'Songwriters are at the core of music': Lyor Cohen pledges YouTube support for creators

'Songwriters are at the core of music': Lyor Cohen pledges YouTube support for creators

Lyor Cohen, YouTube's global head of music, has spoken out in support of songwriters and producers ahead of the Ivors today.

YouTube has a partnership with the Ivors and Cohen was speaking alongside director of songwriter relations Jenna Rubenstein and hitmaker Jin Jin in the new issue of Music Week. Jin Jin took part in a YouTube songwriting camp in collaboration with the Ivors.

“The song is everything,” Cohen told Music Week. “Songwriters sit at the core of music, and a healthy industry is one in which every person is recognised and supported for their contribution. There’s no doubt the song is the nerve centre and the core of our industry.”

Cohen spoke about the importance of YouTube fostering a close relationship with the songwriting community.

“It’s critical for us to have deep and immersive partnerships with all parts of the music industry,” he said. “We probably have built a stronger muscle on the recording side out of the gate and now it’s critical that we work with our partners like the Ivors, like the publishing companies around the world, to demystify the platform. Remember, we’re still in the evolution of what the power of having a record store in your pocket is and so I feel like we cannot do enough to work with people like the Ivors that have a deep relationship with songwriters.”

A healthy industry is one in which every person is recognised and supported for their contribution

Lyor Cohen

The executive noted that YouTube has made progress in its relationships with rights-holders in recent years.

“Every single day we need to continue to earn the respect of the industry,” he said. “We don’t take that for granted. Our mission statement is to be the best place for every music fan and artist. In order to do that, we have to deliver both fame and fortune. YouTube Music just passed 100 million subscribers. We have a very powerful advertising business and we’re not going to stop until we’re the number one revenue source to the industry.”

Expanding on the point, Cohen said: “Fortune is great, but you need both. And what I mean by fame is, how do we introduce artists to their fans and build a relationship? Especially with the evisceration of distribution and the tidal wave of choice, which is one of the biggest problems the industry is facing right now.”

He highlighted YouTube’s multi-format offering as key.

“YouTube Shorts is a discovery tool that leads to a much more nutritious consumption place of long-form videos, interviews or live performances,” Cohen said. “We’re not going to stop until the fans fall in love with artists and stand in line to see a show and buy merchandise. That’s the backbone of a healthy music industry. The more money that we can generate, the more artists and songwriters are able to make a living doing music.”

On the subject of AI, which is one the topics dominating the agenda when it comes to music making, Cohen spoke up in favour. Last August, YouTube published its AI principles and details an AI incubator with UMG

GenAI is going to be a huge renaissance opportunity for songwriters

Lyor Cohen

“GenAI is going to be one of the most important tools songwriters have ever had,” Cohen said. “This is going to be a huge renaissance opportunity for songwriters. I think it’s pretty obvious how GenAI can assist great songwriters to be even better. It would be nice for us, as an industry, to be on our front foot when it comes to shaping the future, instead of putting our head in the sand or acting defensively and hoping that things go away.”

In reaction to Billie Eilish and many other artists calling to cease AI that sabotages and undermines creators he acknowledged that “there’s always the flipside”. 

“That’s why we have run the experiments, collaborated and moved responsibly,” he said. “I think that we have to be very mindful as we’re building these new products that they accrete to, and support, human creativity. Listen, we need all sorts of voices [in this debate] as we’re developing something so powerful. We need to be incredibly thoughtful and collaborative and not just listen to our people that are championing this. The people that are concerned about it are incredibly important to us because we want to understand what their concerns are.”

Cohen also spoke about transparency and tech platforms building fair partnerships with creators. 

“In order to be the best platform for every artist, songwriter and music fan, we know we need to work alongside them, listen to their feedback, champion their work and create space for innovation and growth,” he said. “It’s about not being simply transactional, but really trying to understand how your partners work: what are their fears? And what are their aspirations? It’s vital to get into the bloodstream of your partners and not just show up every three years trying to get a signature on a piece of paper.”

Subscribers can read the full interview here.

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