There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.
– rider from Van Halen's performance contract.
When rock vocalist David Lee Roth discovered a brown M&M in the backstage candy bowl at a Van Halen gig, he did what every self-respecting international superstar would have done - he trashed his dressing room to the tune of $12,000. What is more, he felt justified in doing so: the band's contract with the promoter specifically stipulated that all brown M&Ms should have been removed from the bowl. So why did he do it? More to the point, why was the clause there in the first place?
Riders on the Storm
We'll deal with the M&Ms incident later, but the episode served to highlight some of the more unusual, if not outrageous, demands made by performing artists on tour. These are known in the business as 'riders'; sometimes they are called 'performance riders', 'technical riders' or 'hospitality riders'. They are generally listed towards the rear of the contract between the artist's management and the promoter, who books the venues and makes all the necessary arrangements. Being a business contract, the promoter is legally bound to provide all the items within it.
As with any such contract, the terms will naturally be subject to commercial confidentiality. Not only would you not want other parties looking into your business dealings, but in the case of these particular riders, the artist would not want the general public snooping into the details of their private lives. Their projected stage image may belie what they actually get up to when the door of their dressing room is closed.
Of course, that didn't stop some of them reaching the press, maybe leaked by disgruntled promoters. To a media which is insatiable in the amount of gossip it will squeeze from celebrity culture, these revelations are dynamite. In truth, many artists probably don't mind the publicity. Anything which keeps your boat race on the front of the News of the World or OK! magazine is probably worth the embarrassment.
The Internet made it even easier to promulgate these leaked documents, and websites like The Smoking Gun, the source for many of the examples below, specialised in collecting them.
So you Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star?
So, let's take a look at a few typical performance riders, illustrated with some illuminating examples. If you're reading this as an artist, then these are the kind of things you should be demanding. On the other hand, if you're booking a band, then beware...
Let them know who's boss
Scene-setting clauses should be listed at the outset. Let's get this straight. There are ordinary folk, demigods, fully-fledged gods, and then rock stars. Know your place:
Promoter acknowledges that it is promoting a worldwide 'superstar' artist and that each and every element of such promotion, production and other arrangements shall be first class in nature and commensurate with the stature of a 'superstar' in the best dressing rooms at the site of the engagement, equipped as available in accordance with the terms of the technical rider.
– ZZ Top
In all instances Artist shall be billed as 'MEAT LOAF' ('MEAT LOAF' is two (2) words).
Of course, any contract must be agreed and signed by both parties. If the promoter doesn't like any of the clauses he can just strike them out before signing it; after all, these things can add thousands to the bill. Artists, on the other hand, often have something to say about that, usually bleating that 'a happy band makes for a happy audience' or somesuch.
Gone are the days when you would hitchhike to the pub gig, or pile into the drummer's Reliant mini-van. If the promoter's providing the transport, make sure it's the best that money can buy. Remember, Madonna even has a poledancer in her stretch limo.
(1) one stretch limousine, black or white, 186 inches long, current year model.
– James Brown
While you're searching for the tape measure, remember also that the Godfather of Soul - or rather anyone of equal prominence, as James Brown died in 2006 - likes the presidential suite at the local five-star hotel. In fact, when you're more important than royalty, there's nothing that's too much to ask for. Christina Aguilera even demands a police escort to and from the venue, which must be empowered to route the vehicles through any potential traffic delay.
Nothing - not phone calls, not hoax bombs - nothing must be allowed to disrupt the performance, nor the sanctity of the star's dressing room, so it's best to take every precaution. Paul McCartney is not the only star who demands a properly-trained canine search team to conduct a sweep of the stage and backstage area.
Some acts, like Elton John1 loathe those laminated backstage passes which invariably clash with their fuchsia outfits. Make sure that all your security guards have advanced recognition skills, as they may need to be briefed as to exactly which one Elton is. Oh, talking of bodyguards:
May we have two dedicated and intensely loyal security men, preferably built like brick s***-houses, one for each of the doors leading to the two dressing rooms.
– Iggy Pop
This previous clause comes from what is easily the most amusing rider of them all. Iggy Pop and the Stooges tore up the turgid legalese and wrote their performance requirements in a way that only they could. Look out for further examples below.
Purchaser shall provide a clean and well-lit and well-ventilated dressing room which can comfortably accommodate 20 people, restricted from the general public, and as near to the stage as possible. Artist shall not be required to share dressing room with any other performer, except Supergrass, Oasis or maybe Led Zeppelin. Any graffiti or lewd artwork should be covered up or modified.
– Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters perhaps are quite modest, or clearly haven't 'made it big'. Judging by other leaked documents, the dressing room is easily the single most important thing to the artist. Riders are chock-full of exactly how they want their dressing rooms to look, from the colours of the walls, to the type of furniture, to the general ambience of the place. Rap-metal band Limp Bizkit demand that all dressing rooms must have a 'vibe like an apartment' - the panoramic view might be difficult.
Jennifer Lopez is more specific, specifying 'white room, white flowers, white tables and/or tablecloths, white drapes, white candles, and white couches'. J-Lo, or 'No 1', as she likes her entourage to address her - but not to her face, mind - reportedly demanded that the BBC accommodate her and her 90 staff in ten dressing rooms prior to appearances on Parkinson and Top of the Pops.
Barry Manilow invites his fan club to turn up on the morning of the show to decorate his room, while other acts may just leave the artistic direction to the promoter:
You know what would be really nice? If you could make this room look less like a typical rock 'n' roll dressing room and more sort of...interesting? Are you with me? Just let someone loose with a little bit of artistic flair... Er, do you know any homosexuals? And am I allowed to say that? Probably not.
– Iggy Pop
These days, it's not enough to stand on the stage and sing. You might have to dance/strut/pogo around for two hours non-stop, so you may need some apparatus to get those muscles fully warmed up. Australian rock band INXS ask for a table tennis set-up, but don't be afraid to ask for something more substantial: the Rolling Stones need a full-sized snooker table, with a full set of cues, bridges, chalk and racks, but they do supply their own balls.
But you need to look after your mind, too. It can take a lot of effort to shake off your personality and adopt that stage persona. Funk-rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers ask for a small meditation room, fully draped in a medium to dark colour, but not blue. Peter Gabriel, on the other hand, likes a masseuse in every town. Not just any masseuse, mind. She can't be a sports therapist, nor an osteopath, nor even a chiropractor. She must be able to provide a relaxing/deep muscle massage 'hippy-style', and, more worryingly for her, must be able to 'endure one hour of incense-fuelled dressing room'.
Taking this to extremes, some acts might even need to drift into a kind of motionless subconscious trance:
Satellite or cable television: Please find out what channel is showing cricket - that is the channel we need most of all.
– Rolling Stones
Flower-power is dead, except perhaps in Peter Gabriel's massage parlour, but there's nothing that softens the starkness of a dressing room like a few blooms. Be sure to list all your botanical preferences. The Rolling Stones like each room to have a medium white Casablanca lily arrangement with weeping eucalyptus. Elton John, too, loves his flowers, but don't try to smuggle in any chrysanthemums, lilies, carnations or daisies - they're contractually off-limits.
Paul McCartney likes more of a woodland theme, ordering large floor plants, but no trunks must be showing. His rider specifies plants that are 'just as full on the bottom as the top, such as palm, bamboo, peace lilies, etc'.
Not every star will appreciate them, though. Luciano Pavarotti's rider specifically stated that 'there must be no distinct smells anywhere near the Artist'.
Don't forget to install phone lines. Stars love to tell their friends and family how the gig went, but not all of them appreciate getting calls in return.
An unlisted, outgoing-only telephone line will be required for Britney's room. Publishing of this phone number and/or any incoming calls will result in a $5000 fine payable by the promoter.
– Britney Spears
Performers can be at the venue for much of the day, and will naturally require feeding. Some are happy to have takeaways or local specialities, but others have more specific requirements. Joe Cocker must have a serving of traditional shepherd's pie with a side of baked beans each show night after the performance. He also likes his beer to be chilled three times: once at 6pm, once at 8pm and once more when he sings 'With a Little Help From my Friends'.
Frank Zappa tested the limits of most caterers with his regular request for 'Ruffles potato chips with Beluga caviar', but the prize for the most discerning dietary requirements must go to Mariah Carey. This Entry cannot even begin to do justice to such a precisely-sourced gastronomic feast, featuring items such as 'Tuna Salad (must be Albacore solid white tuna in water only)'.
Neither must you forget to feed the road crew:
At load-out time, when we're going to leave, we like to be supplied with two enormous pizzas, either to eat, or to leave on the bus until we find a truckstop trashcan with an entrance about 10cm/2 inches round, then we desperately try to fold the enormous stiff pizza box so that it's small enough to go in, which it never is, so we leave it on the side with all cold tomato puree and stringy cheese stuff dripping out of the side...
