Extraordinary world: Wendy Laister looks back on two decades of managing Duran Duran

Extraordinary world: Wendy Laister looks back on two decades of managing Duran Duran

This month, Wendy Laister and her long-term clients Duran Duran will be presented with the prestigious Artist & Management Partnership honour at the MMF and FAC’s Artist & Manager Awards. Here, she joins Music Week to celebrate more than two decades of success, taking in everything from the band’s staunch refusal to play the nostalgia game, the opportunities and frustrations with streaming, and the importance of leaving your ego at the door when it comes to managing acts...


Wendy Laister has worked with some of the biggest stars in the world over the past few decades, but the music manager singles out one iconic figure in her career.

“You could feel his presence,” she recalls of the time she met Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who would later become president of South Africa. “He had this aura that very few people have that was just incredible.” 

At the time, the former PR supremo coordinated press and publicity campaigns for global televised music events. As a result, she was closely involved in both the 1988 Mandela 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium – which called for his freedom – and the 1990 event at the same venue to celebrate his release.

“That was wonderful, he was an extraordinary man and it was great to have played a part in something that actually worked,” says Laister, speaking to Music Week in her Manhattan office near the Brooklyn Bridge.

While that was a high point, it’s just one chapter in an incredible career with some of the biggest names in music history, including Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses and, for the last two decades, Duran Duran. Before her work with artists and events, Laister was manager of corporate press and public relations for Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

The seasoned executive is being honoured this month by the Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), with the Artist & Management Partnership Award with Duran Duran. The band will be there to celebrate on the night at the Artist & Manager Awards, held at Bloomsbury Big Top in London on November 23.

Asked how it feels to be receiving the award, Laister begins to laugh as she describes the recognition as somewhat “unusual”.

“I don’t even belong to any of the trade organisations, so I don’t even know what awards there are,” she admits. “But it’s lovely, of course, it’s really nice.”

Indeed, over the decades, Laister is far more used to her artists winning awards. 

“I think Duran Duran have received maybe eight different lifetime achievement awards,” she beams.

During her 13-year association [1986-1999] with London and LA-based PR firm Laister Dickson (now known as LD Publicity and under new management), Laister – its founder and former CEO/president – worked with acts including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, INXS, Tina Turner and Guns N’ Roses.

Those artist associations are still visible on the walls of her office, including framed discs of Aerosmith and Duran Duran, as well as a signed programme for Guns N’ Roses’ US tour in 1992. 

“We’d been on the road together for a couple of years, we were so close,” says Laister, who proudly shows off her garish GN’R tour pass for the Get In The Ring Motherf**ker: Round II run of dates. 

While PR for badly behaved rock stars may have been intense and demanding, Laister clearly relished the challenge and moved into management in 1994. Having already worked with Aerosmith, she ended up being their worldwide manager and formed Magus Entertainment in New York.

“I was English, female, I’d never done it before – it was really quite funny,” she says of her leap into managing a huge US band. “But we had a really good run.

“We had their first No.1 single [in the US] and around the world with I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing [2,172,918 UK sales – Official Charts Company]. We had three or four No.1 albums in my time, a New York Times best-selling book and their Disney theme park ride.”

Laister’s career has been something of a rollercoaster, too – she suggests dipping into the Aerosmith biography, Walk This Way, for the story of the band’s excesses and comeback.

She went on to manage Carly Simon, but parted company after 18 months. 

“I liked her enormously, she’s very funny, smart and interesting,” reflects Laister. “Just hard to work with.” 

From that point, she decided to not be entirely reliant on a single huge act and to only represent artists who she could be honest with in discussions about their career.

“I wanted to find people who I really loved working with,” Laister explains. “People who you really enjoy sitting down to dinner with, who you feel are in a partnership with you, because it’s very hard work. Everybody I’ve taken on since then I’ve really had long relationships with them.”

Magus Entertainment’s current roster includes the likes of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry (with Millie Thompson) as well as percussionist Ray Cooper and the BMG-signed singer Rozzi. 

