Cohen, in the new role, will oversee the video giant’s relations with record companies and artists, as well as the development of the YouTube Music app.
With his hiring, YouTube is clearly aiming to build bridges with the music industry. Music execs and artists recently have criticized YouTube, arguing that it doesn’t pay fair royalty rates and that it doesn’t do enough to fight piracy on the service.
“I hope that together we can move towards a more collaborative relationship between the music industry and the technologies that are shaping the future of the business,” Cohen wrote in a memo to YouTube’s music team Wednesday.
Cohen is currently CEO and co-founder of 300 Entertainment — an indie record label whose investors include Google — which he formed in 2012 with other ex-WMG executives, whose artists include Fetty Wap, Young Thug, Rich the Kid and T Wayne. From 2004 to 2012, he served as president and chief executive officer of Warner Music’s recorded music operations, responsible for all worldwide recorded music including U.S. label groups Atlantic Records and Warner Bros. Records.
He was president of the Island Def Jam Music Group from 1998 to 2003, after merging Island, Mercury, and Def Jam. Prior to that, Cohen was president of Def Jam for 10 years, after working at Rush Management where he managed rap groups including Run-D.M.C., DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, the Beastie Boys, Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Kurtis Blow.
“Lyor is a lion of the music industry,” Robert Kyncl, YouTube chief business officer, said in a statement. “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. We are thrilled to welcome him to YouTube.”
Cohen will continue to run 300 until Dec. 5, when he officially joins YouTube. He noted in his memo to staffers that in 2006, when he was at Warner Music Group, he worked closely with YouTube to sign its major record-licensing deal. “I’m proud to be a music man, and hope that the perspective I bring from both the creative community and the music business at large will help us, our music partners and artists grow and thrive together,” he wrote.
In response to complaints from the music biz, YouTube has said that it has paid record companies more than $3 billion through mid-2016. As for piracy issues, the Google-owned video service said in a report released this summer that the music industry uses the YouTube Content ID system extensively to identify unauthorized uploads, and that 50% of the industry’s YouTube revenue comes from fan content claimed via Content ID.