SXSW 2018: Keynote speech by YouTube Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen – 14th March 2018

By on Monday, 9th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo by Sean Mathis/Getty Images for SXSW

My SXSW 2018 Wednesday afternoon technically began late in the morning at the Austin Convention Center, with an 11 AM keynote speech by YouTube Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen. I was a bit tardy in arriving to the Convention Center to queue for the popular talk, and I ended up sitting in the overflow room, where the speech was being simulcast on a big screen TV. This arrangement in no way detracted from Cohen’s message or the enthusiasm of the attendees, who nodded and occasionally even applauded as if Cohen himself were actually at the front of the room.

Lyor Cohen internal

Cohen began his keynote address by giving some background on the earlier days of his career in the music industry, as a way of explaining his lifelong passion for music and for promoting musicians. His career started in artist management for up-and-coming rap artists at Rush Productions in the 1980s, and his success eventually led him to high level executive roles at Def Jam and Warner Music Group. Cohen’s brief autobiographical sketch was accompanied by DJ/producer D-Nice, who supplied audio clips from a number of artists on Cohen’s historical rosters, including RUN-DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Warren G, Sum 41, The Killers, and Fetty Wap. (Want to hear it for yourself? D-Nice’s playlist is available, of course, on YouTube. Click here to listen.)

D-Nice

In the context of his career highlights, Cohen made note of some of the biggest changes he’s seen in the industry, emphasising his own willingness to accept new ideas and his ability to adapt to an ever-changing landscape as the keys to his success. From that point, he moved on to discuss his current position at YouTube, including plans for some major changes that are already in the works. Cohen described his vision for music on YouTube in terms of three basic goals: (1) creating diversity of distribution through ads and subscriptions, (2) collaborating with label partners to promote and break artists and (3) giving artists, labels and managers the best direct consumer access across any other platform.

You read that right. YouTube will, in the near future, institute a paid-subscription service which will be layered on to YouTube’s current ad-based service. The new monthly-fee subscription model was supposed to launch in March, around SXSW, but has apparently been delayed until later this year. Nevertheless, Cohen was undeterred by the delay, saying, “There are plenty of leaned-in listeners willing to pay, so we will convert them to paid subscribers. We know we’re late to the music subscription party, so we are making an enormous investment to launch a music product that combines the best of Google Play Music’s context listening and YouTube’s breadth and depth of catalogue.”

As for breaking new artists, Cohen outlined his plans to continue in that arena as well. “Breaking artists is my drug and now, here at YouTube, I can do so on a massive, global scale. This past year we’ve partnered with Sony, Warner and independents to support artists like Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, and Ozuna. We got to flex our platform to help promote their music, tell their stories and grow their global fanbases.”

artist candid

While I’m not entirely convinced about the wisdom of Cohen’s first two ideas, his third, regarding direct consumer access via YouTube, was at least partially on point. “The most powerful aspect of YouTube is our ability to allow artists, managers, publishers, songwriters and labels to engage with their fans with no hoops to jump through,” he said. “Whether it’s promoting a new video, an album, a tour or a live stream, the only place the music industry can play in both commerce and direct to consumer is YouTube.” Let’s hope Cohen keeps it that way.

If you’re interested in hearing Cohen’s hour-long keynote speech in its entirety, SXSW has made the full video available online. You can watch and listen just below.

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