13 Feb 2024


by Julius Grafton

Michael Chugg

Why Do I Still Do This? Our series is based on people of or beyond retirement age who still work in the industry.

Kicking off this new regular feature, Julius spoke with Australia’s second most famous Tasmanian, at his holiday retreat in Phuket. He is one of the most successful music promoters in the world and has massive industry perspective at age 76. Today Chuggi has a joint venture with Frontier Touring, fronts Chugg Entertainment, and runs Chugg Music with Andrew Stone.

Much has been written about Chuggi, most of it true. He is the Jedi Master of crowd control. At the infamous Guns N’ Roses outdoor show at Eastern Creek, Sydney, back in 1992, the crowd were restless as they awaited the eventual and typically late start for a band with a problem called Axl Rose. Back then it was de rigueur to bring your own, and many of the fans were a few sails to the wind.

Chuggi had been up on the mic a few times to pull the mob into order, and then he spots a bonfire erupting on the top of the hill. The fans had gathered beer cartons and were busy shoving more into the flames. ‘Put that f—ing fire out NOW or the band will go HOME!’ he yells. Horrifyingly many of the half tanked started to stamp on the flames, several catching alight. They were doused with beer.

Modern etiquette has tempered his approach slightly but he still enjoys yelling ‘Hey! You in the black T shirt…’

Michael Chugg at the Vans Warped Tour, Dee Why, April 2002

I’m interested in talking about the shifting sands of the production industry, and he’s interested in keeping ticket prices real. “Everything is up in cost of course. Taylor Swift with 100 trucks! But if you sell $2 million worth of T shirts in one night, you can afford it!”

“Now the stage alone can cost 300 to 400 grand every time. Add on 15% for the venue, security, ushers, it’s not cheap to do stadiums. You have to sell them out. Last year we did 35 arena, and 15 stadium shows, plus all the smaller acts.”

“I continue to do the tours I want to do. The last Robbie Williams tour was the biggest we’ve ever done. With Elton John, I was lucky to do those 40 farewell shows in 2019-2020, then to honour those last shows in NZ we got another seven shows in Australia last year. We had a great tour with The Chicks last year and a breaking tour with a young English guy called Jacob Collier who we believe will be a stadium act in a few years. A guy at Quincy Jones Management told me about him. I love a multi-ethnic sell out audience!”

Jacob Collier. 29 June 2023. Rock Werchter Festival, Belgium.

Starting as a booking agent at Sydney’s Consolidated Rock in the 1970s, Chuggi became a music manager at a time bands were struggling to survive on the road. “Back then (Michael) Gudinski and I spent all the money we made trying to break our bands overseas. Now it’s more stand alone. The Albanese government have legislated financial support to export Australian music. I’m on the board of Music Australia. I do it because I’m passionate. I’m still pretty sharp.”

I certainly agree. But now Chuggi is back in the management game, in a different climate.

“12 years ago, I took on Sheppard. I didn’t want to get back into management again. I was hassled by a keyboard player in Brisbane, he drove me crazy about these kids, so we said ‘come down and sing some songs in the office’. The songs were really interesting. Then Brian Brown was on about his mate’s kids from the Northern Beaches. I went to the Bears Den at the Metro and there were 200 beautiful 18 year girls going nuclear for this band, so I figured there was something going on here.” That band is Lime Cordiale.

Lime Cordiale

How does it pay off for bands like these? I ask.

“Streams and syncs.” (Sync, or synchronisation is a process where songs are combined with moving images – film, TV series, adverts, video games, trailers and so on.) “Sheppard have done a billion streams, currently 12 million a month. Living in Nashville, Casey Barnes’ music was in the sync for the National Big Bash on New Years Eve, he went from 250,000 streams to 60 million in just a few years.”

“It’s big money. Lime Cordiale have done 90 million. You’re getting into really good money. Syncs can add up to several hundred thousand.”

Chuggi is off to see Sphere in Vegas. “I’ll be checking it out in April. My friends who run venues say it is amazing. The ABBA Voyage theatre in London is through the roof; I’m sure Paul Dainty will bring it to Australia eventually. Look at the ABBA museum in Stockholm, they’re bigger than ever.”

Chuggi is one of the few remaining independent promoters. I want to know why.

“I’m not the sort of person anyone would want to acquire, because I tell the truth! I’m very happy with my joint venture with Frontier Touring, two of my team are on the management board.”

How about losing money? “I learned a long time ago just because you love something you can’t expect everyone else to love it as well.

I sometimes wear a Simon and Garfunkel T shirt, it only cost me $750,000. The thing is, you decide, you do it, if it loses money you just move on. I haven’t had a crushing loss for a long time. We know what we’re doing. Susan Heymann has been with me twenty years and is regarded as one of the best worldwide.”


Production designers – what are they doing wrong?

“Australia has always had some of the best designers and roadies in the world. Wayne Grosser from the Gold Coast does sound for Sheppard. We fly him to Nashville if we have to. You can spend half a million on show design, but you can build a good one for less.”

“It’s all about the songs.”


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