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What do M&M’s Candy and Complex Contract Reviews Have in Common?

By: Kyle W. Traver

06/16/21

If you know music, you know Van Halen. The Hall of Fame rock band turned out several hit singles and was known for their virtuoso guitar riffs, great hair, lavish lifestyles, and a penchant for M&M candies. That’s right, M&Ms.

In 1982, Van Halen launched a massive worldwide tour, perhaps the most complex, technically-involved tour of that era. For each venue, the band presented promoters with a handwritten contract rider containing provisions that would assure the purchaser a “smooth and professional theatrical presentation.” The rider was a lengthy document tipping the scales at 53 pages. Buried within the rider under the section titled “Munchies” (yes, “Munchies”) was this specific prohibition: “M & M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).”

Diva Behavior or Contract Compliance Genius?

This type of prima donna behavior is far from irregular. For example, Beyoncé fancies heavily seasoned chicken and fixing the temperature of her dressing room at 78 degrees, while Justin Timberlake requires that doorknobs at backstage venues or hotels be disinfected every two hours. And these are some of the tamer examples

At first blush, these requirements strike many as celebrities being celebrities, behavior that makes one’s eyes roll. Dig a little deeper, however, and you might see genius behind these strange requests.

For example, David Lee Roth, lead singer of Van Halen, had a method to his confectionary madness. He conceived the prohibition against brown M&Ms not because any disdain for the brown M&M, but to guarantee problem-free shows and the safety of the band, the stage crew, and the audience.

According to Roth’s autobiography, Crazy from the Heat:

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.

In reality, the brown M&M clause was a device the band used to ensure people were paying attention to the other 52 pages of the contract. Pretty smart for an 80s hair band!

Have you read the Contract Provided to You?

The takeaways from Van Halen’s contract snare underscore the importance of an in-depth review before you sign the contract. It’s not enough to quickly scan and accept. You have to know what you want to achieve from the agreement, the potential risks, and the ways you may be in breach for not complying with its terms.

Please contact Bodman's Enterprise Procurement Practice Group if you currently are contemplating a contract and would like assistance in evaluating your current contractual protections, or if you have any questions regarding drafting meaningful provisions to minimize the risk in the vendor’s standard terms and conditions.