'If you cut a British person open, they bleed music': Lyor Cohen on why YouTube Music is backing the BRITs

'If you cut a British person open, they bleed music': Lyor Cohen on why YouTube Music is backing the BRITs

It’s BRIT Awards week – and that means the great and good of the international music business are in town for the UK’s premier music showcase.

Amongst them will be YouTube’s global head of music, Lyor Cohen, who will be celebrating YouTube Music’s role as the awards’ official music app, the launch of which is nominated in the Music Consumer Innovation category at this year's Music Week Awards. But why did YTM want to get involved with the BRITs in the first place?

Well, it turns out the legendary US exec is quite the Anglophile. “I opened an office in London in 1988, before I had my own apartment!” he told Music Week. “I still had roommates when I opened up an office in England. My first part of my career was actually in England on tour with Run DMC.”

That gave Cohen a lifelong appreciation for the UK music scene, so he needed no convincing about the importance of the BRITs, even when compared to the US equivalent, the Grammys.

“You know what Chuck D said about the Grammys?” Cohen chuckled, referencing Public Enemy’s “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” line in Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic. “The first time I went there with Run DMC, we went zero for five and it was a real heartbreak. And then we realised it wasn’t as important as we made it. I so much prefer the BRITs, that’s why I’m committed to the BRITs and I’m so excited to join you guys.”

So Cohen – who yesterday weighed in on the on-going Copyright Directive debate – sat down with Music Week for a quickfire Q&A about his on-going love affair with all things UK…

Why are the BRIT Awards important?

“If you cut a British person open they bleed music. So culturally [they’re important]. Music is so core to the very being of British people, it just immediately heightens everything. The tables are way less structured, you feel like it’s a celebration of music and I don’t get that in other places. I don’t feel that celebration. I feel like there’s a fraternal order of love and appreciation amongst everybody in the business, it’s a night to truly celebrate with one another.”

Fewer than half the biggest music videos on YouTube in 2018 were sung in English. Where does that leave UK music in the great global scheme of things?

“It’s hugely important. Nowadays, artists and labels can access a global platform where they can reach a huge number of their fans. [Latin artists] became really smart on how to utilise the platform. That’s one of the reasons why you’ve got so many international artists.”

Do UK artists need to get smarter?

“You don’t have the population [numbers], but English is the big global language, so you have the ability to do things on a global basis. But understanding the platform and how it works is really important.”

Why did you want YouTube Music to be involved with the BRITs?

“Because I want to be involved in the British music scene. I want to work with the British music scene, whether it be labels, publishers, songwriters or artists, to [help them] understand how powerful the platform is. We heard the industry loud and clear and that’s why we built that subscription service. We’re really proud of it.”

And what’s in it for the BRITs?

“As you know, award shows in general, around the world, are struggling to maintain the audiences that they’ve had in the past. So livestreaming globally is a different way of thinking about an awards show and we’re constantly thinking about reimagining what the awards shows of 2020 are going to be like. Awards shows are important so we’re creating a FOMO moment, but you can’t do it the same-old, same-old way, as evidenced by the decline in ratings around the world. I feel like being a global platform is working for the BPI. The music industry has to reimagine how the fans are consuming their media and what’s going to make something interesting for them to buy into celebrating the British music scene.”

* For everything you’ll ever need to know about the BRITs 2019, see this week’s print edition of Music Week, available now. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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