BRISBANE, Australia — With borders closed since March and international touring placed in deep freeze, 2020 has been nothing short of a nightmare for concert promoters.
Michael Chugg isn’t your typical concert promoter.
Born in Tasmania, now based in Sydney, Chugg is a living legend in the live industry. A larger-than-life character. And at 73, he’s showing no signs of slowing.
Due to the pandemic, it’s been a quiet stretch for his live entertainment company Chugg Entertainment, which launched in 2000 and is now affiliated with Michael Gudinski’s Frontier Touring.
No shows, no worries. Chugg switched gears, shifting his energies to Chugg Music, the independent management, record label, label services and publishing company he launched in 2012 with Andrew Stone.
In recent times, Chugg honed his roster, focused on digital, and expanded his company with the launch of Chugg Music Asia, led by Michael “Mick” De Lanty in Bangkok.
Those moves are paying off.
“When the pandemic started, Andrew, myself and our team realized we need to focus on the online world and since march our artists have done around 80 -90 streaming events,” Chugg tells Billboard.
Brands got involved. This year alone, Chugg Music and its artists partnered with the likes of Doritos, Ariat, Wrangler, YouTube, drinks brands Mercury Cider and Young Henry’s, and more.
“The learning curve has been amazing and we have built a solid relevant roster,” notes Chugg. “At one stage we had around a dozen acts or so but we quickly worked out in ’18/’19 we needed to focus on just a few and this year that plan has really stated to work in a big way.”
One of the big success stories in Australia this year is that of Lime Cordiale. An early signing to Chugg Music, Lime Cordiale saw their sophomore album 14 Steps To A Better You blast to No. 1 on the ARIA Albums Chart in June.
The sibling indie pop outfit was rewarded with a leading eight nominations for the 2020 ARIA Awards, set for Nov. 25 in Sydney.
In any other year, Lime Cordiale would be flying in the stratosphere. “We’ve had to cancel or postpone two U.S. tours, a sold-out 40-date U.K. and European tour and an Australian arena tour,” explains Chugg. “My motto is, if you love and believe in something, never give up. Keep banging your head and the wall will fall down. It sure has.”
Chugg and his team have made virtual walls fall in Asia, too. Since announcing Chugg Music Asia in September, the company and its roster has enjoyed breakthrough in China, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Korea and Indonesia, Chugg notes.
The first project for Chugg Music Asia was Sheppard’s “Somebody Like You,” a collaboration with Taiwanese singer Sammy, performed in Mandarin and English.
Closer to home, Chugg and Stone’s recently-launched label City Pop Records has added several new artists to its roster this year, including Mason Watts and Andrew Lambrou, joining first signing Mia Rodriguez (“Mia is an amazing talent,” Chugg enthuses. “Watch this space for a major international announcement.”)
Chugg Music kicked another goal when Sheppard performed Oct. 24 during the halftime break at the AFL Grand Final in Brisbane. A new album Kaleidoscope Eyes is slated for release in February 2021, and global streams for the pop outfit now top four million each month, Chugg says. Other signings include Casey Barnes and Avalanche City.
Since launch, Chugg Entertainment has toured hundreds of major international acts including Dolly Parton, Coldplay, Radiohead, Elton John, Pearl Jam, Robbie Williams, and homegrown heavyweights Tame Impala.
Chugg promoted Coldplay’s first ever arena and stadium tours in 2006 and 2012, and co-promoted the Australasian leg of AC/DC’s Black Ice trek, which sold more than 650,000 tickets.
On the festivals front, Chugg partnered with Lunatic Entertainment on Laneway which, at its peak, played cities on both sides of the Tasman and ventured into Singapore and the U.S.
As the months heat up, Australia’s states are tentatively opening to socially-distanced concerts (Victoria remains some way off). There’s no sign of full-scale touring on the horizon. “I really miss working with international and local acts on sell-out tours and our festivals and watching acts grow into massive live acts, that satisfying buzz of watching 1,000s of fans having a night of their lives,” Chugg admits.
So when will live return to a new normal? “Mr Gudinski and I talk every day,” he says. “Hopefully we will get back to shows next year but we have a long way to go. It could even be 2022 for internationals.”