Over the last 21 years, however, Laister has become particularly known for her work with Duran Duran, who have career sales of 100 million records worldwide. In 2022, they joined Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo, Eminem, Eurythmics, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie and Carly Simon in being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The relationship continues to thrive with planned developments including a scripted TV series and a musical, in addition to last month’s Halloween-themed Danse Macabre, the 16th album from Duran Duran.

“We want to own Halloween like Mariah owns Christmas,” says Laister, who always has an eye on the next commercial opportunity for her artists.

Here, she opens up about her experience in music management, the working relationship with Duran Duran and how new tech has kept them relevant…

Why do you think artists like your style of management and keep you by their side?

“People come at management from such different places. Some people come from promoting, my background has been very much marketing, PR and the creative end of stuff. I was lucky from working with Aerosmith to make extraordinary connections at a very high level immediately. I didn’t have to work my way up through labels. I was immediately having meetings with Tommy Mottola, Don Ienner, Jimmy Iovine, so it gives you that kind of access which is hard to create otherwise. Also, I was never worried to ask for help. When I first started with Aerosmith, I had to learn the economics of touring very quickly. But with Duran, and with the other clients, we come at it from a very creative standpoint. We have lots and lots of ideas about how to market and promote the things that we’re working with.” 

Looking back, what kind of ideas did you suggest to Duran Duran to help them remain relevant in the early 21st century?

“I said we should do a bunch of things to remind people what a strong brand Duran is and how much love there is out there for the group. We did crazy stuff, like we played the Roxy in LA [in 2003] – the first place they’d ever played there – and we played Webster Hall, which was the first place they had played on the East Coast. But we only put tickets on sale at the box office, so no online at all. So we had lines of people, people slept out for an entire weekend. There were helicopters, there were news crews and it just started to whip stuff up. We started working with a new agency [CAA at the time] and suddenly they were just selling out venues every 10 minutes. We ended up putting on six Wembleys [Arena in 2004] and then the phone rang. They got a deal at Sony [for 2004’s Astronaut – No.3, UK 106,321 sales – OCC], which is what they had wanted. So our approach has always been to try to be as creative as possible, and do as many things that nobody else has ever done.”

Do the band get the recognition they deserve as innovators? 

“They have a huge long list of firsts. They were the first to build anything in Second Life. It was the metaverse before anybody had coined the term. I’ve never seen as much press as we got: we had financial press, tech press, music press, lifestyle, entertainment. We’ve also been able to continue to make some really interesting videos. They’ve just released a video which was the first time anybody had put these specific pieces of AI together in the way that we did it. They’re a great partner in that respect, because they’re very willing to take those risks and they’re willing to do things early. Nick [Rhodes] goes to the Founders Forum meetings, he’s very interested in tech. In America, once you get to about 30 or 35, radio is tricky, so you’ve got to look for other things that are going to make a difference to a campaign. So far, it’s paid off.”

Simon Le Bon was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s – what’s he like to work with on a day-to-day basis?

“He is, for sure, the nicest front person that I have ever worked with. He’s charming, funny, extremely well-read and has an encyclopaedic knowledge about such a broad range of things. He’s interested in sailing and motor racing – things that you could hurt yourself doing [laughs] and that we worry about all the time – whereas Nick doesn’t even drive a car.”

And the band must have a good relationship to have endured for more than 40 years?

“It sounds corny but they’re all really nice, and they like each other. They’re like a family. Nick and John have known each other since they were teenagers. Simon and Roger since they were in their late teens, early 20s. It’s a long time and it’s really like a family. Of course, everybody can fight and squabble and argue over different things. When I worked with Aerosmith, Steven [Tyler] and Joe [Perry] really made the decisions. With Duran, every person has a vote, and because there’s now four of them, if there’s a tiebreaker, then I vote. But it’s a true democracy, which is unusual.”

Were you a huge fan of the band when they were in their ’80s pomp?

