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Full transcript: YouTube Music head Lyor Cohen on Recode Media

As a record exec, Cohen used to be a bit anti-YouTube. Now he’s soaking in it.

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Lyor Cohen Theo Wargo / Getty

This week on Recode Media with Peter Kafka, YouTube global head of music Lyor Cohen talks up the launch of YouTube Music. He says giving consumers the choice of paying with money or “paying with your eyeballs” by watching ads is the right direction for the music industry and will liberate artists to make music on their own terms.

You can read some highlights from the interview here or listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Below, you’ll also find a lightly edited transcript of the full episode.

Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka, that’s me. I’m part of the Vox Media podcast network. I’m here at Vox Media headquarters in New York City. Before we start this special episode of Recode Media, one quick request:

Lyor Cohen: Yes.

If you like it, if you like hearing Lyor Cohen in the background, tell someone else about it. That’s all we ask.

No, tell a few people, not one person.

How many people ... This is Lyor Cohen, king of promotion. Among other things.

You’re underselling yourself, Peter. You have a great podcast, everybody loves it, so sell it harder. At least bring a dozen friends. Do yourself a favor and turn on the Peter Kafka podcast. How do you ...

Recode Media.

Recode Media. Why do you have to hide behind Recode Media? You’re the star.

Damn straight. I like this show, it’s getting better already. Lyor Cohen, music legend, hip-hop legend, record legend, global head of music at YouTube. Do I have your title right?

Well, yes.

You are here today for a special episode because you guys are rolling something out that we’ve been hearing about for a while. It is called ... Now you can sell it.

YouTube Music.

C’mon, sell it harder than that.

YouTube Music.

Which is?

Is a critical new subscription service that helps bring diversity to distribution and it’s a very, very beautiful product that we’re very, very proud of.

Background is YouTube is the world’s biggest video service, world’s second-biggest search service, world’s biggest music platform.

The most music is consumed.

And forever, ever since 2006, you’ve been able to listen to music for free on YouTube. Ad supported last couple of years. You guys started a subscription service, we can debate how big or little it is. But it hasn’t really taken off and you guys are pushing again to make a more comprehensive, more popular subscription service which you’re rolling out today. Am I summing that up accurately?

I think so.

Good. You don’t seem enthused, Lyor?

I’m very excited about it, Peter. I’m just worried about every question you have to ask me.

I’ve never seen Lyor Cohen nervous around me. This is an odd thing. Where do you wanna start? You wanna start with “frustrate and seduce”?

Well, wherever you wanna start. Whatever is good for you, Peter.

You were at South By Southwest in March, you were previewing the service, you said, “We’re gonna frustrate and seduce people into using this service.” Because again, you can use YouTube for free, and most people do. We were talking about this off-air: 89 million people and counting have watched the Childish Gambino video for free. It’s great.

Did you like the video, Peter?

I’ve seen it six or seven times. It’s amazing.

Did you tell your friends? A dozen friends about it?

Yeah, I tweeted about it. I put it in a newsletter. It was a very exciting thing.

I think it’s more than exciting. I think it’s an amazing piece of art and a great conversation piece. Have you had conversation around that video with your friends? I mean, your swanky friends in the Upper East Side?

I don’t have any of those friends.


No. Deep Brooklyn.

Deep Brooklyn?

What I’ve said is, you should watch it and then we’ll talk about it. And they do.

And they call you back? Or do they ...

Yeah. They go, “What do you think he meant there?” The actual way to do it, then we send articles to each other and say, “Look at this article that explains this video.”

Right, and so what was your view of that video? What was significant about that video to you?

There is no way to watch that video and go, “Oh that was an interesting piece of entertainment” and then not think about it. It made you confront something, and you had to decide what you’re confronting and you say, “Well, first of all, what is Donald Glover trying to tell me here?”

Do you believe that ...

In a way that most popular culture sort of doesn’t confront you these days.

I think that’s very true. So do you think that many people have different things that they’re confronting? And if that’s the case, what is it that you confronted?

I had to confront how I thought about entertainment. It was something ... The way that I often think about entertainment is I have an hour between my kids going to bed and I’m gonna go to bed or whatever else I need to accomplish that night. I wanna watch something, generally not listen to something, and I want it to be interesting but not too difficult because I don’t have that many brain cells I wanna use.

