Thursday, April 23, 2009

Madoff and Music City

I recently heard about a songwriter who lost his publishing deal because his publisher had run into financial difficulties; he had invested money with Bernie Madoff. I don’t know why I was surprised to learn that the Madoff affair had repercussions in Music City.

This reminded me that a decade or more ago, there was a well-known business manager/financial advisor in Nashville whose practice seemed to straddle the music industry and other “legitimate” professions. This gentleman had a guru like reputation for being both an astute investor and for helping people learn to budget their finances responsibly. Many of my friends and clients worked with him. I met with him once and he offered to work with me. I declined for a number of reasons. Mainly, I think I was self conscious about my own financial status and I didn’t want a third party who worked with many of my clients to know how irresponsible I was (at least that was my perception). However, I also had a lingering uneasiness: I just didn’t know how people with average incomes could budget and invest in such a way that over a relatively short period of time they could become wealthy. This uneasiness always veered between a lawyer’s healthy skepticism and the feeling that I just wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand the financial model. (I had a similar feeling when I took and dropped Economics in college). I have had the same feeling trying to figure out everything from various business plans during the dot com boom, to mortgage backed securities to Bowie Bonds.

It turned out that the Nashville money manager was playing fast and loose with his client’s money and his whole organization eventually fell like a house of cards, just like Madoff but with a little less drama.

I don’t know the moral here. I do spend a lot of time thinking about human emotions, finances and greed. I read once that David Byrne was trying to write a song about economics…maybe he should write it as a country song.

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