A Clever Tactic from the Van Halen Contract Playbook

Post authored by Donna Kastner, Event Marketing Strategist & Workshop Designer

No doubt, many have heard tales of the rock band Van Halen’s requests for M&Ms in their dressing room.

I heard them, too, but I never grasped the brilliant WHY behind this – until now.

Van Halen was one of the first modern rock bands to use a concert technical contract rider for their tours. Recognizing the many technical staging details that must be managed to ensure an optimal concert-goer experience, they knew the devil was in the details and they strived to nail down every last one.

All good, right?

But there was one pesky provision that caught a lot of attention: the request that a bowl of M&Ms, with all the brown ones removed, be placed in their dressing room.

As this story circulated, it fanned flames of diva-like behavior. Later, Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth revealed this was far from a whimsical request.  It was included for two very important reasons:

  1. Safety – There’s a whole lot of electricity coursing through that stage. One loose wire could trigger a heap of danger for the band and even the audience.
  2. The Fan Experience – Snags with sound or lighting could ruin an otherwise stellar concert experience.

This M&M request was added as a test to see if the contract was actually read and honored in its entirety. When the band arrived, if they spotted brown M&Ms – or worse, no M&Ms, it was an alert that other details required closer inspection.

What’s Your M&M Safety Buffer?

Might there be an “easy ask” you could make when you schedule your site visit to ensure other more important requests are getting attention? Or maybe this offbeat request appears deep within your RFP?

This might be a fun exercise for your next event team meeting. What will be our M&M ask?

In today’s hyper-busy world, people are scanning more and reading less, so these details are getting missed more often. Click To Tweet

In my world, the details sometimes get missed for workshops or hackathons I’m leading. Despite repeated planning calls and written requests around AV, sometimes there’s a last-minute snag that isn’t noticed until just before my session. A bad cord. A missing clicker. A laptop meltdown. Suddenly, I’m scrambling to get this addressed, when I’d rather be greeting participants as they arrive.

For some organizations, the challenge around details is within. Their small-but-mighty event team is stretched so thin, there’s precious little bandwidth to give every detail the attention it deserves.

If that’s the case for your organization, your best solution might be to outsource a portion of the logistics, so your internal team can stay focused on fewer tasks and manage these exceptionally. What’s nice about outsourcing is it’s a more agile and affordable way to scale up and down, as event needs surge and recede throughout the year.

Make no mistake – the ante (and expectations) for events is on the rise. And it’s going to take a lot more than a bowl of M&Ms to keep your event guests satisfied and coming back for more.

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3 Responses to A Clever Tactic from the Van Halen Contract Playbook

  1. This brown M&M story has been around for a few decades…here’s one from David Lee Roth’s biography:

    The folks in Pueblo, Colorado, at the university, took the contract rather kinda casual. They had one of these new rubberized bouncy basketball floorings in their arena. They hadn’t read the contract, and weren’t sure, really, about the weight of this production; this thing weighed like the business end of a 747.

    I came backstage. I found some brown M&M’s, I went into full Shakespearean “What is this before me?” … you know, with the skull in one hand … and promptly trashed the dressing room. Dumped the buffet, kicked a hole in the door, twelve thousand dollars’ worth of fun.

    The staging sank through their floor. They didn’t bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&M’s and did eighty-five thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the backstage area.

  2. Pingback: Make Your Conference Memorable With Spiced-Up Keynotes, Engaging Design and Workshops | Dylan Sanders

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