Coldplay’s Greener Pastures: With ‘Music Of The Spheres,’ One Of The Most Successful Touring Bands Ever Kicks Off A New Era Of Sustainable Touring
Mark Metcalfe / WireImage – A Grand Opening
Coldplay, which will play the grand opening of Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena later this month, appears on the cover of this week’s Pollstar. Here, frontman Chris Martin performs in Sydney, Australia, on December 13, 2016.
Singapore isn’t exactly a global touring fixture. Since the country’s National Stadium opened in 2014, only 11 artists from outside Asia have played there – and, when Coldplay arrived for shows on March 31 and April 1, 2017, no act had ever performed more than one show at the venue.
But Coldplay blazes trails wherever it goes. The British band sold out the stadium twice over, moving 102,508 tickets for a total gross of $12.46 million – still the venue’s gross record.
“We had the promoter calling, going, ‘Can we do more? I want to do another show,’” recalls X-ray Touring agent Josh Javor, who has represented Coldplay outside of the U.S. and Canada for 16 years. “We just didn’t have the time. It was crazy.”
Such is life for Coldplay, which ranked No. 8 on Pollstar’s Top Touring Artists of the Decade, grossing $731.8 million in the 2010s and occupying rarefied touring air alongside pop stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift and rock legends like The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney.
That figure stems largely from the band’s “A Head Full Of Dreams Tour,” a globe-trotting, eight-leg stadium trek that grossed more than half a billion dollars from March 2016 to November 2017 and stands as one of the most lucrative and acclaimed tours ever. Coldplay’s Singaporean showing was the fourth-highest gross total of its career, per Pollstar Boxoffice data, and mirrored successes across the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Oceania. But when the tour ended – the same way it began, with two sold-out shows at Argentina’s Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, an hour outside of Buenos Aires – the band’s team was already looking ahead.
“That last Latin America leg of ‘Head Full Of Dreams,’ everyone was talking about, ‘Well, next time we’re going to do this,’” says Live Nation senior vice president of touring Jared Braverman, who has worked with Coldplay for a decade. “Every tour, if you look at this band’s history, they’ve done something on their next tour that they never did in the past.”
Now, four years after they last toured, Coldplay is preparing to hit the road again, first with a headlining performance at the grand opening of Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena and then a slew of global stadium dates in 2022 that will redefine the possibilities of sustainable touring.
Mauricio Santana / Getty Images – SOUTH AMERICA STRONG
On the “A Head Full Of Dreams Tour,” Coldplay solidified its touring presence in South America, including with two November 2017 performances at Sao Paulo’s Allianz Parque, which grossed $10.4 million.
How did the earnest British pop-rock quartet of singer Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion become one of the top-grossing musical acts in history? To paraphrase an iconic Coldplay song, you have to go back the start – otherwise, you’re just guessing at numbers and figures. While the British band has dominated globally for nearly two decades, it started small.
“Steve [Strange] signed the band when he saw them when they were playing at a 200-capacity club in London,” says Javor of X-ray’s founder, who sadly passed in September at age 53.
Gie Knaeps / Getty Images – EARLY DAYS
Chris Martin performs at Rock Werchter Festival in Werchter, Belgim, on June 30, 2022, as Coldplay began its rise to the world’s biggest stages.
Stateside, then-Little Big Man agents Marty Diamond and Larry Webman weren’t far behind. Strange introduced Diamond to Coldplay’s then-manager (and current creative director) Phil Harvey, and Diamond and Webman saw the band at England’s V Fest in August 2000. Coldplay had just released its debut, Parachutes, and singles “Shiver” and “Yellow” were gaining steam.
“We would not take ‘no’ for an answer,” says Diamond, who still guides Coldplay’s American and Canadian touring alongside Webman as Wasserman Music executive vice president. “‘It was just undeniable. You know when you know.”
