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YouTube hires record industry veteran Lyor Cohen as Global Head Of Music

By | Published on Thursday 29 September 2016


US record industry veteran Lyor Cohen is moving into bridge construction, and boy is it one long bridge he’s gonna have to build. The former Universal and Warner Music exec is YouTube’s new Global Head Of Music.

“Lyor is a lion of the music industry”, declared YouTube’s Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl yesterday while announcing his new hire, even though I’m not aware of any lions who ever built a decent bridge. “From Rush to Def Jam to Island Def Jam to WMG then 300, he has consistently been a pioneer, charting the course for where music is heading”, the YouTube exec continued. Still no bridge building on that CV though.

“As we enter the growth era of the music industry, Lyor is in a position to make tremendous difference in accelerating that growth in a fair way for everyone”, Kyncl continued, still without referencing the bridge Cohen must now build. “We are THRILLED to welcome him to YouTube”. Yeah, of course you are Rob, of course you are.

Although Cohen’s new gig will come as something of a surprise to many, it’s not an entirely illogical hire. As Cohen himself points out in his memo to YouTube’s music team, it was during his tenure at Warner that the mini-major became the first big music firm to do a deal with the then fledgling video site in 2006. Though he doesn’t mention that Warner was then also the first signed-up record company to have a highly public falling out with a by then Google-owned YouTube in 2008. Still, it means he saw it from both sides.

Perhaps more importantly, Cohen has an existing alliance with Google, in that the web giant was one of the backers of 300, the independent music company he set up in 2013 after departing Warner Music. Possibly finally nervous about all the bad press it was getting from big name American artists penning anti-YouTube op-eds, perhaps the web firm decided to reach out to an existing business partner for help. I just hope they give him enough concrete.

Cohen’s new job is a bridge building project, of course, because for the record industry establishment in 2016, YouTube is the enemy. Like, the real enemy. Like, the total enemy. A bunch of money-grabbing motherfuckers who are single-handledly fucking up the revival of recorded music and in doing so fucking over every single person who ever wrote a lyric, composed a melody or sung a few words vaguely in tune. Cunts of the highest order, basically. And cunts who must die. Painfully. I’m just quoting official record industry dogma here, by the way. Well, maybe I’m paraphrasing it slightly. But only very slightly.

“Back in 2006, as an executive at Warner Music Group, I worked closely with a fledgling video site to sign its first big record licensing deal. That site was YouTube”, Cohen wrote in the aforementioned memo to his new team. “Over the next decade, I watched as your work transformed YouTube into an incredibly powerful platform that connects artists with fans all over the world”, he continued, all positive like, and with no talk of anyone being the enemy.

“Over the last two decades we have seen dramatic shifts”, he continued. “Both to the inherent value of music and the literal value that people are willing to pay. Technology and new business models have completely changed the established distribution channels that have long-served the recorded music industry. And while change has been met with understandable resistance, I strongly believe that this transformation provides opportunities that will be larger and more rewarding for both artists and the music industry”.

See, Team YouTube, all that “resistance” in the music community has been “understandable”. Your new boss just told you so. But hey, what about all these opportunities? They sound like fun. “I’m confident that we can bridge the worlds of technology and music in ways that benefit everyone”, Cohen reckons. And there it is everybody. The bridge. Looking forward to it Lyor. Can you paint it lime green?

Of course, despite the official proclamations from the record industry’s trade groups, and prolific efforts by the labels and publishers to have copyright law rewritten to force YouTube into line, and that flurry of angry opinion pieces from mainly heritage acts, the Google site does already have allies in the music community, especially among DIY and younger artists.

And, of course, even at those labels officially down on YouTube, the marketers there recognise that the video site remains a key fan engagement channel. And Sony and Universal Music’s own music video service still heavily relies on YouTube to reach much of its audience.

But Cohen will be set with the task of placating the music industry establishment and old guard – and hey, who knows, maybe even the songwriters – while trying to build on existing efforts and contacts in the grass roots music community. “I hope that together we can move towards a more collaborative relationship between the music industry and the technologies that are shaping the future of the business”, Cohen concludes.

The foundations of Cohen’s bridge, or a first attempt at fostering this more “collaborative relationship” if you prefer, might be a call to another US music industry veteran, Irving Azoff, who more than most has led the industry’s charge against YouTube, and rallied artists and managers to what started out as the labels’ battle. For Azoff, YouTube really is “evil”.

Though in Cohen he sees a potential ally. “As a prolific manager, label executive and label owner, Lyor has a long history as a defender of artist rights”, Azoff said on hearing about Cohen’s appointment, according to Billboard. “We are counting on you, Lyor, to lead YouTube to provide fair payments to artists and give them more creative control. Congratulations, Lyor, I know you can get it done”.

The new job will require Cohen to step down from his executive role at 300, something he’ll do in about two months time, though he’ll remain a significant shareholder in the company.