Coldplay’s 20 years of fresh consistency
A spur of the moment bit of spontaneity led myself, Mrs Taylor and Jessica, my 17 year old daughter, to rush off to watch Coldplay at Wembley Stadium last night. At 6.00pm we were sat around playing cards, moaning about having missed the band's London dates. Two hours later, thanks to a combination of Ticketmaster and Uber, we were taking our seats.
The experience got me thinking about the enduring success of Coldplay, who sold out Wembley four nights in a row, playing to a total of 280,000 fans. The London dates were part of the tour promoting the "Headful of Dreams" of album, the 7th in a row to chart at number 1 in the UK.
It's quite an achievement for the four members of Coldplay to still being going strong today, 20 years after they formed in 1996. They are one of only a handful of bands to manage this sort of longevity, in a crazy world full of big egos, drugs and booze (based on observation, not personal experience, I'm sad to say). How did they manage this?
1. Team culture and continuity
Some music-biz style shenanigans early in their career threatened to derail the band. What's interesting is how the band responded to this setback. "The recording sessions for The Blue Room (EP) were tumultuous," according this source. The band's drummer, Will Champion, was fired. Singer Chris Martin "pleaded with him to return and because of his guilt, went on a drinking binge." So far, so showbiz. But they worked out their problems and "put in place a new set of rules to keep the group intact. They would operate as a democracy anyone who used hard drugs would be fired".
Did the band's well educated background help them manage their career so well, I wonder? Band members Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman met during at University College London. And manager Phil Harvey studied classics at Oxford.
2. Fresh consistency
Coldplay strike me as a band who really know what makes them distinctive in the overcrowded music marketplace. They specialise in creating simple but incredibly catchy melodies with an "anthem" quality, perfect for chanting as a 70,000-strong crowd. The use of acoustic guitar and piano has also been consistent over the last 20 years.
But the band has also refreshed their music to remain contemporary. This includes the use of technology to add depth and "texture" to their sound on more recent releases, such as "A sky full of stars", that you can check out below on a Youtube video from Wembley.
3. Combine technology with consumer insight
You may have noticed in the earlier video the number of shining lights in the audience. This light effect was produced by thousands of digitally activated wristbands handed out at the concert, called Xylobands. These were activated remotely in the stadium to create a different colour, depending on the song being played. This created a visually stunning sea of light that amplified the musical experience. See below for an example of the effect during the song "Yellow". A bit of research show that is another element of fresh consistency, with the Xylobands already being used on the band's 2012 tour.
This use of digital technology is powerful as it is informed by consumer insight into the concert going experience. Years ago people would wave lighters to join in with a song. Then people started using the flashlight on their mobile phone. The Xyloband takes this a step further, allowing fans to feel even more part of the music, and save the battery life of their mobile phone!
4. Distinctive visual properties
Coldplay have always created visually distinctive albums. The latest album, "Headful of Dreams", has taken this to a new level. It builds on the band's use of bright colours, which were used throughout the concert last night. There were colourful laser shows, paint and confetti sprayed in the air, the Xylobands mentioned above and the way the brand dresses. This bright and colourful visual world expresses a sense of positivity and optimism which fans find uplifting and energising.
In conclusion, hats off to Coldplay for 20 years of success, an inspiring example of harnessing the power of fresh consistency.