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Duran Duran tunes to new business model

Band released 13th album in digital form, sans label

Three decades ago, Duran Duran positioned itself at the cutting edge of pop music with a manifesto that was as much about the look and the lifestyle as the music itself. And while the band has undergone much morphing over the intervening years — hitting the mainstream, receding into the shadows and then re-emerging as one of the biggest draws on the Gen X nostalgia circuit — its members haven’t given up breaking new ground.

That fact came into focus late in 2010 with the announcement of the band’s 13th studio album, “All You Need Is Now” — a collection that emerged surprisingly quietly, strictly in digital form, and positioned them once again at the forefront, not so much in a sonic sense as in the form of a business model. While there’s nothing particularly unusual about a digital release at this stage of the game, Duran Duran’s decision to offer up an iTunes exclusive sans label, and with an album only partially completed, was certainly atypical of an act of its magnitude.

“We definitely found ourselves on the front end of a wave and got a learning experience on a logistical level,” says Wendy Laister, founder of Magus Entertainment, the band’s longtime manager. But iTunes offered us some really good real estate at a fortuitous time of year and we thought that made it attractive to go forward.”

The digital, nine-song version of “All You Need Is Now” sold 14,000 copies in the U.S. in its first week of release during Christmas week, garnering a goodly bit of alternative radio play for its title track in the process. At the time, the band didn’t consider the set to be complete. But that didn’t deter them from offering what Laister calls “an appetizer” before a planned physical release.

“It’s certainly new for us, but this is the way a lot of people consume music now, one song at a time,” says founding member and keyboardist Nick Rhodes. “We’ve always looked for ways to use technology to our best advantage. When the Internet started to happen years ago, we saw amazing opportunities to connect to people around the world.”

While Laister acted as a de facto label during the initial push, she began negotiating with more established entities last fall, securing licensing and distribution deals for major territories. In North America, a deal was struck with the Universal-distributed S-Curve imprint, which will issue a 14-song set on CD in late March, with an April tour and a deluxe vinyl edition to follow.

“Now that music has been reduced to its most basic component, a sound signal, you might as well offer people the most romantic, beautiful thing,” says singer Simon LeBon.

Laister says that she and S-Curve are working to offer specialist packages to individual retailers, with “a tremendous amount” of bonus content in the pipeline. “Obviously, the business end is becoming more and more fragmented,” she says. “But that’s advantageous. Rather than have one way to reach a fanbase, you have a practically infinite number, and when a band has as dedicated a base as (Duran Duran), you can have a traditional campaign and augment it with all sorts of other things. It’s quite exciting.”

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