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GRIFFITHS & MAGEE: MODESTY BECOMES THEM


Tonight, Richard Griffiths and Harry Magee of Modest! Management will become the first managers to receive the prestigious Music Industry Trusts Award in London. They join an illustrious list of past honourees spanning Emma Banks, Rob Stringer, Sir Lucian Grainge, Ahmet Ertegun, Michael Eavis CBE, and Roger Daltrey CBE.

The MITs Award comes in recognition of Griffiths and Magee’s four decades in the music business. The partners have spent the last 16 years in management, where they’ve helped steer the careers of global success story One Direction, who sold 75 million albums, alongside Little Mix, Alison Moyet, 5 Seconds of Summer, Olly Murs, Katherine Jenkins and more. Most recently, they worked in partnership with XIX Entertainment on the Spice Girls reunion, which resulted in 700k sold tickets across 13 stadium shows, and they’re working with a number of developing artists as well.

In L.A., Modest! has recently signed singer/songwriter Malia Civetz to Warner Records, while artist and actor Anthony Ramos has gone to Republic in New York, and 5SOS are now signed closer to home with Interscope after three albums on Capitol in the U.K. Little Mix have another album out next year and have sold 500k tickets across an arena tour in Europe and Australia, and Niall Horan has a second album coming. There's also a new project in the TV space, ModestTV, recently launched in partnership with entertainment executive Andrea Hamilton; the first project is a talent-search show helmed by Little Mix for BBC.

In addition, Ali Fletcher has recently been hired as Head of A&R, joining from Sony label Insanity with a remit to sign and release music directly Modest. Young manager Gabrielle Sky has also joined the fold, bringing with her Capitol U.K. signing Mae Muller and RCA-inked songwriter/producer Aeris Roves. And Yucatan, the label Modest! co-owns with Seb Fagg, reps Blanco White as well as buzzy Columbia signing George Cosby, who will be launched next year.


Congratulations on your MITs win. What does the honour mean to you?
Griffiths: The fact that we are the first managers to receive the award really made a big impression on us. We feel like we’re getting this for all managers, because they have tended not to get the recognition they deserve—there wouldn’t be many successful artists or big records if there weren’t managers taking care of things. So we are very proud to be recognised in this way, but we feel it’s a recognition of management as much of it is a recognition of Harry and myself.

Across the 16 years that you’ve been running Modest, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about management and working with artists?
Magee: The first lesson you learn is that there is a lot to learn. We came from record-company backgrounds, and that does not encompass the music industry as a whole. The live side is vitally important, as well as the other income streams that surround an artist’s career, and you have to have a very different relationship with the artist to the one you had when we were working in record companies. I think other managers were perhaps a little bit dubious of us coming in from record companies, and we probably thought we knew more than we did. When you go through different types of artists through different levels of success, working on the other side, so to speak, you’re learning every day—and we are still learning every day. I think it takes a good 10 years to be really good at anything if you are going to excel.

Griffiths: I remember us having dinner with Colin Lester and Ian McAndrew soon after we’d started, and saying, “How the fuck do you make any money doing this?” They said, “It will take five years”—and it took almost five years to the day before we actually started taking any money out of the company. It’s a long process. With artists, what we’ve learnt is that talent is obviously very important, but work ethic and ambition are fundamental, and if you don’t have that, frankly, it doesn’t matter how talented you are; you may have some initial success but you’re not going to have prolonged success. What we like is trying to develop artists to have huge success and to make that last a long time. We’ve worked with many of our artists for a good 10 years or more, and that is very satisfying.

Do you have any management principles or rules that you always stick by?
Griffiths: At the end of the day, we are working for the artist. It’s our job to present everything to the artist and to advise them, but it is their career and they just need to be aware of everything before certain decisions are made. There is no one rule; each artist works differently. It isn’t something that is easy to lay out, because they all have different ways of wanting to live and work, and we adapt with that. I’d say the simple rule of management is there are no rules—it changes on a daily basis—and you just have to adapt as you’re going along.

