Lyor Cohen, who began his music industry career as Run-DMC’s road manager and eventually rose to chairman of Warner Music Group (WMG), has been tapped by YouTube to serve as its new global head of music.
“Lyor is a lion of the music industry,” said Robert Kyncl, chief business officer of YouTube, in a statement. “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. 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.”
Cohen joined Russell Simmon’s Rush Productions (later called Rush Artist Management) in 1984, and worked his way up to artist manager and label exec for Def Jam/Rush Associated Labels. He went on to steer Def Jam as it changed corporate hands from Sony to PolyGram to the Universal Music Group.
From 2004 to 2012, Cohen was chairman and chief executive of WMG. In 2006, he oversaw an agreement with YouTube allowing it to show videos by WMG artists in exchange for a piece of the ad revenue, which, according to the New York Times, was “the first time a major record company licensed content to YouTube.” In 2011, he cut a similar deal with music streaming service Spotify.
In 2012, Cohen co-founded the independent record label 300 Entertainment with the help of a long list of backers that included YouTube parent company Google, which reportedly invested $5 million. Its roster of artists includes Fetty Wap, Young Thug, Rich the Kid, Shy Glizzy and Rejjie Snow.
At YouTube, one of Cohen’s primary tasks will be assuaging the concerns of disgruntled recording artists who have complained that the platform underpays them for the use of their songs. In May, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor told Billboard that YouTube was “built on the backs of free, stolen content.” Shortly thereafter, 180 musicians — ranging from Paul McCartney, U2 and Pearl Jam to Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry — signed a petition calling for “sensible reform” to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) “that balances the interests of creators with the interests of the companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment.”
Cohen sounds like he’s up for the task.
“I look forward to working together with all of you on three things,” wrote Cohen in a letter to the YouTube Music team. “First, helping the music community embrace the technological shifts we’re seeing in music today so we can help take the confusion and distrust out of the equation. Second, building on the great work you all have done to help the music industry and creative community break new songs and artists to YouTube’s audience of over 1 billion fans. From building on the success of the YouTube Music app, to shining a light on emerging artists, I believe our potential to strengthen the industry is massive. And third, 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.”