Van Halen and the Legend of the Brown M&M's*

Storytelling can often be the very best way to get your point across.

Van Halen and the Legend of the Brown M&M's*
Capital Thinking | Van Halen and the Legend of the Brown M&M's

Capital Thinking • Issue #9 • View online

Jennifer Lopez does it.

So does Beyonce and Paul McCartney – not to mention P Diddy.

Barbara Streisand is famous for it.

What is it that all these celebrities - and many more – have in common?

It’s simple: Whenever they are to perform, they all make outrageous demands which are fully outlined in their performance contracts.

J-Lo wants everything to be decorated in white.

Beyonce brings her own sheets and Paul McCartney wants fresh plants in his room; not just any plants, but a specific number and variety.

Streisand wants a new toilet seat for each performance. And believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Performance riders can and do run to dozens of pages. Some of these demands go way beyond the usual and become the stuff of legend.

So it is with the band Van Halen.

Contained deep within their standard fifty-three page performance rider which includes such tidbits as the number of and size of the dressing rooms, the menus for both the road crew and the band, the number and types of snacks, drinks, and alcohol is the “clause of clauses.”

Buried in the list of “munchies” to be provided is the now infamous “No Brown M&M’s requirement.

That part of the rider reads like this:


Potato chips with assorted dips




Twelve (12) Reese’s peanut butter cups

Now, you should understand that the "Food Requirements” portion of this rider begins on page 36 and ends on page 41.

In fact, the warning about the brown M&M’s doesn’t even appear until half-way through page 40. And there was nothing to indicate that this one clause was a deal-breaker.

You should also know that performers at this level don’t usually complain when their requirements aren’t met. They just simply pack up and leave. They stop only long enough to collect a check from the promoter on their way out the door.

Taking care of their needs and making sure you follow through on them is absolutely essential for any promoter wanting to remain in business for very long.

So why do performers make such seemingly outrageous demands?

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are performers. Some deal with their anxieties through routine (which I’ve written about here) while others simply feel the need to control their environment even when far from home.

But while we don’t know for sure why J-Lo has such a thing for white, we do know why Van Halen was so particular about the color of their M&M’s.

It was an early warning system.

It was a simple, non-numerical way for the band to evaluate the promoter’s adherence to their requirements. Yes, this little clause was about food - but much of the rider contains provisions about stage heights, electrical needs, and a great many other things necessary to make the show successful and safe.

The band could do a simple visual check of the candy and see whether or not the folks in charge actually read every word of their performance rider or not. It was a clever means to an end and it became the stuff of legend.

Most people thought it was just another crazy stunt demanded by overpaid rockstars. Instead it was a form of operational quality control which demonstrated just how savvy those band members actually were.

Now you know the truth.

And from this point on, whenever you hear about some performer making outrageous demands, you’ll wonder whether or not there is more to it than just an inflated ego.

One more thing: the idea of an early warning system for your business is good one. Steal it and make it your own.

Maybe the Van Halen brown M&M clause won’t work for you, but if you think about it, you’ll come up with something that will save you time, money, and heartache.

Just don’t expect it to make you famous.

*first appeared in Capital Thinking, April 2012