'The fallout took us by surprise': Modest! Management's Richard Griffiths and Harry Magee on that Syco/Little Mix split


It was one of the biggest music biz rows of recent years and now, finally, Modest! Management has told its side of the story.

When Modest! and Syco fell out last year, just before the release of LM5, the fifth album from Syco-signed, Modest!-managed X Factor winners Little Mix, it wasn’t your typical management-label bust-up. For a start, Modest!’s Richard Griffiths’ working relationship with Syco boss Simon Cowell went back over 25 years, and had produced some huge hits, most notably the global success of One Direction. This argument, however, ended with the label splitting with their biggest act, as Little Mix moved over to RCA.

At the time, Cowell blamed the row on a dispute over writing credits for Little Mix’s Woman Like Me single, while a label statement said tersely: “Syco Music will no longer work with Modest Management and therefore any artists signed to that management company.”

Griffiths and his Modest! co-founder Harry Magee, however, have remained tight-lipped… Until now. The pair are on the cover of Music Week this week as they prepare to pick up the MITs Award in London on Monday. And in a no-punches-pulled interview, the pair talked us through what really happened…

According to Magee, the label had failed to keep pace with Little Mix’s transition from talent show wannabes to genuine pop powerhouse.

“Because we’re their managers we can see them growing,” he told Music Week. “When you come from a talent show, there’s a certain amount of arrested development because you go from watching a TV show to being on it, being in a bubble and then being pop stars and having No.1 records.

“But, over time, when you’ve done lots of tours and made records, worked with lots of different writers and producers and been around the world promoting your music, you grow up as an individual and become more empowered,” he added. “But I’m not sure the label was giving them their due for reaching that point in their career. You have to give a different kind of respect and communicate in a different way and that wasn’t necessarily happening.”

Nonetheless, Magee said the management duo were taken aback by the scale of the row.

“The fallout from it took us by surprise,” he said. “We thought it was rather extreme in terms of being in a situation where we had to change labels. That wasn’t necessarily our choice but, once that decision had been made, the girls decided they wanted to move labels and go onto RCA.”

Somewhat ironically, Griffiths had brokered the deal to create Syco, back when he was running BMG UK, meaning the dispute severed a long-standing partnership.

“It’s sad because we consider Simon to be a very good friend of ours,” said Griffiths. “He was obviously pissed off, but the funny thing was we’d actually had, as far as we’re concerned, far bigger fights and arguments over the years than that.”

Griffiths felt that the 2016 departure of Sonny Takhar as Syco Music president “changed the dynamic” at the label.

“Sonny was an executive who’d done press, marketing and then become an extremely good A&R guy and a very good label head,” said Griffiths. “He had that experience. [After he left] there wasn’t anybody who really had that breadth of experience about dealing with an artist through difficult times. Simon is an incredibly successful, very busy guy all over the world so he doesn’t actually get to do a lot of that interaction directly with artists in that way.”

Little Mix have remained highly successful at their new home, while Modest!’s roster also includes the likes of Olly Murs, Niall Horan and the Spice Girls’ 2019 reunion tour. But Griffiths still hopes that the old friends can get over the row.

“We hold no bad feelings, only good feelings about everything we’ve ever done with Simon,” said Griffiths,  “And we hope that one day he’ll feel able to get over it and maybe we can carry on being mates. But we work for the artist and we’re going to do what the right thing is for the artist. If that means somebody that we’re very close to doesn’t like it and takes an extreme view on things then, unfortunately, we just have to hope that that those troubled waters will get calmed down one day.” 

* To read the full, exclusive interview with Griffiths and Magee, see the new issue of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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