Canadian Music Week Recap: Marty Diamond, Michael Chugg Keynotes

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From The Land Down Under: Australian concert promoter Michael Chugg takes part in June 9 a keynote discussion with Live Nation’s Joey Scoleri.  ((Grant W. Martin)

Australian live music industry legend Michal Chugg, a.k.a. “Chuggi,” is as involved with discovering and developing acts as he ever was, a point noted at his recent Canadian Music Week keynote conversation June 9 with interviewer Joey Scoleri, head of artist relations at Live Nation Canada.

The quadruple winner of Pollstar’s International Promoter of the Year award said he has a “great team of mainly girls who travel around the world” looking for talent. That includes COO Susan Heyman and the company’s head of country music, Georgie Luxton. “I enjoy all sorts of music, but going out night after night after night, some nights going to three shows, I’m sorry, I’m bit over all that,” Chugg admitted.

The 76-year-old, who created Frontier Touring Company in 1979 with the late Michael Gudinski, launched his own Michael Chugg Entertainment two decades later, which became Chugg Entertainment. A decade ago he added management arm and label Chugg Music.

Chugg was in Nashville prior to coming to Toronto for CMW.

Another topic of note during Chugg’s 45-minute chat with Scoleri at the Westin Harbour Castle Toronto is the unique inclusion of wineries on a traditional tour routing in Australia and New Zealand. While the U.S. and Canada have venues at some wineries, they hold a fraction of the capacity found at spots like NZ’s Mission Estate Winery and Australia’s Mt Duneed Estate, which both can hold as many as 25,000 people.

Chugg said the concept was started “about 12, 15 years ago” by “my late friend and enemy partner buddy Michael Gudinski” with A Day On the Green. The day-long event takes place at various wineries in Australia. Meanwhile, major touring artists like Elton John, Ed Sheeran, the Chicks and Robbie Williams build the wineries into their tours.

“I’ve got Robbie Williams, who doesn’t mean a lot on this side of the world, but in December and last year he played the Australian rules [football] AFL] Grand Final, which is like our Super Bowl. And the next week we went on to sell a quarter of million tickets for this December, over 15 months out. And he’s playing a combination of stadiums and wineries.

“I’ve got the Chicks coming in who I’ve been touring in Australia since the nineties, and they’re playing arenas and 50 miles down the road they’re playing 20,000 capacity wineries. So you’re able to give the acts more shows. They’re doing 11 shows.”

Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road, in 2018-19 — wrapping the week before COVID started — Chugg Entertainment did 40 concerts in Australia. “We played football grounds out in little towns you’d never heard of. We played wineries. We played stadiums,” he says.

“I love doing that,” said Chugg, “because you’re going into these towns and the people who have never seen these sort of acts, the whole town turns up and it’s a festival for the cities and the towns and everybody wins, wins and wins. And, of course, we aspire to take them back as much as we can.”

Developing those headliners Down Under is a responsibility Chugg takes seriously, and the hard work has mostly paid off in recent years.

“We run this big country music festival called CMC Rocks [at Queensland Raceway] for 15 years,” he explained. Before COVID, the event featured “this unknown kid” Luke Combs, who will be back in Australia in August. His tour sold out in 20 minutes. In 2020, Chugg had “another unknown act,” Morgan Wallen, who returned earlier this year to headline CMC, and 30,000 people in both Melbourne and Sydney.

“It’s all about new music and it always has been, and discovering young acts,” Chugg said. “We took Billie Eilish, when she was just a little baby, on our Laneway Festival. Late last year, we sold a quarter of a million tickets.”

One of the domestic acts on his label Casey Barnes had eight No.1s in Australia, and often goes to Nashville for writing sessions. He just played CMA Fest and had a writing and recording session with Canadian rising talent Mackenzie Porter.

“Of course, we’re always looking for new acts,” Chugg said. “One of my favorite new acts at the moment is an English kid called Jacob Collier, who I believe in the next two years we’ll be playing stadiums.”

Marty Diamond Awarded CMW International Agent Of The Year

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Canadian Music Week President Neill Dixon presents the hardware to Wasserman Music’s Marty Diamond.

A little over two years into the launch of Wasserman Music and EVP and managing executive Marty Diamond says the company has over 330 employees. 

“We have in two years grown pretty aggressively,” he said June 8, at Toronto’s Canadian Music Week during his recent keynote conversation with Joey Scoleri, head of industry relations at Live Nation Canada. 

The three-time Pollstar Award winner for agent of the year represents artists including Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, and dozens more.

Diamond was formerly head of global music at Paradigm Talent Agency, which was sold to Wasserman Sports & Entertainment Inc., the sports marketing and talent management giant led by chairman and CEO Casey Wasserman, in 2021.  

In 2006, Paradigm had acquired Diamond’s Little Big Man Booking, winner of 10 Pollstar Awards in 11 years for boutique booking agency of the year. In April, 2019, Diamond was named head of global music. 

In the 40-minute chat, Diamond was frank. He said prior to the pandemic was “probably the toughest part of my career. We were definitely in a financially compromised place and it was the first time that I had to actually lay off people… Probably the hardest thing I have had to do in my career.”

Then when 2020 rolled around, and the pandemic hit, he says, “Paradigm was a pancake in literally 48 hours.” Scoleri pointed out that was the case with many music businesses.

“Yeah, it was a pancake. We lasted about four minutes into the pandemic but most of the key executives and most of the agents had employment agreements. “Sam Gores, who ran Paradigm, his brother Tom Gores actually floated the company so they never were in breach. [Tom’s investment firm] Platinum Equity stepped in, worked with banks, and basically they never breached any of the contracts. So we were still gainfully employed in a time when there were no shows. 

“And for 14 months, myself, [agents] Lee Anderson, Jonathan Levine, Joe Rosenberg, and [Paradigm CEO] Sam Gores basically did two Zooms a day from our bedrooms or our bathrooms or our kitchens, or wherever we were, to try to figure out how to rebuild the business. We had all made a very, very serious decision that business was not going to be Paradigm going forward. It was pretty clear and obvious.”

He said the pandemic was tough, and they did “spatially distant shows” but tried not to get into streaming shows. “I did not want to get to a place where we were training an audience that it was OK to watch music on TV or watch music on your laptop.” 

He said he was also part of a collective that included industry execs Rob Light, Jay Marciano, Michael Rapino and Marc Geiger at the time who would hop on a call regularly to brainstorm how they were going to reinvent their business. “We’d hang up the phone and just hope that that blue skies would come soon,” Diamond said.

For Paradigm, it didn’t. 

“Myself and my four other counterparts, we had made a decision and we were pretty emphatic to the people involved that we were not going to come back as Paradigm and that we would find a way for them to financially earn out the money they invested.

“And we kept 137 people employed through the pandemic. There were some people that made decisions that they wanted to choose other things to do in their life. They had gotten offers from other agencies and they were able to move. But we kept 137 people gainfully employed and we were able to move the company to a company called Wasserman.

Following his keynote, CMW president Neill Dixon surprised Diamond with an award for international agent of the year, for “all the work that you do and all the support you’ve given Canadian Music Week over the years.” He was unable to attend the Canadian Live Industry Awards the following day.