We’ve also learned that it’s just so much easier to deal with reality than bullshit, and if we let everybody know what the reality of a situation is, then we can then make the right decisions with the artist on what the next move should be. That doesn’t mean they are going to like what we say all the time, but as the relationships grow, and the love and respect grow, we understand each other better.

Magee: We are fairly straightforward with our artists in terms of not dressing things up and trying to keep things grounded in the reality of any situation, whether it’s the highs or the lows. It’s important to us that we try and educate our artists on the business side of things and understand what everybody does around them, not just in the management company but in the record company and all the other parts of the media and agencies that they may be working with, making sure that their education extends to them having relationships, which helps in their career.

Little Mix and Rak Su switched labels at Sony last year. Can you give us any more insight into the reasoning behind that decision and where your relationship stands with SYCO today?
Griffiths: Well, to be perfectly honest, we still don’t fully understand what happened. It was ridiculous and should never have got to that stage. But the fact of life is that people sometimes forget that we work for our artists and we are going to do what is right for them and what they want to do. SYCO changed a lot when Sonny Takhar left, and it was just unfortunate that the A&R process got muddled; let’s call it that. But it’s very sad. We hold no bad feelings towards Simon [Cowell] at all; in fact, we hold only extremely positive good feelings towards Simon. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success together and, weirdly enough, have had far bigger arguments and things to fall out over than certain tracks that were being forced on an artist and the artist didn’t want to do it. But anyway, that was entirely 100% SYCO’s decision to let Little Mix and Rak Su move on to other Sony labels. Hopefully, one day that will all have passed, and we can all be friends again.

“I’d say the simple rule of management is there are no rules—it changes on a daily basis—and you just have to adapt as you’re going along.” —Richard Griffiths

One Direction is an act you had huge success with alongside SYCO, do you envisage a time when they will be ready for some sort of reunion?
Griffiths: Never say never, but I wouldn’t like to say when I think that might actually happen. I think that one day there is a good chance that it will happen, but there are no plans, conversations or thoughts about that at all at the moment. Louis just put a record out, Liam is putting a record out soon, we know Harry has got another record coming and Niall’s got a record coming, so they are all going to be very busy doing their own thing for a number of years to come. The relationship all around is positive, and everybody sees everybody from time to time, but now is not the time for them to be coming back together as a group. There is a good chance that one day there will be that time, but your guess as to when that would be is as good as ours.

You’ve hired an A&R to put more music out directly for developing artists. Is that something for artists early on for whom it’s too early to find a label deal for, or do you have bigger ambitions?
Magee: There is no one-size-fits-all; these things have to evolve organically, and it depends on the artist how that evolves. A major record company at a certain point would be better for certain artists, particularly in terms of international reach, and other artists not so much. I think it’s good to leave that open and try and have a bit of a varied portfolio in that sense. Not to say we’re going to be signing lot of things; we’re going to be signing several things if they are the right things. Generally, on management and our developing stuff, we don’t tend to sign that much, for obvious reasons—you’ve got to believe in it, and there’s got to be a place in the market, and you have to put a lot of resource to do things properly over a long period of development time. You’ve got to try and pick your shots.

Thinking back on your careers, who have been your mentors and what did you learn from them?
Griffiths: When we were on the label side of things, I worked with Sharon Osbourne, Roger Davies and Bill Curbishley, who were all great managers. Sometimes they were difficult relationships, but we all got through them and came out the other side positively. I didn’t really realise at the time that I was learning something that we would use in our own careers as managers moving forward. Harry and I both got fired by Rolf Schmidt-Holtz at BMG, and we weren’t sure what we were going to do, and Jeff Kwatinetz reached out to us and we did his company, The Firm, for six months before we started Modest! We learned an incredible amount from him and the great managers he had working for him at the time.