That’s often the way I think about entertainment these days. I’m assuming it’s the way lots of people think about entertainment. Donald Glover is saying you can do that, but I want you to think about other stuff at the same time.

Would you suggest that people are starved for things that make them think and maybe they’re on autopilot and getting into the seduction of lazy media consumption?

Yeah, but I don’t think that’s me, but yeah, I think ... I mean, there’s this great book by David Foster Wallace, “Infinite Jest,” which is a lot about that. It’s also made me think — and this is not an unusual thought — that we’ve been waiting since Donald Trump was elected to see interesting reactions to that election.


I don’t know if this is explicitly about the Trump era, you can argue that it’s about just modern society, but it seemed like one of the first times we had to go, “All right, we’re gonna stop and look around the world and have a conversation.”

All I could say to you is I’m so honored to be working with Childish Gambino. So honored to be working with RCA and Sony and his managers, collaborating and working together. And the fact that an artist was able to also not go on autopilot, because the creation of videos oftentimes is on autopilot. Obviously there was an enormous amount of effort, cinematography. There was a craftsmanship.


Choreography. I applaud him and I challenge others to understand that video’s a really powerful media.

So bring it back: That’s a video that I’ve seen multiple times for free. Whether I’m watching ...

Why do you suggest it’s for free? As opposed to ...

I didn’t pay for it.

Well, you paid with your eyeballs.

Yes. First of all, actually, there’s no ads against that one specifically.

No, there were ads. I believe that people characterize “free” and I like characterizing that you’re paying with your eyeballs. I think that YouTube is a place that can do both. That you can pay with your eyeballs and there are people that would love to buy a subscription. So I think we should give the consumers some choice and allow them to decide whether they want a subscription or whether they wanna pay with their eyeballs.

Let’s start this way: So if I decide to pay ...

Just one last thought. Like all mature media businesses, they are ... both engines are working, ad supported and subscription. There’s no reason why the music business shouldn’t have both and enjoy both.

This is a relatively new idea for Google, right? Google, giant ad-supported business, they only recently got into subscriptions.

I can’t speak for what was new or old ideas for Google, I’m just a simple music person. What I know, having worked closely with the labels and the artist community, the managers, they would like to get in a plane that has two engines, one that is ad supported and the other that is subscription.

We’re gonna weave around, which is good. If I pay you $10 a month for YouTube music, what am I getting that I’m not getting ... I would say for free, you would say paying for with my eyeballs.

I actually have the real head of music here, T. Jay, he should come up, grab the microphone. C’mon, T. Jay.

T. Jay, you wanna jump in?

Grab that microphone, T. Jay. Okay, let’s go.

Welcome, T. Jay.

The head of music for YouTube.

T. Jay Fowler: At a basic level you just get features that allow you to remove ads. First of all, you get an ad-free experience. Second, you have the ability to take your music portable with you by making things available offline, without network access. You also are able to multitask, to be able to play music in the background, or be able to close the app and have music continue playing.

Those are all features I had available to me before, right? This is a new version of, in terms of the offer ...

T. Jay Fowler: This is an evolution. Those are just the basic features. The parts that are actually changing pretty significantly is that we’re investing a lot into assistive experiences. Basically, the app adapts to where you’re listening to music. It starts to begin to understand your habits, the types of music that you listen to in the morning, the types of music that you listen to in the evening, music that’s appropriate for commuting, and those kinds of things.

Peter, let me put it to you this way.


I’m sure you have date night.


Would you like to make sure that when you have date night, Barry White shows up quick? Or do you wanna fumble around with your phone trying to find Barry White, okay?

I mean, just imagine when you brought your wife back home and that the living room was all dim, the candles were up, everything was ready for you. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about understanding that you have date night, and so Barry White should show up when you have date night. Does that help? Is that helpful to you?

I think so.

Do you want me to start singing some Barry White tunes, just to refresh your memory?

No, no, I’m familiar with Mr. White. I’m getting my head around whether I want Google figuring out that I’m having date night, or whether I wanna tell Google, “Hey, I’m having date night, could you get me some music?”

Okay, we’ll take it any way you wanna give it to us. We wanna be helpful to you. In fact, when you go to the west coast to meet all your chi-chi friends in Silicon Valley, don’t you want us to know that you’re about to get on a seven-hour flight and cache your favorite music?