“Not really [laughs]. I wasn’t not a fan, but I had never bought a record. I just knew them, we had a lot of mutual friends. I literally knew them from the very beginning and at the time my dad [Peter Laister] was the chairman of Thorn EMI. I knew Nick well and I knew Simon. They were signed to EMI, so I just knew a lot of the people at EMI. Before I went to work for Richard [Branson], I had actually applied for a job there.”

What achievements are you most proud of with Duran Duran?

“They have just done the biggest US tour of their career. There have been so many things, they played Hyde Park [as headliner for BST 2022]. We changed agents at the beginning [to CAA, now with WME], because there was a feeling that ‘they’re an ’80s band’. From the get-go, we really have been vigilant about the fact they are not an ’80s band. Ordinary World [No.6 peak, 1993] was in the early to mid-’90s. They’ve continued to make records for 40 years, they’ve had hits throughout their career. We could have made a lot of money doing a lot of those ’80s events – tours, cruises… Awful. We’ve avoided those like the plague, we’ve only done things that are really contemporary.” 

How important to the band is their legacy?

“I think what’s interesting with them is they acknowledge and are grateful for the past, but that’s not where their interest is. They’re interested in what’s next. We’re constantly thinking about how do we reinvent, how do we keep it current and try to bring in new generations? I think we’ve succeeded, so I’m really proud of that.”

When it comes to your own experience as an artist manager, do you think the playing field has changed a lot, from being such a male-dominated sector when you started?

“There’s still a lot of very old-school people in the business who have been there for a long time. There’s been some interesting research, which I was involved with in the early days, just looking into which bits of the business women have been able to make some inroads in. I think that women make great managers for the right artists, because we just have a different approach, perhaps, than men. It’s not a job where one really should have an enormous ego to be successful. I still think there are challenges, but it’s certainly better than when I started. There was hardly anybody, I didn’t have any role models. There was nobody above me who I could look to or talk to, and I think that’s very different now. 

“I try where possible to mentor young women wanting to get into the business. About half and half of the people that work for me are men and women. And for sure, there’s more women doing it now than there were. But if you look at the top of the field, there’s still nowhere near as many women as there are men. But when you start to see things like Lucy Dickins running WME’s music department, and Sam Kirby Yoh running UTA’s music department, those are all people that I grew up with in the business. So I think things will change. Sometimes for artists, there’s this misconception that what you need is some bulldog representing you. I’ve always thought that you catch more flies with honey.”

Your BMG deal includes several catalogue releases. How do you oversee the Duran Duran repertoire in terms of streaming?

“We started to have conversations with BMG and just really liked their approach. They got the last studio record [2021’s Future Past, No.3, 45,321 UK sales – OCC], they’ve got this new one and then five or six catalogue pieces. So now it’s quite neat – we have early stuff at Warner and the later stuff at BMG.”

Duran Duran have 8.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify. How well does their catalogue perform?

“I feel like a lot of the time it’s really an advertisement for selling tickets and T-shirts. But they’ve been very engaged in the streaming side of things. It’s growing, and it grows all the time. We’re active in trying to think of ways to engage more; whatever the platforms are that we need to be engaging with, they’re very interested in that. For catalogue, one of the frustrations for me is when you go on Spotify, and the algorithm tells you ‘artists like’ [Duran Duran] and it’s a whole load of ’80s things. We’re so careful about that stuff, I don’t want that on there. That’s not who they are, so that’s a frustration. The whole ethos of streaming is about discovery, but then you push people back [to the 1980s].”

Finally, do you think Duran Duran get enough respect in their home country?

“Well, I do more and more, actually. We did 60,000-plus tickets in Hyde Park, they played the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and closed the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games [all in 2022]. It was a big year, any kind of important event, they were a part of it. You know what the Brits are like, they’re cynical and it’s not the same kind of appreciation of success as maybe there is [in the US]. But more and more people have recognised them, and I think the songs stand up so well. Sometimes it’s a reluctant recognition from the Brits, but these are extraordinary songwriters.”


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