The “No Brown M&M’s” Clause: Why the Trivial Details Matter

Scholarship Guide The “No Brown M&M’s” Clause: Why the Trivial Details Matter Colourful M&Ms

Back in the 80s, there was an infamous line in the band Van Halen’s contract, demanding a jar of M&M’s backstage in their dressing room at each show, strictly with no brown-coloured M&M’s allowed. Indeed, in a copy of a 53-page long typewritten 1982 Van Halen World Tour rider, the group made its candy-with-a-caveat request under the “Munchies” section, stating “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).” The contract was quite clear that violation of any part, such as the presence of a brown M&M, would provide sufficient legal grounds for the band to immediately cancel the concert at the full cost of the promoter.

One may think that this request was just an outlandish demand and excessive behaviour of a prima donna rock-star. It turns out that the “no brown M&M’s” clause was actually a creative quality control measure, an ingenious business strategy.

At the time, Van Halen was known for its high-energy hits and powerful live shows. The band had a huge comprehensive stage show uniquely designed for itself, requiring great set-up expertise to ensure safe conditions for the performance delivery.

As explained years later by the band’s vocalist David Lee Roth, the M&M’s provision was included to check the promoters’ attention to detail, ensuring that they had read the lengthy rider and followed it to the letter. If brown M&M’s were found in the backstage candy bowl, the band would immediately assume that the negligent promoter might have also overlooked other technical aspects of the set-up, such as the lighting, sound, wiring, staging, security, ticketing, etc. If they cannot get such a simple task right, what else might they have missed? Van Halen would then perform a thorough line check of the set before throwing a tantrum and trashing the dressing room to prove a point.

What Can We Learn From Van Halen’s Most Notorious Tour Rider Clause In Rock History?

Trivial, you may call them, but the little details matter. With career development being important to you, whilst focusing on gaining knowledge and experience, building your network, and doing your homework to prepare for interviews, do not forget the small details. You do not want the trivial things to cost you, like how a single brown candy can cost a promoter an entire contract.

Grammar & Spell Check

Let us start with your written submissions, such as CVs and essays. You can have the most persuasive pitch, but if your application is plagued with spelling and grammatical errors, readers will wonder if your negligence extends to all aspects of what you do. You will start to appreciate why your tutor is always picking on your harmless “its” vs “it’s” and all other minute punctuation mistakes because it is sufficient to get your paper ending up in the trash. Always proofread, proofread, and proofread. Nothing erodes confidence as fast as repeated minor slip-ups.

Presentation & Professionalism Why not? You go by that nickname, and all your friends call you that, but it is not something that your potential employer or scholarship provider needs to know. Get yourself a professional-looking email address or domain name.

When creating your LinkedIn profile, it is a simple editing effort to remove the unsightly alphanumeric characters at the end of the vanity URL for a clean and sharp presentation. Make sure that your profile picture says “professional” as well. It does not need to be business suits, but please keep your flip flops and pyjamas away.

On hitting the right note with attire, remember that it is not every day that you get called up for an interview, so make it count—dress to look clean, sharp, and elegant. Interviewers will also be looking out for the small things that can give them hints about your personality and attitude, expressed through the tiny cracks of your presentation and body language.

Do a sanity check of your online profiles and feeds. It is no secret that providers and employers screen applicants via search and social media. That facetious remark you made years ago on an online platform can come back to haunt you and hurt your reputation.

Read the Question Carefully Before Replying

Some hiring managers insert a “no brown M&M’s” clause in their job advertisements, requiring applicants to include a specific word or phrase in the subject titles or to answer a specific question in their applications—a test they put out to help them quickly filter out candidates.

If you skim through the job ad, thinking that the role is just like any role and the ad is just like any other ad, sending out a blanket CV and generic cover letter like how you always do, you just blew your opportunity. You should always customise every application to demonstrate that you have read the requirements and made careful considerations. 

Scholarship Guide The “No Brown M&M’s” Clause: Why the Trivial Details Matter Yellow M&Ms

Applying the No Brown M&M’s Logic

Whilst the above assumes that you play the promoter role in the Van Halen candy rider scenario, understanding the “no brown M&M’s” logic allows you to implement it in various forms in your personal and professional life, such as in scenarios where you need to evaluate options, identify red flags or inconsistencies, ensure clockwork efficiency, or establish confidence in your decision.

Examples include choosing a lifelong partner, picking a freelancer, monitoring health or performance, managing projects, formulating system processes and policies, identifying tell-tale signs of a toxic workplace, etc.

Like the “no brown M&M’s” clause, the indicators or triggers you set should be reliable based on criteria that matter to you, and they must be easy to find. In the case of Van Halen, attention to detail and following the instructions on the rider to the letter mattered to them, and it was an easy indicator to look out for—such that one glance at the candy bowl in the dressing room tells all.

Admittedly, the “no brown M&M’s” test has its flaws, with it being a shortcut to help one make a quick judgement. If not properly designed, the test can result in the elimination of a potentially good candidate. As such, ensure that you use this test to serve only one part of your decision-making process.

A word of advice here: If you are staging something as big as the Van Halen concert, a checklist—like the band’s tour rider contract (probably not 53 pages)—may come in handy. At the end of the day, whichever side you are on in the Van Halen story, the bottom line is to pay attention to the small details. They are the ones that make big things happen.

Closing With a Fun Fact About Brown M&M’s

For those born in the 1990s and after, here is what you may not know about brown M&M’s, besides the Van Halen story. The original colours of M&M’s candies were red, yellow, violet, green, and brown. In the late 40s, violet was discontinued and replaced with tan, a lighter shade of brown. So, there used to be M&M’s in two shades of brown, up until 1995, when the candy company Mars, Inc. decided to eliminate tan, replacing it with blue, the colour that won 54 per cent of consumer votes in a 1-800-FUN-COLOR campaign.

Hands up those of you who would love to see tan M&M’s again! Now that we know that there were two shades of brown M&M’s in the 80s, we wonder if Van Halen was also not a fan of tan.