Instead of the stewardess saying, “Go on airplane mode.” And then you’re hitting yourself on the head and saying, “Oh my God, I forgot to load some music up.”


You know, we’re trying to be helpful here.

Are we good, T. Jay? Have we run through the features?

T. Jay Fowler: Yes. I mean, the other thing that I think is different is really, really showcasing the official audio catalog. We’re known for video, we’re known for premium music videos, we’re known for great UGC. We’ve built this app so that it’s really, really supporting that use case of listening in addition to watching.

In standard Google fashion, pre-Lyor, there were two competing music services. There was YouTube music service and a Google Play music service, and basically they’re gonna get merged into this one thing. Not overnight, but over time.

T. Jay Fowler: That’s right. It’s our intent to have a singular music experience going forward.

So as the consumer, I just need to think, “All right, do I wanna spend my money on a service that has all the music I want, plus a bunch of videos that I want, or do I want a version of that from Apple or Spotify?” They’re all sort of similar experiences, different bells and whistles, but they’re all about $10 a month. They all offer me basically unlimited music, I can bring it on or offline. Am I summing that up?

T. Jay Fowler: Yeah, I think what you’re talking about is the table stakes. I think YouTube Music goes far beyond that because not only do we just have some videos, we have an amazing collection of music that expands beyond the official release stuff. We have covers, we have derivative works, we have remixes, we have the behind-the-music kind of non-music content, like the interviews that happen on the couch with Fallon or the documentaries. It goes far, far beyond just bells and whistles.

Good. So what I always say when I’m writing about an app or something like an app, I say, “Well, I can talk some more about it, but why don’t you just go look at it.” So you can stop this podcast now and go check out the app. Come back whenever you want, or you could listen to this whole conversation, check it out, and you’ll get the full array of services. It’s rolling out in some countries today, then more over time.

T. Jay Fowler: That’s right.

Okay, good. How’d he do?

I’m incredibly impressed with his voice. I think he was a DJ in college. I’m putting my money on that. Is that correct?

T. Jay Fowler: I did do some radio, yes.

You see, I knew it.


It sounds like it.

Thank you, T. Jay, you’re off the hook now.

T. Jay Fowler: Thank you.

Lyor, let’s talk about the industry a little bit.

Yes sir.

This is a ...

Which industry?

The music industry. You came from it. Your brief bio is that you started off managing early hip-hop acts. All the great ones that blew my mind when I was a kid. Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys. Moved up into what was then Def Jam Records.

That’s accurate.

Then that eventually became part of Universal Music.

Remember, the management company was before Def Jam.


Rush preceded Def Jam Records, for those that actually know.

There’s great footage of you, bumrushing LL Cool J on and off the stage. I saw that on TV.

In London?

There was an “ABC Nightline,” like, “learn about hip-hop with Lyor.”


That’s the one. Yeah.

Oh okay.

Yeah it’s great. Then you became a record label executive. First at Universal, then Warner Music. Then you went off and you left Warner Music, started your own thing called 300. Then a couple years ago, got hired by YouTube, surprising just about everyone in the music business.

The conventional wisdom was what is YouTube doing hiring Lyor Cohen — who had many times been an active critic or moreso of YouTube and technology companies — to work at a technology company?

I’ve got all that right?

You’re making statements. Are you asking a question or what?

Here’s the question. Why did you go to YouTube?

I wanted to help bring diversity to distribution. It was my greatest fear. If distribution is highly consolidated, the distribution companies will capture all the money.

You’re making it ...

This won’t be good for the artist community. This is a gift I’m giving to the industry that I love so much. This is an industry ... I live the way I live because of rap music. It’s a gift. I couldn’t tell you what I would be doing if it wasn’t for my parents encouraging me to come to New York in 1983. I couldn’t tell you what I’d be doing. But this industry has been so good to me. I was frightened that we could wake up and be controlled by distribution and I wanted to bring diversity to it.

I didn’t understand why the world’s biggest platform where music is consumed couldn’t have intimate and reliable and working relations with the creative community and the labels. I wanted to try to put together connective tissue.

Did YouTube come to you and say, “Would you like this job?”

Yeah, and I wasn’t interested when they came to me.

What was the initial pitch?

The initial pitch was, “Hey, music is too important of a category, I’d like for you to help surface some very good candidates to take the job.”

