At first glance, YouTube snapping up ex-Warner Music top dog Lyor Cohen as its new global head of music looks like a classic case of, If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
YouTube has been getting it in the neck from artists and the music industry for months now over the so-called “value gap”, the EC has come down on the side of the industry, so this is the Google-owned video site playing nice by hiring someone the biz knows well to work everything out, right?
Well, maybe. Or might it be more a case of, If you can’t beat ‘em, get a bigger stick? Cohen’s track record means he speaks the same language as the veteran music biz decision-makers who are most angry with YouTube, but he’s not the typical modern exec who gets poached by digital music services looking to smooth down some ruffled feathers.
Troy Carter or George Ergatoudis at Spotify, or Jimmy Iovine at Apple Music, fit that bill, but Cohen’s a legendarily tough operator, skilled in the dark arts of company rivalries, both external and internal (his Warner tenure was notable for some in-house power struggles). That kind of thing is so old school it makes Doug Morris look like Sammy Andrews.
All of which, of course, is tempered by his strong track record in both breaking new talent and as a early adopter – certainly by music business standards – of new technologies, including an opportune endorsement of YouTube itself, back when most people thought the site had something to do with Bono.
Cohen’s work with 300 has widened his brief and seen him whole-heartedly embracing data, meaning the YouTube execs who leave music biz meetings shaking their heads and muttering about people “just not getting it” now have a formidable ally; one who knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the negotiating table, but is equally comfortable sitting with them.
So Cohen has plenty of experience but – to paraphrase Donald Trump – is it good experience? And, if so, will it be good for YouTube’s tricky situation, or for the music biz’s predicament? Hold tight, we’re about to find out…