Back in January 2008 when I was getting this blog off the ground, I started doing music picks. I called it bTunes and the idea was “music matching market moods.” It had to be relevant to current market issues/data and it had to have music that didn’t suck.
That was my standard. Anyone can pick a song title that matches a market mood, but is the song any good? I eventually eased off on the music picks because it was taking more time than I have to write pieces that had both musical and market depth.
Which is why I was very happy to see Bloomberg’s Matt Miller start a song of the day segment a year or two ago on his Rewind market recap show each night. I’d been watching Matt since I switched office TVs from CNBC to Bloomberg around 2007, and he’s always had a knack for weaving in a bit of pop culture with straight, credible financial news.
This is incredibly hard to do without being gimmicky, but Matt’s got it down because he’s not just an ace financial journalist, he also legitimately follows pop culture.
His guests are another story. The Rewind guest list is a who’s who of modern finance experts at the top of their game, but as such, there’s a fair amount of dry personalities. Or at least people whose finance depth far exceeds their musical depth.
Which is why I sent this tweet to Matt and the Rewind team yesterday:
— Julian Hebron (@TheBasisPoint) July 26, 2012
I meant that too. I won’t mention the names of the guests to protect the guilty, but seriously, what grown men legitimately like Katy Perry and Amy Winehouse? This feels more like trying to be cool than it does picking a good song. And remember Dr. Evil’s cautionary words to Austin Powers about trying to be cool: “there’s nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster.”
Anyway, to my surprise, BloomgergRewind responded with:
@thebasispoint What do you think the song of the day should be?
— Bloomberg Rewind (@BloombergRewind) July 26, 2012
Here’s my answer…
Market Song of This Era: I’ll Wait – Van Halen
I’ll Wait by Van Halen succinctly sums up the market mood of recent years. Market participants don’t know what to do. Even the smartest money managers and economists on this planet admit—some publicly, some behind closed doors—that we’re in unprecedented territory with global monetary intervention and they don’t how things will play out. So they wait. We all wait. Making a few bets here and there. Because it’s not like we’re going to turn back, as the song’s opening line so clearly reminds us:
You’ve got me captured I’m under your spell
I guess I’ll never learn
I’ll Wait was on Van Halen’s 1984 album, and written as a collaboration between the band and Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald. It came out as the U.S. was coming out of a similarly dark period as we’re in now.
In 1981, Paul Volcker and his FOMC pushed the Fed Funds Rate to an average of 19% (compared to 0% to .25% today) in order to beat the 14.6% average inflation of the day (compared 1.7% all-inclusive and 2.2% ex-Oil&Energy now). This inflation battle caused two back-to-back recessions. The first one began in January 1980 and unemployment peaked at 7.8% in August 1980. The second one began in July 1981 and unemployment peaked at 10.8% in December 1982 (compared to 8.2% now).
By the time the Van Halen song/album came out January 9, 1984, unemployment had ticked down to 8%, and by the end of that year unemployment was 7.3%. And a December 1984 Kansas City Fed report recapped the first half of the year as “an important watershed for the current economic expansion” and unemployment was down to 7% by the end of 1985.
A ray of hope that everyone’s “I’ll Wait” refrain might bear fruit. So while you’re waiting, you can at least enjoy David Lee Roth in his prime (embedded here).
So in summary, the song of the day concept is genius on Matt’s part for two main reasons:
(1) Given the caliber of his guests, they don’t need to review their subject matter much before they go on. But this concept keeps Matt and his show in their heads permanently, because they’re racking their brains for the right pick as they go through each day.
(2) Musical taste is what it is: different for everyone. So even when I poked at the BloombergRewind team on twitter yesterday, they can simply turn the question on me or anyone else and engage them.
Entertaining? Absolutely. But again, not everyone can do this without it coming off as too cute or too clever, and most important: not everyone can do it without losing market credibility. But Matt Miller can and does every night.
As for whether financial news should even be entertaining in the first place, I’ve already covered that. See link below.
– The CNBC-ing of Bloomberg – Should financial news be entertaining?