Lyor Cohen

Head of Music, YouTube

Lyor Cohen

Lyor Cohen is the Global Head of Music at Google & YouTube, and widely regarded as one of the modern music business’s most powerful executives.

Cohen joined Google at the end of 2016, having previously acted as CEO of 300 Entertainment, which he co-founded.

Prior to taking his position at YouTube, Cohen worked on the label side of the music industry at companies including Warner Music, Def Jam, Island Def Jam, and 300 Entertainment.

In his early career, he also gained artist management experience at Def Jam sister company, Rush Management.

Lyor Cohen: Career history

Lyor Cohen started his career in the music industry as a Manager at the Russell Simmons-founded Rush Management.

During his first day with the company, he was famously selected to replace Run-DMC’s missing tour manager for their first UK tour. He continued working as a road manager for Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys from 1984-1987.

He also managed Rush Management’s Hip-Hop acts for their first national tours. Cohen stayed with Rush as a manager until 1994, running the company’s day-to-day operations and advising such acts as Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy. Cohen personally signed artists including A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, EPMD, Eric B. and Rakim, and Slick Rick, among others.

While still working at Rush Management in 1988, Cohen began his move to the label side of the music business by joining Simmons at Def Jam. He shortly became partners with Simmons, negotiating the label’s separation from its distributor, Sony. In 1994, the pair negotiated a new distribution deal with PolyGram, which was eventually acquired by Universal.

It was during this transition where Cohen, now President of Def Jam, was also able to mentor up-and-coming executives including Kevin Liles and Todd Moscowitz.

In 1998 and 1999, Cohen brokered the deal to sell Def Jam to Universal, creating the Island Def Jam Music Group, which combined Def Jam, Mercury, and Island Records.

As President of Island Def Jam, Cohen was responsible for labels including Roc-A-Fella, American Recordings, and Roadrunner Records. Because of the breadth of genres within Island Def Jam, Cohen had to expand his scope beyond his previously-specialized focus of Hip-Hop, Soul, and R&B. Artists under his watch at Island Def Jam included Jay-Z, Bon Jovi, Ludacris, and Mariah Carey, just to name a few. He presided over the company until 2003.

In 2004, Cohen was recruited by Warner Music Group and became the CEO and President of Recorded Music at WMG. He would eventually become Chairman of WMG.

Cohen was responsible for all worldwide-recorded music, including but not limited to Atlantic Records Group (newly founded after the merger of Atlantic Records and Elektra Records) and Warner Bros. Records.

He was also in charge of marketing, sales, distribution, catalog-marketing, and the digital music business. While at Warner, Cohen was responsible for executive incubation programs which guided indie record label execs that the company was interested in hiring.

Cohen is also credited with preparing the label for the music-consumption changes due to streaming. He signed an unprecedented deal with YouTube in 2006 that allowed the site to show videos from Warner’s talent roster in exchange for a share of YouTube’s ad-revenue. In 2011, Cohen signed a licensing deal with Spotify on behalf of Warner.

Lyor Cohen left WMG in 2012, co-founding 300 Entertainment with his former Warner Music and Def Jam colleague, Kevin Liles.

300 Entertainment has found success with their past and current signings, which include the Migos, Megan Thee Stallion,  and YSL Records (Young Thug, Gunna, etc.). He remained in an active role with the company until the end of 2016.

It was at the end of 2016 when Lyor Cohen was announced as YouTube’s Global Head of Music.

His goal at YouTube is to use all of the platform’s varied technologies, especially the duality of both ad-supported and subscription-based content, to differentiate the platform from competitors, and to improve compensation for artists.

Lyor Cohen: Professional philosophy

In a 2018 interview with Music Business Worldwide, Lyor Cohen said: “I’m sorry to burst everybody’s bubble. You come to my house, I don’t have a platinum plaque on the wall or any of those things. You wouldn’t know this is Lyor [the industry bigshot].

“I have many parts to me; I celebrate Shabbat, I’m a father, I love sports. People are shocked when I tell them I don’t wake up every single day diving on the [business] opportunity.

“I’ve always been happy. My parents were amazing parents. They instilled in all of us the lifelong gift of being self-assured.”

“I’ve always been happy. My parents were amazing parents. They instilled in all of us the lifelong gift of being self-assured.”

Lyor Cohen

He added: “There are magazines which still today spend an enormous amount of energy on me, and I don’t even pay them any mind. I keep telling them: ‘You’re only making me bigger! Slag me off, but I’m still here, I’m still growing, I’m still building!’

“I don’t know why you’d want to do that to someone – we just laugh about it.

“People that really know me aren’t surprised [by how I am in reality]. This is a sociological class course in imagining who someone is, and then finding out who they really are – when people have to completely alter their mindset on you.”

“I want the music industry impresario to come back more than you could imagine.”

Lyor Cohen

He added: “I want the music [industry] impresario to come back more than you could imagine.

“I want colorful characters in this business. Where are they today? You tell me.

“Go to a music industry event and [scan] the room.

“Fifteen years ago, that same room would have been mind-blowing: Charlie Minor, Jerry Moss, Herb Alpert, Ahmet Ertegun, Chris Blackwell, David Geffen… Wow!

“Take a look now, man.”Music Business Worldwide

Lyor Cohen In The News

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