Former label executive and current YouTube head of music Lyor Cohen has taken to the company’s blog to describe his experience since taking on the role in late 2016. In a wide-ranging post, the former Def Jam, WMG and 300 Entertainment executive shared his views on challenges for the music business and said he was “optimistic” that YouTube can work with the labels.
“I joined Google and YouTube because I saw a great opportunity to bring tech and music together and do right by artists, the industry and fans,” said Cohen. “Eight months in, I’m more optimistic than ever that YouTube can do that, but the truth is there’s still a disconnect between YouTube and the rest of the industry.”
Cohen said YouTube must “prove its credibility” in shifting users into paid subscriptions but added that he was “incredibly encouraged” by the subscription proposition resulting from the merger of YouTube Music and Google Play Music. “I’m confident they will build an even better subscription service,” he said. “And with more deals like the one YouTube recently signed with Warner, they’re going to be able to take it global.”
Cohen said that advertising models and paid subscriptions can both drive growth for the music industry. “The success of streaming subscriptions is one reason why I’m so optimistic about the future,” he said. “Subscription revenue is still in its infancy, yet it’s already reaping billions for the music industry."
He added that working at YouTube “has me convinced that advertising is another powerful source of growth for the industry”, but said it depended on whether or not “the industry chokes off these new sources of growth”.
"We (the labels, publishers and YouTube) must shine a light on artist royalties, show them how much they make from ads compared to subscriptions by geography and see how high their revenue is in the US and compared to other services," he said. "For instance, critics complain YouTube isn’t paying enough money for ad-supported streams compared to Spotify or Pandora. I was one of them! Then I got here and looked at the numbers myself. At over $3 per thousand streams in the US, YouTube is paying out more than other ad supported services."
Cohen also addressed issues of transparency, his priority of breaking artists on YouTube and remuneration of rightsholders. And he dismissed the music industry's "obsession" with safe harbour laws, which protect online platforms over user-generated copyright infringement.
“I’ve spent my entire life helping artists achieve fame and fortune,” he concluded. “I wouldn’t have joined YouTube if I didn’t believe the company was committed to delivering more revenue to artists, labels, publishers and composers – they just have to set them up well and get out of their way.”
You can read the full blog here.