Michael Chugg’s country protégé Casey Barnes is ready for the big rodeo
It’s not about the size, it’s what you do with it.
That could just as well be the mantra for Michael Chugg and Andrew Stone’s Chugg Music, the independent Sydney-based company that, despite its size, has launched a string of musical acts onto global stages, sales charts and bedroom walls.
Think chart-toppers Sheppard and Lime Cordiale, and Rolling Stone Australia’s inaugural Breakthrough Artist winner Mia Rodriguez.
That hitlist could also expand to include Casey Barnes. The country artist is primed and ready for the big league, Chugg reckons, and he might already be there were it not for COVID and the global mess it created.
If Barnes isn’t on your radar, it’s time to tune in. The Queenslander has nailed four No. 1s on the country radio charts, and eight of his songs have blasted past one million streams. Casey’s all-time streams are closing in on 20 million.
Born and bred on the Gold Coast, Barnes has quietly moved into position with ‘Come Turn Me On,’ which climbs 2-1 on Music Network Countrytown Hot 50 and snags Top Ten spots in Fresh Country, Country Chill Spotify Playlists.
Currently, it sits at No. 62 on the national Shazam Chart, with a peak position of No. 6 in such rural areas as Alice Springs and Mt Isa.
The track is lifted from Town Of A Million Dreams, which opened at No. 16 on the ARIA Albums Chart and No. 1 on the Australian Country Chart and the iTunes Country and All Genre Charts, following its release in April 2020, as the pandemic raged on.
Along the way, Barnes collected an ARIA Award nomination for Best Country Album, and he performed at the 2021 Golden Guitar Awards, where he scooped four nominations.
Touring, however, has had to wait.
“A lot of people haven’t heard of Casey Barnes, even in the country world,” Chugg admits. “But it’s growing and it’s going to keep growing.”
With Barnes on board, “we just built it,” explains Chugg. “And we’ve taken our time.”
Watch Casey Barnes’ ‘Come Turn Me On’:
The new single is doing “extremely well at radio,” explains Frank Varrasso, Director of promotions and publicity specialist Varrasso PR.
“We knew from the outset that ‘Come Turn Me On’ had crossover potential and our key objective was to ensure that commercial radio would take the risk and back the song in on its own merits, rather than simply rely on numerical statistics.”
Key to Casey’s crossover would be planting the seed at regional networks, “given that Casey’s fanbase is rampant in these areas” where country music festivals are a big business.
Chugg, a country enthusiast who promotes the biggest and the best in the game through his role with CMC Rocks and other platforms, including his roles on strategic boards for country music worldwide, spotted an opening on his roster in 2018.
He recounts, “my son Nicholas and I started talking about, maybe it was time to get a country act. Casey has been around a long time and done the odd festival for us. He’s a really nice guy, a really personable guy. He gets on well with everybody. We thought, ‘let’s do this.’”
Nice guys don’t always finish first. Sure, it helps. But Barnes has more to his armory.
The singer and songwriter has a window into America thanks to playing a handful of TVC events pre-COVID. Streams are ticking up, as his tunes appear on a growing number Nashville playlists. A collaboration with Missy Lancaster has opened the doors to more collaborations, Chugg notes. And there are the songs.
Stream Casey Barnes’ ‘No Other You’ featuring Missy Lancaster:
Right now, “there’s a lot of interest” from labels, producers and with songwriters in the U.S., with invitations for hook-ups and the exchange of songs. “If COVID hadn’t happened,” Chugg says, “Casey would have been back there three or four times. And what’s happening here would have been happening there.”
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. The Barnes story, “it’s a combination of old school and new school. We’ve basically followed the same formula that we’ve used with Sheppard and Lime Cordiale,” explains Chugg. “We control the products, build the teams around it, we’re not talking with major labels or letting anybody getting in the way.”
Chugg says a label/publishing deal in the U.S. was on the cards, though when reps began interfering with Barnes and his art, the decision was made to pull away.
Radio in Australia is turned on. ‘Come Turn Me On’ is tracking up on airplay, was recently added to HIIT and other major networks ATB which “for any artist, let alone country, is a huge result,” notes Stone.
The journey “reminds me of when we started Sheppard moving on mainstream radio all those years ago,” recounts Stone, “when everyone said we needed a major label team to do it.”
Simon Dawson, Music Director at the Gold Coast’s 102.9fm Hot Tomato, is right behind the “great talent” that is Barnes. “His songs are getting better and better and it’s great that he’s getting the recognition he deserves,” he enthuses.
Also, Varrasso notes, Casey provides some “balance” for commercial regional airwaves. He offers an “alternative for programmers to infuse male vocals with a touch of pop and rock to their playlists.”
It’s working. SCA’s Regional Network, Grant Broadcasters, and Ace Radio Network have added the song, which in turn has generated spikes on the Shazam charts and caller feedback.
If this continues, it’ll “be difficult for major networks in metro areas to avoid the song,” adds Varrasso. “I’m pleased that regional radio can be recognised as facilitators of ‘hits'”.
Watch Casey Barnes’ ‘We’re Good Together’:
Like he has done with so many Australian artists in the past, the late Mushroom Group Chairman Michael Gudinski played a hand in Barnes’ success.
Mushroom Music Publishing signed Barnes for Australia and New Zealand. MG was fully committed.
Speaking on signing Barnes to Mushroom Publishing last October, Gudinski remarked, “I firmly believe that his modern country style and attitude will soon see him cross over to the mainstream charts”. Gudinski passed away March 2 at the age of 68.
Work has already begun on the next Barnes album. And mainstream success is very much part of the picture. “Michael and I planned that this single would break through to commercial radio. The plan was that we’d run it at mainstream radio, then Gudinski would pick up the phone and yell at them all,” Chugg says with a laugh. “I know he’d be really proud of how it’s growing. I know I am.”
As live music returns in the parts and around the globe, expect to see Barnes treading the boards. He’s announced a dozen 2021 tour dates in Queensland and New South Wales, including dates at the Gympie Music Muster in August and Savannah in the Round, taking place in tropical north Queensland from Oct. 1-3.
The rising star has nine songs finished for the next album, which likely will be announced in October and released early next year.
“Someone in America called us the ‘biggest little indie in the world’. I like that,” Chugg says. “We might start using it.”
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.