No Brown M&M's: What Van Halen's Insane Contract Clause Teaches Entrepreneurs
At first glance it appears to be a crowning symbol of obnoxious rock star excess, yet a closer look reveals a deeper story about how a band used a tiny candy to alert them to major problems.
The 1970s saw the rise of Van Halen. Like every band, when Van Halen was hired to play a show, they provided the promoter with a contract “rider” that outlined specific things the promoter would be responsible for. Standard riders include sound and lighting requirements, instructions for the set up of the backstage area, security needs and nutritional requests for the band and crew. These details can be as critical as the precise weight of the speakers or as trivial as the specific brand of toilet paper that the band demands in their backstage washroom. It’s all in the rider.
Buried amongst dozens of points in Van Halen’s rider was an odd stipulation that there were to be no brown M&M's candies in the backstage area. If any brown M&M’s were found backstage, the band could cancel the entire concert at the full expense of the promoter. That meant that because of a single candy, a promoter could lose millions.
For decades this stood as a humiliating act of self-indulgence, a rock band forcing someone to search through candy, removing every last brown one, for no apparent reason. Yet when lead singer David Lee Roth finally divulged the real reason for the bizarre clause, an entirely different picture was painted, one that serves as a valuable lesson for business.
In now-departed arenas such as Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, the original Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium, Van Halen was loading in massive amounts of staging, sound equipment and lighting. Unfortunately, these buildings were never built to accommodate a rock band of Van Halen’s scope. Without specific guidelines, old floors could buckle and collapse, beams could rupture, and the lives of the band, their crew and fans could be at serious risk.
To ensure the promoter had read every single word in the contract, the band created the “no brown M&M's” clause. It was a canary in a coalmine to indicate that the promoter may have not paid attention to other more important parts of the rider, and that there could be other bigger problems at hand.
Whenever the band found brown M&M's candies backstage, they immediately did a complete line check, inspecting every aspect of the sound, lighting and stage setup to make sure it was perfect. David Lee Roth would also trash the band’s dressing room to prove a point -- reinforcing his reputation in the process.
Van Halen created a seemingly silly clause to make sure that every little detail was taken care of. It was important, both for the experience of the fans and the safety of the band, to make sure that no little problems created bigger issues.
In your career growth and personal brand development, little details matter. Your vanity email address that was funny when you created it in college? It can torpedo any chance of you getting a job interview. Get a professional looking email address, or own your own domain name.
The snarky comments you tweet on Tuesday can get you fired on Thursday. Understand that in the social and online environment, the things you type can outlast you. Regularly inspect every aspect of your online identity, ensuring it accurately reflects how you wish to be portrayed.
Modern HR managers seldom tolerate spelling mistakes on a resume. Don’t let a misplaced “e” before an “i” hurt your chances of a dream job. A simple professional proof read is all it takes to fix them.
These little details may seem trivial, but as Van Halen demonstrates, they can be life and death. Develop your own brown M&M's system that keeps you aware of all of the little details that define you in a big way.