And this is — Apple had Jimmy Iovine as sort of their emissary to the music business. Spotify had hired Troy Carter. The idea was, “We wanna hire someone like that, can you help us find one?”

They didn’t refer to Jimmy or Troy, but they said that music is too big of a category and they need someone to wake up every day thinking about that vertical for them. I surfaced a couple of really great candidates that they loved and then one day I got a phone call saying, “We love them, but we actually want you to do it.”

Were you dealing with Susan Wojcicki? Who were you dealing with at YouTube?

I was dealing with Robert Kycnl.

Kyncl, by YouTube standards, is their entertainment guy. By most standards he’d be like a nerdy engineering type. By YouTube standards he’s their Hollywood guy.

I don’t find him Hollywood at all. I think he’s an incredible, dynamic media executive.

You’re running a label, which presumably you like doing.

Loved it, loved it. Gone off safety.

So to get you to leave that alone, they had to do what?

It wasn’t about them, it was about my partner coming to me and said, “Listen, you know you’ve been talking about what makes you concerned about the industry, you’ve already de-risked 300, if there’s ever a time for you to go be helpful to this industry that you love, do it now.” So, that’s what I’m doing.

When you get to YouTube, what are you expecting to see when you walk in the door?

I wasn’t expecting to see anything. I tried not to have preconceived notions. When I got there, there were many surprises. One is that the company’s littered with people who absolutely love music. Two is all the music people that are involved in YouTube were deeply, deeply concerned why they weren’t considered as a net contributor.

They thought they were doing the right thing.

Of course, they were doing the right thing. They thought that by creating an ad-supported business was not only helping kill piracy, but was also supporting what most media companies end up becoming and that is both ad supported and subscription supported. Two engines.

They were actually tackling one of the most difficult parts of the business: That is, creating a massive platform that kids all over the world ... Susan mentioned at Brandcast that there’s 1,800,000,000 logged in per month.

1.8 billion users.

1.8 billion. They’re working on creating the apparatus where artists get paid from their works.

Then the long-standing criticism from the labels —and again, you were one of the people making this criticism — was, “You’re not giving us enough money from ads, and by the way, we don’t really have control over our stuff, you say we do, we don’t really have control. If we wanna take stuff down, we can’t really take it down.” When you ran Warner Music, you guys took your music down for a year, then she said it was too much of a pain to keep it off. We’re gonna go back on.

Listen, a lot of people remember when I took that stance at Warner. Just so you’re clear and you actually have the facts, it was before they cleaned up YouTube. It was hard to get high CPMs for advertisers that one second would get a cat video and the next second would get a Jay-Z video. My biggest beef with them was that they needed to separate those two parts of their store so they could ...

There’s a clean, well-lit place, and then there’s everything else.

Clean, well-lit place that advertisers feel comfortable to come and participate in this beautiful platform. That was my problem. My problem was that I had a lot of premium content that wasn’t getting the proper CPMs. Everything has context, right?

Yes. Let’s tease you out of it in your history to this day, you hear people in the music business saying, the free stuff is not adequate, we’re not getting enough money from it.

May I interrupt you?

Of course you can, it’s your podcast.

The ads-supported business, you keep saying “free.” But you’re paying with your eyeballs. You’re looking at advertisements, okay. So it’s too easy to just say free. Okay, you’re paying with your eyeballs. So go ahead, what’s the question?

The ad-supported business ...

Thank you.

Is not generated ...

You’re a quick learner, by the way, Peter.

Slow, I’m gonna get there. Is not generating enough money for us, the content owners. Again, just to bring us all the way back to the beginning the idea of YouTube Music in last year’s incarnation and then the one today is to find other ways to supplement that with subscription money.

That’s correct.

Okay, good.

Just like when you decide to get on a plane, you like to see two engines. One that’s ad supported and one subscription.

This podcast is a free podcast. You do not have to pay for it with dollars, we’d like it if you would listen to this sponsor you can hear from right now. Good?

Absolutely, I adore this sponsor.

Hang tight.


What an incredible sponsor, great taste for them to support you in this podcast.

I agree.

Right, Golda?

We’re leaving that in the podcast. We’re back here with Lyor Cohen.

And Peter Kafka.

And Peter Kafka. And your entourage here.

My clique.

Clique. That’s a new term? That’s an old term. Are you surprised that it has taken the music industry to 2018 to have a significant subscription business?