Backstage at V Fest, Diamond recalls, the band joked with him: “Oh, we’re never going to go to America!” But within months, Coldplay had done just that, selling out rooms like San Francisco’s Fillmore – the band has only ever headlined in America, Diamond is quick to note – on its first U.S. tour in February 2001. Demand exploded. By June 2003, Coldplay had sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“The band made that progression very easily and very logically,” says Diamond, noting Coldplay’s prolific, popular and acclaimed studio output, which included three albums from 2000 to 2005 that spawned several radio hits and garnered four Grammys. “They created great music, and they were prodigious in terms of the release of that music, which gave us the framework and the architecture to [progress through live’s ranks].”
For much of the ‘00s, Coldplay operated in arenas and sheds. The “Twisted Logic Tour” included a Coachella headlining play in 2005, and landed Coldplay on Pollstar’s year-end worldwide touring chart in 2005 and 2006.
“They were in that place where they were an established arena band – like, that was easy for them,” says Javor, who joined the Coldplay team when Strange departed his former agency Helter Skelter to form X-ray in 2005. But “it was still in that weird phase where a lot of acts get stuck. You know you can do arenas, but getting to a stadium is a whole different ballgame.”
Stefan M. Prager / Redferns – LIVIN’ LA VIDA
Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland perform in Munich, Germany, in August 2009, during the “Viva La Vida Tour,” which landed the band in the top 10 of Pollstar’s year-end worldwide touring in 2008 and 2009.
Coldplay’s touring in support of 2008’s Grammy-winning Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends began with arena runs in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania, before a North American shed tour in summer 2009. With 14 months of successful touring logged and unflagging demand, the Coldplay team decided the trek’s third European leg would be in stadiums. And, like much else in Coldplay’s career, success came quickly.
“From that first time they played stadiums, they were ready,” Javor says of the tour, which concluded with two shows at London’s Wembley Stadium in September 2009.
“Some artists move onto stadiums because it is the obvious next step in their career, but unfortunately they do not understand the space they are now in and deliver a fairly average show,” Wembley’s stadium director Liam Boylan, who in 2009 worked for Coldplay’s longtime British promoter SJM, tells Pollstar by email. “I have always felt the desire from Coldplay to not only be in that space, but to own it, expand it and find a way of using every bit of that space to deliver a huge show.”
“It’s one of the few situations where I have people come up to me and say, ‘This band is better in a stadium,’” Braverman says. “Typically, the size and scope of the building or even the production can dwarf the artists when they’re playing buildings that size. It’s the opposite with Coldplay – it amplifies it.”
Dave Hogan / Getty Images – WINNING WEMBLEY
Coldplay headlines London’s Wembley Stadium during a two-night stand in September 2009. In 2016, the band sold out the venue four times over, drawing nearly 304,000 and grossing $29.7 million.
Like Diamond and Javor, Braverman praises Coldplay’s broader team, which includes Dave Holmes, Mandi Frost, Arlene Moon and Brooks Roach at Dave Holmes Management; high-ranking tour personnel such as Marguerite Nguyen and Bill Leabody; and regional Live Nation officials around the world including Bruce Moran (Latin America), Phil Bowdery (Europe), Luke Hede (Australia) and Dennis Argenzia (Asia).
The first Coldplay tour Braverman worked was the “Mylo Xyloto Tour,” which raked in $171.3 million in 2012, landing the band at No. 4 on Pollstar’s worldwide year-end touring chart. Notably, the band achieved that mark despite having the second-lowest average ticket price of the chart’s top 10 artists.
“They want fans to be able to participate,” Diamond says. “If you create a financial barrier for a fan to enter, you might see a greater financial reward, but it also will exclude people.”
Coldplay also kept growing its innovative production arsenal, becoming the first artist to use the LED audience bracelets that the likes of Taylor Swift and Vampire Weekend have deployed since.
“What Coldplay is known for isn’t the specifics of ‘Is it the pyro? Is it the confetti? Is it the wristbands?’” Braverman says. “It’s all of it. It’s how it all plays into each other, how it ties in with the music, how it ties in with the band and how it ties in with the audience.”
The band further refined its ambitious stadium production while touring behind 2015’s A Head Full Of Dreams, routinely posting the highest box office figures of its career, including four sold-out Wembley shows that drew 303,985 and grossed $29.7 million.