– Iggy Pop
Maybe times are changing, but you don't always see alcohol in the rider. The heady days of the 1960s and 1970s may be behind us but, as these documents show, there are so many non-alcoholic drinks to choose from. Thrash-metal pioneers Metallica are very specific about their tea, which should be either 'PG Tips or Tetley's British Blend'. Madonna likes water. Not just any water, mind: 25 cases of Kabballah-sanctioned mineral water. Madge and her red-string-bracelet-wearing celebrity pals like Britney Spears recently became involved with this mystical form of Judaism. Cartons of water are stacked in the synagogue while the Torah is read out, causing it to absorb the holy energy. According to the Kabballah Centre, 'Drinking it changes you on a molecular level'.
But some bands are still happy to order stronger stuff:
1 Bottle vodka,
2 Bottles red wine,
2 Bottles white wine, not Chardonnay!
48 cold Strong continental lagers (Becks or equivalent, not Stella & not US beers)
And don't forget the ice! Order plenty. Metallica order 16 twenty-pound bags of the stuff, and we don't think it's for the tea.
It's cool to be ethical. If you sing the songs, you should act like that backstage. Artists' riders are increasingly reflecting their fans' consciences, particularly since they started getting leaked into the public domain. Many ban styrofoam cups. Some go further: The Beach Boys request recycling bins backstage for aluminium, glass and paper products. Paul McCartney has other concerns:
It is crucial you do not provide furniture made of any animal skin or print. Do not provide artificial versions of animal skin or print either. Only animal-free materials are excepted2 (cottons denims velour, etc).
– Paul McCartney
For those items that you can't fit within the Reliant van or convoy of juggernauts, you need to let the venue know what they have to provide: spotlights, drum risers, that sort of thing. This is an area where Iggy Pop's rider comes into its own, ordering speakers 'of a type that might be venerated as gods by the inhabitants of Easter Island, capable of reaching volumes that would make Beelzebub soil his underpants, and driven by amplifiers that could provide the power for a Monster Truck Rally'.
Artists usually bring their own road crew, but smaller acts may also need some help shifting their gear. It's important to make sure the venue staff are fit to do so, just in case the band aren't:
Crew: We require a minimum of 2 competent and sober local crew for load in/out.
– Amy Winehouse
This is a convenient point to complete that story about David Lee Roth, the brown M&Ms and the trashed dressing room. The answer to this engaging riddle was revealed in Roth's autobiography. Van Halen's stage set-up was enormous, like Metallica's today, involving countless truckloads of equipment. There were many health and safety considerations, and the infrastructure requirements for the venue were specified in a massive technical rider3. The band was naturally concerned that the managers at the venue may not have read the detail, so they hid the candy requirement somewhere in the middle. The presence of brown M&Ms on the day betrayed the fact that the venue hadn't made the required safety checks, so the band would need to make their own.
Roth's act of vandalism was probably just a publicity stunt - maybe he'd have done it anyway - but let's get on with the show.
It's not only hitchhikers, but rock stars too that worship the towel. In fact, they can be a bit of a status symbol. Make sure you order the right size and colour, and remember too to specify that new ones must be pre-washed. Most important of all, order as many as you can; the more you demand, the bigger you are as an act. A straw poll of three acts shows, in reverse order:
3rd: Bruce Springsteen, with 120 towels (and 12 bars of bath soap)
2nd: Metallica, with 204 (17 dozen) bath sized towels
1st: Paul McCartney, with 240 (20 dozen) clean towels, and 24 large bars of Ivory Soap.
We'll finish with a few of those little everyday items, those home comforts and additional touches to keep the superstars happy, if it's not too much trouble.
There's a bit more of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle which comes out in these requests. Guns 'N' Roses ask for 'an assortment of adult magazines', and many Hip Hop acts even ask for condoms. For the record, Busta Rhymes' prophylactic of choice is 'one box of Lifestyles or Rough Rider condoms (ribbed)'.
Despite what their mothers might say, laundry is something which is far from the minds of most touring rock bands, and clean underwear regularly appears in these documents. The Red Hot Chili Peppers insist on six pairs of white socks for each performance, which, judging from one particular album cover, we can only hope are intended for their feet.
The odd joke item occasionally appears. Hip hop act Bloodhound Gang list 'one small rhesus monkey skeleton', but they do admit they're not being serious. In theory, there's no harm in asking for anything:
I think that's about it. Ooh no, wait. A BMW K1200 RS SE motorbike. Silver and blue is the nice one. Well it's worth a try.
– Iggy Pop