I’m not surprised. Good things take time.

Yeah. How long did it take for you to figure out that would be a good business, to replace the CD business which went away, then the pay download business which went away? When did it click for you?

Listen, just so you understand that even me — and I’m one of the fastest people to try to fix things when things are going well — even me, always has a little shpilkes when there are new models that are cannibalizing models that are paying the bills.

I would be a liar to say that I didn’t have shpilkes. But, I understand that media is transforming, and the fact that you could have a smartphone and this could be your record store, your personal record store, is so sexy, and so great, such an incredible value for consumers, that thank God the CD is dead. I’m sure there is some wonderful people who have CD collections, I suggest you throw them out and make some room for some furniture or other things.

I don’t think anyone listening to this has a CD collection.

But, I just feel like wow, this is such an incredible opportunity for me to engage with music just in my smartphone and it’s just fabulous. I think this is just a really healthy time understanding that old methods that actually paid the bills and paid your employees. You know, when you’re running companies, it’s not just a spreadsheet of people. People have families, and so you’re constantly catching another vine and having to leave and be in one moment of suspension.

I was checking my phone because I wanna pull up a quote from one of the articles I was looking at. “All the bad behavior and excess in the music business can be traced to the CD.” What did you mean by that?

The CD made mere mortals think they were geniuses.

Because it got everyone to re-buy, basically.

Yeah, they’re re-buying, and because a lot of these companies were run by foreign multinationals, they didn’t do the due diligence to understand that the tidal wave of cash was repurposing old masters.

So you have 15 years, mid ’80s up through 1999.

Man, they had private planes that they didn’t turn off just in case they were coming back early or they had football fields for offices. That’s not the music business. The music business is when Ahmet and Jerry opened up their office above Patsy’s. It’s when Chris Blackwell opened up his office at 4th and Broadway. It’s understated, the money went into the recordings and the signings of the artists, not the excesses in behavior.

But you rode that up, that was beneficial to you in the first half of your career.

Absolutely rode it up. We were hugely beneficial. You actually didn’t do your research because my first bosses were PolyGram.


PolyGram was owned by Philips. Philips was the people who invented the CD.

Yes. Gotcha.

That’s when they gave Alain Levy the thumbs-up to go and start buying all of these impresarios and giving them a huge multiple — Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert, A&M, Chris Blackwell and Island, Motown — because they saw that the CD was gonna be a very big boom. They also, behind Alain Levy’s back, sold to Edgar Bronfman, because they realized that was the perfect master, and then the internet ...

Yeah, they figured it out a little ahead. So now we fast-forward and now we’re into the streaming business and it seems like we’re replacing a lot of that money that’s gone away on the economics side that works out. What does it mean for an artist who for decades the paradigm was put eight to 10 to 12 songs together, release them every couple years. That’s how you do your work. Now we’re in a world where you do a song at a time, or you tell me. How are artists thinking about putting out music today?

Remember that this was a singles business when it started. Someone said, “Hey, if we pour more oil and wax we get a bigger record and we could sell it for more.”

I think that artists have an opportunity to be liberated from the album. Certainly there are artists that an album can texture a storytelling that is still gonna be important, but for the most part this is a liberation moment that artist can actually go into a studio tonight and tomorrow put it around the world.

I have one idea, this is my idea. Because there was that period where if you had a great single that you would actually try to sort of limit its distribution because you’d want to get people to buy the whole album, and you end up with a lot of consumers who were unhappy buying 15 songs when they wanted one. It’s better for the consumer, you’re saying that ...

Not that friendly to consumers right?

Yeah, we’re better. Okay, we did ads, we did music, it’s a weird thing to interview a Lyor Cohen, but it is what I expected, too.

Tell me, what do you think of the Yankees these days?

I’m not a Yankees fan.

What do you think of the Giants these days?

Nope. Minnesota Timberwolves.


Yeah. Disappointed, but I kinda think they’re gonna be stuck for a while. I think it’s harder to recruit talent.

Let’s change subjects before you get upset with me.

I won’t get upset with you. I wanna talk about the Kanye West photo that you were in. You, Lucian Grainge, Kanye West. I’m such a nerd that when I saw that photo, I said, “Oh, that’s interesting that Kanye’s with Lucian and Lyor,” when everyone else said, “Oh, there’s Kanye West wearing a Make America Great Again hat.” How did that photo come about?