Magee: I’d add to that Bruce Allen and Miles Copeland, who I worked with when I was at A&M, and the late Jazz Summers, who I worked with when I was at Arista on Lisa Stansfield and at Big Life, along with many other artists after that. Those three shared a similar trait—an uncompromising toughness in representing their artists. They were certainly seasoned managers by the time I had those relationships, and I learnt a lot from them.

You’ve worked together for a very long time. What’s the key to maintaining a successful working relationship, and what have you learned from each other?
Griffiths: Good red wine!

Magee: I think we have a mutual respect for each other as individuals—understanding each other’s rhythm, strengths and weaknesses, and knowing how to let that ebb and flow day to day, but also in situations, whether that be a negotiation or in a meeting. We are often thinking the same thing strategically on things and are very much in tune, as you’d expect.

Griffiths: But I think we “yin and yang” a lot. I always give the example of videos: I haven’t read a video treatment, let alone been to a video shoot, for well over 10 years, Harry has read hundreds if not thousands of video treatments and been to many video shoots, because he understands it and he adds value to it. I would just annoy the shit out of everybody if I went along to a video shoot, because I would be questioning why this is happening and what’s going on. We have different experiences—I lived and worked in America for 10 years, so I know a lot of people there. I’m normally the first to a party and the first to leave and Harry is normally the last to a party and the last to leave, so we have that middle time when we are both at the party having a good time, and it works well.

Magee: One is more patient than the other, but I’m not saying who!

“No one has got all the answers, and it certainly doesn’t always make sense to be chasing things and trying to second-guess the market—you just have to go with what is special and unique.” —Harry Magee

What are the biggest challenges about working with British music today?
Magee: I don’t really see it as that. I think you just have to look at individual artists and uniqueness of talent and not always chase the pack. If something really hits you between the eyes and blows you away, sometimes you just have to go with it. If the artist is super-talented and there is something there to be nurtured that you can connect with, then it’s quite likely that somebody else is going to feel the same.

Griffiths: There is definitely an issue with America and the dominance of hip-hop in its broadest definition, which does make things a little harder, but the simple fact is that the biggest artist in the world today is Ed Sheeran, the biggest new artist in the world by the end of this year will be Lewis Capaldi, Adele is coming back, Harry Styles and Niall Horan are going to have hugely successful records, and look at what Dua Lipa has achieved this year. If you’ve got great artists, they will still come through. We believe in that, and I don’t think that is going to change.

Magee: At the end of the day, because of the world we live in now, people make up their own minds. Because of the way people communicate on social media and consume music through DSPs, artists have never had more control over their careers, and the public have never had more control in making their own decisions. That’s what defines what the next thing is going to be. So no one has got all the answers, and it certainly doesn’t always make sense to be chasing things and trying to second-guess the market—you just have to go with what is special and unique.

Any more ambitions that you’d like to tick off?
Griffiths: I’d like to play golf more than once a year!

Magee: The ambition is always to break new artists, and not only that, but to actually maintain and sustain the careers of the artists that have been successful, which is often harder, just in a different way. Part of the beauty of what we do is you often don’t know what’s around the corner; maybe a new artist is going to walk in here that blows you away and where that will lead. George Cosby, who we manage with Seb Fagg for Yucatan, is going to be out on Columbia next year, and who knows where that is going to be at the end of next year? We like to think there is always a nice surprise around the corner, and we respond to opportunity in developing things organically, which leads to bigger success.

Griffiths: We’ve worked with Alison Moyet for 12 years or so, and she’s truly a unique artist. We absolutely love her, she has very clear ideas on the records that she wants to make and the kind of touring she wants to do, and she is never content treading water and just making another record that sounds like the last one. She always surprises us with what she wants to try and do next, and it’s very satisfying to keep that going and to see her do incredible touring business. Scouting for Girls must do 100 shows a year, they work their arses off, they love doing it and we make a record with them every couple of years. Prolonging those careers in the same way as finding new artists for new careers, that is what keeps us going.

 

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