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Yesterday Lyor Cohen, who is head of a newly formed music company, 300 Entertainment, announced his company is forming a new business partnership with Twitter to help develop new ways to find and develop musical talent. He made the announcement at the music industry’s annual conference in Cannes on the French Riviera.
Lyor Cohen certainly knows the music business inside out. As Chairman & CEO of the Warner Music Group, for eight years he ran all aspects of the company’s business since he was hired when it was spun off from the Time Warner group in 2004 to a private equity group, led by Edgar Bronfman Junior.
The entire period was a tumultuous time for the music business, which was staring down the barrel of a gun at the time with the rise of digital distribution. Digital annihilated the music industry’s business model of paid physical distribution of content in favour of, often free and sometimes illegal, digital distribution.
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Apple and its iTunes Jukebox and iPods then famously saved the industry, which was not entirely grateful at the time. True, prices came down sharply but so did the industry’s costs, as physical production of discs and marketing through independent chains of stores, all demanding a piece of the pie, overnight increasingly became obsolete.
Cohen handled the shift better than most with some radical slash and burn cost-cutting to meet the new environment, and WMG was able to go public as early as 2005 in order to return some funds quickly to the private equity investors. Then in July 2011 WMG was acquired by, Russian-American billionaire, Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries.
A little over a year later, Cohen left, in September 2012, in order to start his own company. At the time there was much speculation as to his goals, and he himself was quite revealing about himself saying in 2013 to the LA Times, “I’ve been an outsider in the traditional record industry for more than 25 years”…, adding “I’m an entrepreneur, so I encourage risk-taking. And the only way to encourage risk-taking is to take risks yourself, which means sometimes you’ll fail, or people will say you are too aggressive or controversial. But someone needs to jump into the pool first for a party to get really great. I’ve always been willing to be that guy.”
It then took till November of 2013 for us to learn he was founding a new company “300 Entertainment”, named appropriately enough after the 300 Spartan fighters who valiantly defeated the Persian hoards, both in the famous movie of the same name and in the even more famous historical event itself, the actual Battle of Thermopylae, which preceded it 2, 500 years ago.
During the previous 14 months Cohen said he had spent a lot of his time with digital companies, which has largely shaped how he and his partners have now structured the new business.
“I spent an enormous amount of time inside these digital distribution companies just talking and engaging with them and understanding what these companies now know about our music fans – something we in the music business never knew for all the years I’ve worked in it. I see a lot of opportunities and asked an insane amount of questions.”
On founding the company Cohen stated it would therefore be part record label, part marketing company and part distributor and that he had backing from both Google and Atlantic Records. He started with US$5 million of initial backing, including from a number of private investors close to the music industry. Two of his fellow ex-Warner Music colleagues Todd Moscowitz, formerly a Warner President, and Kevin Liles, a former EVP of Warner Music joined him at 300 Entertainment as well making a powerful team.
“I’ve seen them out there again on the hunt for new artists, ” says Atlantic Records Co Chairman Craig Kallman. “I’m really confident in them knowing the A&R talent of the three of them.” A&R is an industry specific acronym that stands for “acquisition & repertoire” – and it is the core talent-hunting requirement for any successful entertainment company. Looking for talent and managing artists had been Cohen’s expertise long before he joined the “suits” to manage music companies up at the top.
So we finally learned yesterday that 300 Entertainment has formed a new partnership with Twitter. Lyor Cohen made the announcement at a keynote speech he was giving in Cannes to a music industry party taking place there (yes they do pick the best spots) called “Modem”.
Modem has nothing to do with communications devices for computers. No, it is instead an English acronym for a very French mouthful that would be much harder to swallow all by itself: “Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale”. It is the primary music industry conference, which is organized in and around the “Palais des Festivals et des Congrès” in Cannes, and has been held there annually since 1967.
Thousand of artists, agents, lawyers, producers, managers, entrepreneurs, executives and journalists turn up to mingle and kibbutz together there. On the business side recording industry execs, artist management, and publishers network, new artists present their material and live music is performed during the evenings to showcase everyone’s wares.
In his speech there Cohen revealed he had closed a new partnership deal on Saturday with Twitter to “create A&R tools to find artists early and help them”.
He continued, “In the modern A&R business we are all looking for talent in various places, and certainly Twitter is a terrific place to look at talent, ” … adding, “If you want to get signed, you have to engage with Twitter, and of course YouTube, and we’ll be looking to try and develop tools that the rest of the music community can utilize.”
300 Entertainment’s mission statement is “ to create a lasting reputation for high quality artist development” After 32 years in the music business he was then asked what motivates him after 32 years in the music business Cohen replied simply “Maybe today will be the day that I bump into an artist that will change my life and possibly change formats and pop culture. That’s my drug, ” he said.
Twitter has confirmed its involvement with 300 Entertainment, with Bob Moz, Twitter’s head of music, telling tech site Mashable, “Music is the largest topic of conversation on Twitter, so we’re really invested in building a win-win environment for fans, artists, labels, promoters and music services” … adding,
“This partnership is a great example because it is about helping artists and labels find each other. We’re looking forward to working with Lyor Cohen’s team in the coming months, and we hope they find great artists to sign as a result.”
This writer is still not entirely sure what exactly such A&R tools might be, but certainly looks forward to seeing the result when 300 Entertainment signs up lots of new and talented musicians whom we can all enjoy.
About Lyor Cohen
Lyor Cohen, who is 54, was born in New York to immigrants from Israel and grew up in Los Angeles.
In 1981 he graduated with a degree in marketing and finance form the University of Miami, and his first job was as a bank clerk at Bank Leumi in Beverly Hills.
After moonlighting for a bit, and promoting some rock music acts in local night clubs he moved to New York to work for Russell Simmons’ Rush Artist Management where he spent several years signing up artists and learning the music business from the bottom up.
By 1989 he and Simmons moved to the label side of the business and eventually led Def Jam Recordings the top label for the hip-hop genre of music at the time. After collaborating with Polygram, which was eventually acquired by Edgar Bronfman Junior and merged into the Universal Music Group Cohen wove and spun a dizzying collection of labels, brands and business units. As a result he was a shoe in for the top job when the Edgar Bronfman led private equity group eventually acquired Warner Music.
As a long time resident, for nineteen years, of the Upper East Side Lyor Cohen finally made it downtown, moving last year to a townhouse in the west Village.
He is divorced with two children; twelve year old daughter Bea who lives with him on weekends, and nineteen year old son Az who is away most of the time at college in Berlin.