As record labels become irrelevant in music, YouTube has hired one of their best CEOs

Image: Reuters/Eric Thayer
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Lyor Cohen used to oversee Warner Music Group and Def Jam, where he helped bring artists like Jay Z worldwide fame. He currently serves as CEO of his own independent company 300 Entertainment—a label that’s signed rising artists like Young Thug and Fetty Wap, who have prospered as major labels have struggled in the digital era.

What would be worth Cohen abandoning his successful record label for? The answer is, apparently, YouTube.

Cohen will leave 300 at the end of this year to take up a job as global head of music at the Google-run video streaming company, it was announced this week. Said YouTube’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl in a statement:

Lyor is a lion of the music industry. From Rush to Def Jam to Island Def Jam to WMG then 300, he has consistently been a pioneer, charting the course for where music is heading. As we enter the growth era of the music industry, Lyor is in a position to make tremendous difference in accelerating that growth in a fair way for everyone.

Cohen explained the lure of the new post in a letter to staff announcing his departure:

Over the last two decades we have seen dramatic shifts, both to the inherent value of music and the literal value that people are willing to pay. Technology and new business models have completely changed the established distribution channels that have long-served the recorded music industry. And while change has been met with understandable resistance, I strongly believe that this transformation provides opportunities that will be larger and more rewarding for both artists and the music industry.

Tidal is run by Jay Z. Apple Music’s headed by the likes of Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, and Trent Reznor. And YouTube, by luring onboard a record industry veteran, is showing that it’s serious about striking solid deals with artists and becoming a mainstream music distributor in general—and a leader in tech innovation to boot.

YouTube is only the latest company in the music streaming space to snag a big name: Spotify recently snatched up Troy Carter, the music manager who’s credited with launching the careers of Lady Gaga and Meghan Trainor, and Apple Music was built on the acquisition of Iovine and Dr. Dre’s headphones company.

Whatever it is that Cohen’s planning to do with YouTube, let’s hope it’s a departure from the company’s reputation of veering toward the annoying—such as mandatory advertisements that it wants users to think of as “little haikus.”