The surprising importance of M&M's

Thursday, January 5, 2017

It’s a familiar story: a rock ‘n’ roll supergroup has a contract that stipulates there should always a bowl of M&M’s in their venue dressing room. But there can’t be any brown ones! When they discover brown M&M’s they’re furious and refuse to perform. Artists and their demands: spoiled and unreasonable, right?

Not in the slightest.
Not to long ago I read about the surprising truth underlying this tale. It was the ’80s, and the band Van Halen was super-hot. Along with trucks loaded full of speakers, stage equipment and electric guitars, the band toured all over the US, performing every few days. Their show was spectacular, directed down to the last detail. A lot of the details were taken care of by the band’s management, but for certain elements they were dependent on local suppliers. The local electronic infrastructure, for example, had to meet very detailed specifications to avoid short circuits and fires onstage. So to make sure nothing went wrong, Van Halen drafted extremely precise instructions – if everything went according to the contract, problems wouldn’t occur and everything would go smoothly. The tricky part? The tour was moving so fast that it was almost impossible to check all the details. The band had to find a surefire way to ensure that their specifications had been met. Enter M&M's.

A brillant  solution
The solution was simple. In the middle of a performance contract of over 100 pages was a demand that there had be a bowl of M&M’s in the band’s dressing room, but with one stipulation: no brown ones! The idea was that if this detail was noted and adhered to, then all the details would be taken care of. And if not, then the supplier couldn’t be trusted to take care of the rest.

If there weren’t any M&M’s in the dressing room, or if the brown ones hadn’t been removed, Van Halen would know that their other, larger specifications hadn’t been noted and they would refuse to perform, knowing that their light show and fireworks could be putting them in danger.
As this M&M’s story was repeated out of context over the years, however, the band got a reputation for being spoiled rock stars, rather than smart project managers. But admit it: would you have guessed this by watching them perform in this clip? I sure didn’t!