Kanye said, “Listen Lyor, I’d really love for you to come to the studio and listen to music.” I flew down, listened to his music, I had such a lovely time spending part of the afternoon with him.

What did he play for you? The songs that he’s subsequently put out or something else?

He played a bunch of music for me.


Incredible music, and he showed me his facility. It’s a stunning facility of fashion and all the other businesses he’s in. I was so excited about the music, I forgot that I had to go to the bathroom, so I said, “Listen, I really need to go to the restroom.” I got up, went to the restroom, and there in another part of his office was Lucian, and Lucian was waiting, I understand, for well over an hour and I didn’t know. And I said, “Lucian, what’s going on?”

Let’s explain. Lucian runs Universal, biggest music company in the world.

Lucian is Sir Lucian Grainge. He’s a knight of the royal court.

So he’s waiting on you and Kanye.

He’s the chairman and CEO of Universal and Kanye is having him wait. I didn’t realize that, and I said, “Lucian.” And I needed to go back to New York, so I said, “Hey Lucian, I’ve had a lovely time, let’s switch places.” And Kanye was going to the restroom at the same time and said, “Hey guys, let’s take a photo.” We took a photo and I’m running through the airport and no less than 50 people commented to me about his hat, Kanye’s comments, etc.

People at the airport are coming up to you, or texting you?

The airport.

They recognize you from the photo?

They recognize me from the photo, I’m already recognized, but that time I realized, “Wow, the power.” I had no idea that he was posting it, I had no idea that he was wearing that hat. I had no idea about anything.

Listen, I got a lot of bad feedback and it was ... My son was hugely disappointed with me, my mother wouldn’t speak to me for a week.

Do you think this episode he’s had where he’s tweeted what he’s tweeted, do you think he recovers from that? Do you think America’s cultural memory is short enough that when he comes back, if the music is good, that he goes back to being Kanye? Or do you think he’s crossed some path?

This is how I see it. First of all, I’m disappointed in his views, many of his views. I’m not disappointed about him calling out what’s happening in Chicago, I’m not disappointed about it. But I could say, this is what I want you to understand and many of your listeners to understand. Being an artist is painful oftentimes. Choosing to be an artist and creating art is often done by people that suffer things, feel things in different ways. Don’t enjoy the art and not understand that artists have to go through really difficult moments that are also exacerbated with the social media era.

Imagine Vincent Van Gogh having to be living under a magnifying glass of social media. What I’m saying to you is to be an artist is hard, period. To be an artist and there’s a lot of suffering that an artist has to go through. So understand that and understand that these are the things that I think Kanye ... Kanye, I don’t think, has reconciled the pain that he has endured from the loss of his mother. I don’t think that he’s come to grips with it.

Do you think he has to participate in social media? Do you think a popular artist has to be in social media? Or is there a way to just put out your work and then go back to doing what you’re doing?

I think there is a way of doing it, and I keep encouraging Kanye to lead with the music and to keep the music as part of the front and center of his conversation. He said, “Are you telling me to shut up and dribble?” I said, “No, I have too much respect to say that to you. What I’m saying to you is don’t de-emphasize your music. Your music is the reason why so many people are riding with you, so if you make it a footnote I think that’s problematic.”

Talking to a record executive prior to this he said, “Well no, it’s part of the job now, going on Instagram or Facebook.”

I don’t believe that for a second.

So there is a way to just make music and then ...

You just mentioned Childish Gambino, he doesn’t do that.

I don’t think so, yeah. He tweets occasionally.

A blue moon.


A blue moon.

So there’s a way to do it. Speaking of record executives, this is a discussion we often have when I talk to someone in the music business. What is the point of a music label today? We have YouTube, we have Spotify, all of you guys have amazing distribution services. Why does Kanye or Childish Gambino or anyone like that need to work with a record label? Why don’t they just work directly with you guys?

A record label is so necessary. It’s necessary on a whole host of things that would take another podcast to explain. But curation, support, artist development, capital. I think that having a great support system, great manager, great label allows an artist that’s already in a challenging industry to focus on their craft.

It’s like when you watch the Warriors play, Steph Curry is not sitting underneath the basket trying to get rebounds. Everybody is playing their position; that makes that team a successful team. I think that if you take a look at the history of successful artists, they’re really dope. They have great managers and awesome labels. I think that ecosystem is really important.

