, it would be nearly impossible to make sure all the i's and lower-case j's were dotted.  So they came up with a smart way to make sure everything was followed to a tee.

In their contracts, they buried a rider in that said that the band would be provided with a jar of M&M's with all the brown ones removed.  The thinking was that if the contract were read thoroughly, the M&M's would be provided sans the brown ones.  If that was done properly, so, likely, would everything else.  So rather than checking to see if everything was taken care of, they simply looked for the jar of M&M's.  If there were brown ones inside, they'd have everything checked top-to-bottom

When you think about it, that's a nearly costless way to check for quality control.  So much for the dumb musician stereotype.


  1. Zeeb:

    that is what david lee roth stated in his autobiography.

  2. Chris Byrne:

    Ayup, and DLR, and Michael Anthony have both confirmed it in interviews.

    Also, the legendary van halen "pink pass", where the crew would party with the hot girls picked out during the shows... They could only party AFTER they had completed their part of the knights breakdown and packup routine.

    That got the breakdown down from 12 hours plus, to 2 hours.

  3. Craig:

    Snopes also says its true.

  4. steve:

    Meh... I doubt it was very effective. There must have literaly been dozens of people involved in setting up a show. The only thing they succesfully checked was that the lowliest gopher was on the ball. Doesn't say anything about the others. If a union was involved, then usually only those on the bottom of the totem pole put in any real effort.

  5. epobirs:

    Steve, DLR says there was one occasion where a show was canceled due to non-compliance and it turned out the stage has serious defects that could have hurt a lot of people if it had a structural failure during a show.

    It reminds me of the story of how the future Beatles first met Ringo. He was playing in another band performing on the same night. The stage was rickety and complaints were ignored. So the bands competed to see who could bring down the stage. This was just a club, so nobody was in danger. So, a lovely destructive time was had by all and they remembered that drummer they met that night when needed a new recruit.

  6. IGotBupkis, Three Time Winner of the Silver Sow Award:

    steve, the lowliest gopher wouldn't GET that job if the management hadn't gone through the contract with a fine-toothed comb. And even if they had, if they didn't take the little details seriously, then they would not have given your lowliest gopher specific instructions to worry about the M&Ms AND had a supervisor savvy enough to either check that they'd done it or to hire someone who WOULD do such a minor thing without being checked upon.

    So that's three ways your argument fails right up front.

    Reminds me of a tale about how Sweden (supposedly) rigged the water quality laws to make them require less policing. Supposedly, one law Sweden had with regards to all factories was they their discharge had to be upstream of the intake. If a company wasn't cleaning out their discharge, they'd be sucking their own crap right back in. Not guaranteed to catch all bad discharge, but certainly a fair percentage of it.

    Sometimes there ARE simple, elegant solutions to otherwise complex problems. Not everything is climate modelling.

  7. steve:

    Still meh ... It may not be comparable in ways I don't understand. But, I work in a team that designs electronics from specifications. While management certainly tells us to do a good job, they don't have the budget to check everything twice. That is almost as expensive as doing the work the first time. In short, the quality varies considerably from employee to employee. In practice, the management learns who the best and worst employees are and basically pick and choose which customers get first class and which get coach.

  8. V:

    I'm not waxing pro union, but I have encountered a union group who uniformly did what they were supposed to from top to bottom. Granted, these were plumbers, who live in the real world and run their own businesses. Not only that, but many of them had bad experiences with the auto industry.

    On the other hand, my father's work place was allegedly almost blown up by a ticked off union. He was the guy who noticed that there was a car parked where it wasn't supposed to be. He had the fork-lift operator haul it over the fence moments before it exploded. True story... I saw it happen.

    Hey, my cousin was cleaned up and set straight by a rock band. She was a roadie for the Dave Matthews band. Say what you like pro or con about his music, they took good care of her and directly changed
    her life for the better.

  9. eddie:

    Lean manufacturing methods use a similar principle.

    Consider a specific manufacturing step such as drilling a series of holes in certain part. It could probably be done in several different ways by several different people without affecting the finished result in any way. Maybe Bob and Joe drill the holes in the opposite order, maybe Fred stacks the finished pieces flat and Harry stacks them upright.

    Lean principles say you should standardize as much as possible about the process, so that everyone does a given task the same way - even at the level of details that wouldn't seem to matter.

    One (of many) benefits you get from this uniformity is that deviations in the little things are immediately apparent just by looking. If someone isn't paying attention to details, they are probably going to be careless and make mistakes both on the things that matter (like drilling the holes in the right place, to the right depth, at the right size) AND on the little things. So you use the more visible deviations in how the pieces are being stacked as an alarm bell that other less visible but more important deviations may be taking place as well.

    I suspect that military organizations' fastidiousness over, for example, one's appearance in uniform is driven by the same goal. You can instantly tell whether someone's shirt, belt buckle, and trouser fly are in perfect alignment. And someone with the attention to detail necessary to have such perfect dress is more likely to also pay attention to details in everything else they do.

  10. Johnson:

    My dad was in a POW camp and was given the task of cutting a loaf of bread into slices. These guys were always ravenous so you can imagine how they'd obsess over who got the 'biggest' slices. The system they came up with was the guy who cut the loaf was left with the last slice after the other guys had picked their slices. My dad got very good at cutting perfectly even slices!

  11. Douglas2:

    I regularly have to look over contract "riders" to verify that we've got (or can get) what it takes to do the show. And it is a regular task to phone up the road manager, lighting director, or sound mixer and say "we don't have X, but could rent it in if we must. But would you be happy with Y instead?" 9 out of 10 times they say yes. 10 out of 10 times they are appreciative of the call to ask about it ahead of time, rather than just assuming that an ETC Expression lighting console will be fine for the show even though they requested a Leprecon LPC48V.

    I've definitely noticed a trend towards including one surreal request in the detail section, such as the promoter must provide a particular toy at the mix position.

    I've learned that starting the conversation by asking "so what's the deal with the my-little-pony toy?" makes everything go smoothly from there on out.

  12. mahtso:

    This "technique" reminds me of what my dad once said about auditors who are satisfied if the numbers match to the penny, but don't bother to verify that the $ millions also match.

  13. steve:

    I forget the technical name for it. But, mahtso reminds me of another trick for auditors. Basically, low numbers occur much more frequently in many natural sequences then large numbers. Has something to do with the fact that 2 is twice as large as 1 but 3 is only half as large as 2 etc. Anyway the frequency of 1's in prospecteses should be something like %30. It's a good cheap way to catch frauds unless of course the fraud is aware of this then it is useless.

  14. IGotBupkis, Three Time Winner of the Silver Sow Award:

    >>> and run their own businesses.

    I would suspect that this is far more relevant than the "union" part of the equation. When your life's income rises and falls on doing the job right, then you're much more likely to do it right. This, of course, is the chief problem with unions -- as with any human organization, they make a serious effort to remove this element of risk from their members' lives.

    This tendency must be fervently resisted, of course.

  15. tomw:

    I wonder if the jar of brown M&M's was just packaged and shipped on to the next venue...
    OTOH, how much of the persnickety stuff is passed on to the next crew by word-of-mouth?
    "These guys always want a dozen 2-litre Dr. Pepper's chilled ... and don't try to substitute Mr Pibb, or there'll be trouble like you've never seen before..."
    IMO, the current job of unions is to protect members who would not measure up in the course of normal workdays, and be a single-point contact for large firms doing wage negotiations. As a by-product, they can sometimes extort more pay than a particular job is worth. On second thought, that may not be a by-product, but a standard feature.

  16. Paul:

    Video interview about it: