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Classic rock history abounds with unbelievable stories about fans’ favorite musicians. But perhaps one of the more notorious controversies — if one could even call it that — is Van Halen’s infamous demand regarding the candy allowed backstage at its shows. However, was this requirement actually a smart business move? Let’s dig into the reasoning behind it all.

Van Halen had a strangely specific detail in its contract

Van Halen released its self-titled debut album in 1978. And the “Jump” hitmakers only saw their fame and influence rise over the next few years. So at the height of their success, it became a big deal when news broke that Van Halen’s concert contracts included a stipulation that no brown M&M’s were allowed in the backstage area.

Musicians and other celebrities often make explicit demands in their contracts to accommodate their needs or desires. But even by those standards, the specificity of Van Halen’s brown M&M’s stood out. The band was heavily criticized for it at the time. Although the clause didn’t keep Van Halen from rocking — the band released albums into the 2010s — was it a wise move?

David Lee Roth explained why Van Halen banned brown M&M’s

Van Halen M&Ms David Lee Roth
David Lee Roth at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards in New York City | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

According to a 2014 Entrepreneur article, Van Halen had good reason to ban brown M&M’s from its concerts. At first glance, the demand seems like a prime example of artists taking advantage of their fame and exercising their egos. However, former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth revealed there was a lot more to the band’s contract stipulation than just candy. Indeed, its inclusion might have prevented the band and its team from entering a hazardous environment, putting everyone at risk.

The real reason for the M&M’s clause was to ensure Van Halen’s demands had been met across the board. If no brown M&M’s were present, the band could rest assured the contract had been thoroughly read and adhered to, including the security precautions.

According to Entrepreneur, “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.”

VH is far from the only band to make oddly specific demands


A ‘Burned Out’ Sammy Hagar Wanted a Break; Instead, He Joined Van Halen

Across the music industry, many artists have gained attention for their outlandish demands. Foo Fighters, in particular, have fun with this part of the business, allowing tour manager Gus Brandt to include over-the-top details in their contract riders. But at least in Van Halen’s case, there seemed to have been a practical reason.

As much as public perception might have taken the band to task, the business rationale behind the “no brown M&M’s” clause is sound. With Van Halen playing a wide range of venues, the rider ensured the group could safely and effectively put on the show fans came to see. And in hindsight, Van Halen’s approach is pretty rock ‘n’ roll.