When I interview you and I wanna run a photo of you next to the interview, I go and there’s a great picture of you flipping the camera off, you’re standing next to Chance the Rapper. Chance the Rapper doesn’t have a label, he works directly with YouTube. Seems like it works for him, seems like we could have lots more of those deals.

Just so you understand, when Chance won that award he said, “Being independent is not being alone.” I loved that. I thought that was a beautiful statement.

But you could create your own support system. It’s different than working with a label.

Sure. Everybody’s got ... that’s what’s so great about this era. We’re entering the golden era of the business. It will not get activated until the impresario comes back. What do I mean by an impresario? It’s the unemployable. Right now, the infrastructure of the label community is run primarily by career employee. There are the Ahmet Erteguns, the Chris Blackwells, the Russell Simmonses, the Rick Rubins, the Jerry Mosses, and Herb Alperts that are out there. That are now gonna team with Capital, that are going to help shape the golden era of the business. They are not entering the business, and that will be a beautiful time for the industry in general.

You need those guys in the labels? Or you just need them in the business?

No, in the business.

You think they’re out there, but they’re coming up.

Yeah, they’re gonna team ... Capital now is not scared about investing in recorded music. This is ... you look at the Goldman Sachs or the Morgan Stanley reports. This industry is about to go off the hizzy. Now, maybe you could just tell your listener what that means, “off the hizzy.”

It’s like going off the chain but even better, right?


One of the first times I interviewed you, you said “getting some dap,” which I always enjoyed learning about. You’ve been in this business since the early ’80s?

Yes sir.

You’re older now. Do you ever worry that it is gonna be harder for you to understand the next wave of artists, the next form of art?

Please, please.

That’s a no.

Hell no. Okay. When I brought Ahmet Ertegun back to Atlantic when he was 79 years old, he could out-sign any of my young A&R people. That’s why I did it. I think, you know we’re not supposed to dunk, we’re supposed to listen, as long as you stay curious and open, you could be a great record man.

You said something else that sparked me one of the first times we talked. Seems like hip-hop doesn’t really age well. Someone who was big in the early ’80s isn’t gonna make it, and you said, “No, no, no. Jay-Z.”

I said that?


Wow, I’m such a clairvoyant, aren’t I.

Listen, this was 2002ish.

Wow, that wasn’t a heavy lift, let’s try another proclamation. So, when I see you in 10 years, we could ...

Who of the existing superstar firmament is gonna be a big deal in 10 years? Who’s gonna continue to be a big deal in 10 years?

I think the curiosity. I like seeing curiosity, and remember, the point guards that we remember are the ones that use both hands. Right?


They could go both ways.

You’re bobbing and weaving while you’re talking. I like it.

Yeah, so I think ...

Gimme a name.

I think Kendrick is someone that I believe ... you have to not be frightened, too. It’s about your ability to take risks. You see, I believe a huge artist is like a tour guide to their audience. If you keep taking them to Rome, they’re gonna fire you. So you have to show them different ... they are relying on you to take them somewhere, to give them other experiences. If you’re just a rapper that doesn’t grow, doesn’t try new experience, meet new people, bring more to the subject matter, then they’re gonna fire you.

Do you have that edge, do you say, “The YouTube stuff’s cool ...”

I stay curious.

“But I’d like to get back into bringing artists back to the ... I like to find cool people and expose them to the world.”


That’s what you’re doing now?

That’s my love, that’s what I love doing.

Do you think you’d go back to doing that sort of thing?

Of course. Of course.

As a full time job, you’re gonna do that someday.

100 percent. 100 percent.

So this is a temporary gig for you?

That’s accurate.

There, did we just break news?


Or no?

I mean, everything’s temporary.

That’s very wise, should we leave it there?


Lyor Cohen.

Peter Kafka. Tell your friends.

Tell a dozen of your friends.


If you don’t have a dozen friends, find a dozen friends.

Thank you, Peter, for your time.

Thank you.

I appreciate it so much, YouTube Music.

Do we get it free, by the way? Can you get YouTube music for free?

Excuse me, excuse me. Can we stop with the free?

Is there a limited-time promotional offer for YouTube Music?

T. Jay Fowler: Yes.

Yes. There’s T. Jay. Okay, thank you Lyor.

Thank you.

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