Coldplays’s stadium touring was humming globally. Importantly, despite the costs and logistical challenges associated with transporting elaborate stadium shows, Coldplay refuses to scale back its production, even when performing in more far-flung regions.
“You have to remember that this band is not just huge in Europe, but they are huge everywhere,” Javor says. “By being a global band, you have to go to your fans everywhere.”
Samir Hussein / Redferns – GONE GLASTONBURY
In an uncommon festival appearance, Coldplay brought its “A Head Full Of Dreams Tour” to Glastonbury Festival, headlining the event in June 2016.
But Martin threw the band’s live future into question in November 2019, when he told the BBC that Coldplay wouldn’t tour behind its new record Everyday Life because it was researching how its next tour could “be the best possible version of a tour like that, environmentally.”
So, as Coldplay announced the October 2021 release of its ninth album, Music of the Spheres, and booked tiny gigs at New York’s City Winery and Apollo Theater in September, onlookers naturally wondered whether a stadium tour would follow in 2022 – or ever.
As this story was going to print, Coldplay answered that question, revealing the “Music Of The Spheres World Tour,” comprising 29 stadium dates in 23 cities across the U.S., Europe and Central America.
First, however, it’ll stage an underplay of sorts. Compared to the stadiums Coldplay frequents, arenas are small and intimate – and, on Oct. 22, the band will play the grand opening of Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, the cutting-edge facility that’ll run entirely on renewable energy and will be a functionally zero waste building. (Climate Pledge Arena is run by Pollstar parent company Oak View Group.)
The performance will extend far beyond the venue’s walls, with a livestream hosted by Amazon Music on a battery of channels, including Twitch, that’ll have the potential to reach half a billion globally.
“There’s no better way to open an arena than with the biggest band in the world,” Braverman says. “This will be the only arena that they play for I don’t know how long.”
Denise Truscello / WireImage – WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS…
Chris Martin performs at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sept. 18, 2015, months before the band embarked on its wildly successful “A Head Full of Dreams Tour.”
In keeping with Coldplay’s mission of fighting climate change, the sustainability procedures it announced for the “Music Of The Spheres World Tour” instantly became industry-leading for a tour of its scale. The trek will cut direct emissions by 50% compared to “A Head Full Of Dreams,” and it’ll be powered “entirely by renewable, super-low emission energy,” per a press release. Each venue the band plays will host solar installations, and a kinetic stadium floor will store power “in the first-ever mobile, rechargeable show battery.” Other aspects of Coldplay’s sustainable touring plan include planting a tree for every ticket sold, providing venues with a sustainability rider cataloging best practices, incentivizing fans to use low-carbon transportation, sustainably sourcing merchandise, offering free drinking water to eliminate plastic waste, and directing 10% of all earnings to a fund for environmental and social causes. Going forward, Coldplay will work with Green Nation, Live Nation’s sustainability platform, to help apply lessons from this tour to future concerts across the industry.
“We’ve spent the last two years consulting with environmental experts to make this tour as sustainable as possible, and, just as importantly, to harness the tour’s potential to push things forward,” Coldplay said in a statement. “We won’t get everything right, but we’re committed to doing everything we can and sharing what we learn. It’s a work in progress and we’re really grateful for the help we’ve had so far.”
“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here,” Javor says. “Small changes in the way a lot of little things are done can make a huge difference. And they have put a lot of thought into this.”
Even so, sustainability is just one component of the tour, which will begin with the band’s Costa Rican debut, at San Jose’s Estadio Nacional on March 18.
“The next tour starts in a city they’ve never played, in a country they’ve never been to, and for a stadium act, that’s special,” Braverman says. “That’s not something you see out of bands at Coldplay’s size and scale. It’s very ambitious to do that. We want to set the tone of what this tour is about, what it means and how our audiences matter.”
Despite the clear tenacity required to bring Coldplay’s stadium-sized touring to fruition, members of the band’s team often return to less tangible factors – Coldplay’s passion, audience camaraderie – when explaining the group’s enduring success.
“I can’t give you the recipe for the secret sauce,” Diamond says.
Then, after a brief pause and a chuckle, he adds, “but I gotta tell you, it’s a lot more than mayonnaise, relish and ketchup.”