'Let's deal with reality': Modest! founders Richard Griffiths and Harry Magee on the fine art of artist management


Tonight, Modest! Management founders Richard Griffiths and Harry Magee will become the 28th recipients of the Music Industry Trusts Award – and the first managers to pick up the gong.

The pair, who won the Music Week Strat Award in 2013, appeared on the cover of Music Week last week, talking us through their remarkable 40-year careers, which have also taken in stints as agents, publishers and record label executives and seen them work with everyone from AC/DC to One Direction and Pearl Jam to Olly Murs. And they’ve already given us the inside track on the Little Mix row that derailed their long-standing working relationship with Syco boss Simon Cowell (himself a former MITs winner).

You can expect some of Modest!’s glittering array of management charges to feature at tonight’s Grosvenor House Hotel ceremony, and the industry will be out in force for what the pair are promising will be “an interesting and suitably irreverent” evening, organised with Modest! partner Will Bloomfield.

But before the celebrations begin – and before the always-forward-looking pair get back to work on Modest!’s expanding portfolio of businesses and international interests – Griffiths and Magee sat down with Music Week to give us some expert insight into the fine art of artist management…

What do you think it is about your management style that’s made you so successful?
Harry Magee: “The way we complement each other. We have a clear understanding of what we want our artists to achieve and we map out the strategy to do that. We have a depth and breadth of experience and also the ability to adapt to the changing landscape as it exists at the moment. And to be realistic about what it takes and have unwavering faith in our artists – but not to the point where we’re blinded to how we need to move forward. More importantly, when you’re building a management company as we have done, you have to make sure you have the right people. We have a low turnover of staff, many people have worked here for six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 years. It’s about creating a culture and an ethos, which you do without realising really, just in the way you manage the artists and present yourselves, the way we do what we do. We have people who we absolutely trust here and who do an amazing job in managing the artists, which we tend to do in teams. What’s very important is not just the way you manage your artists but the way you manage the company. People have to have a very good sense of when to bother you with something and when not to. And we have to have a sense of when we feel things are going well and when the alarm bells start to ring.”

After all your other jobs, why was it management that stuck for the two of you?
Richard Griffiths: “Management was the perfect storm for Harry and I, in that we have our experience of working at record companies, independent companies, major companies, publishing, I was an agent for a while, and we were both managers in our early days. And all that experience that we have from all those different areas coming together in modern management has been the perfect thing for us. We worked together at RCA and both got fired together – but the first thing we did together working in management was working with Jeff Kwatinetz of The Firm. The way Jeff had his company set up was that whole team structure. There would be experts in different areas all working together with the artist and the individual manager. We learned a lot from him on the way we wanted our company to be.”

Harry Magee: “What’s important is how you establish the relationship with your artist in the beginning. You have to put a lot of time into that relationship to build the trust and the understanding, but it’s important that both the artist and us understand each other’s roles. They know that we’re always going to be there if they need us. They know that we’re involved in everything but we don’t necessarily need to have a daily dialogue with them. They know that we go where we add value, wherever that might be.”

Would you say you were friends with your artists?
RG: “The longer you’re with them, the friendlier you get! Niall [Horan], Olly [Murs] and Alison [Moyet], we’re very good friends. It takes a while with new artists to get to know them and the trust you need to develop but that’s an important part of it. At the same time, we always remember, we’re working for our artists and we’re there to try and make their vision happen.”

How often do you disagree with your artists?
RG: “It’s important that an artist making an important decision is fully briefed. We say to them, ‘OK, we’re at a road junction here, you can go left and this will happen, go straight on and this will happen, go right and something else will happen. We think you should go left but if you say you want to turn right, we’ll turn right and make that happen’. The longer you’re with artists, the more you can have those conversations and our artists know we’re always going to tell them how it is. You can’t deal with bullshit, it just clogs everything up. Let’s deal with reality; some of it you’re not going to like, and some of it you’ll be extremely happy about, but let’s just deal with reality and then all our lives can be easier, better and more fulfilling. Of course, with Alison Moyet you say, ‘You can go left, straight on or right’ and she’ll say, ‘No, I want to do a complete U-turn’. And we say, ‘Alison, whatever you want to do we’ll make it happen’ – and she’s always right!”

HM: “Judgement is a very important thing. But so is education; you want your artist to have all the information so that the artist feels empowered to make their own decision. Like in many situations in life and business, some decisions are more critical than others so you are going to disagree to a different level. It depends how vociferous you want to be!”

And how does your double act work?
HM: “We’re quite different but, in many ways, our judgement is very similar. Quite often we come to the same conclusions about things without having to say it. I’ll be about to say something and he’ll come out with it. That’s good in meetings, when you know each other and you’re there for the same reasons, that judgement of a situation is honed by experience and what you want for your artists in that situation for that project. We come together very well and we communicate constantly, just downloading information and debating things to make decisions on at that moment or in that week.”

RG: “It’s uncanny how we think about things in different ways, we are yin and yang, we do things differently but we come together. I can’t think of something we’ve had a major disagreement on.”

HM: “If we do disagree, we’ll rationalise and one will usually say, ‘Yeah, you’re right there, I get that’. That’s really healthy, looking at it from all different angles quite rapidly.”

RG: “And Will Bloomfield is the third man who can push it whichever way.”

HM: “He’s VAR!”

* To read our exclusive Modest! cover story, click here. To read about Modest!’s expanding empire of interests, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music business story, click here.

PHOTO: Paul Harries

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