The Genius Of Van Halen’s Brown M&M Clause

Van Halen’s concert contracts famously (or, infamously) required that brown M&Ms be forbidden from the band’s dressing room.


Image courtesy: The Smoking Gun

Some thought the demand eccentric or a clever loophole to slip out of a contract. The reality is a good reminder that we always need to dig deeper.

According to then-band leader David Lee Roth, the brown M&M clause served a critical purpose:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets.

We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. […] So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production.

Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.

Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

The legend of the brown M&Ms clause is funny and interesting. But the reality is far more revealing.

Did You See The Brown M&Ms?

When you talk with customers in a Win/Loss scenario, do you accept their answers at face value or do you ask for details?

It can be tempting to let customers off the hook with answers like “Your product didn’t have this feature” or “It was too difficult to figure out” — depending on the circumstances, you may feel too weird/uncomfortable/irritated to probe further.

Get over it. Understand the specifics of their problems. Ascertain how they determined your product couldn’t meet their needs.

Pay attention to those brown M&Ms. They could be more important than you think.

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8 thoughts on “The Genius Of Van Halen’s Brown M&M Clause”

  1. I find myself oddly impressed by David Lee Roth more and more as I get older. I used to think of him only as the guy who said his parents let him have “monkey time” growing up, where he just trashed the livingroom. But under that, and under the guy who got busted smoking pot in public, is an intriguing guy.

    This is a great post and a terrific lesson.

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