The music industry is not just rebounding; it’s “going to be in a boom time” very soon, according to Lyor Cohen. The YouTube Music head and venerated music industry executive spoke candidly about his expectations for the future of music in a fireside chat at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law in New York on Wednesday night, predicting, among other things, that streaming services are going to drive the business into a new “golden age” that we’ve only started to see.
“This is going to be a huge, huge industry,” Cohen said. “I believe lots of money is going to be made because of subscription and advertising. And right now, the people who’ve survived the last 20 years of consolidation have been career employees — very thoughtful people who’ve preserved their gigs — and as the business expands, we’re going to need more characters. It’s a character-driven business. I think the only thing we’re waiting for is the impresario.”
Cohen, who’s best known for leading top record companies and spearheading a revolution in the artist-management business model, has been vocal in the past year in his new post at YouTube about the idea of democratizing music: Making it available to fans of all ages and wallet sizes, as well as ensuring that Spotify and Apple Music aren’t the only big players in the streaming game. He also spoke enthusiastically about the rising popularity of genres like Latin music, Afrobeat and grime, pointing to their cross-cultural influences and the broadening accessibility of music in general as reasons for their success.
When asked whether he thinks the traditional idea of the music album is dead, Cohen said: “I know this is unpopular, but, you know, this business started as a singles business. And then someone said ‘Man, if we could pour a little more oil and get a bigger platter, we could sell more.’ It was a business move. It wasn’t like people said ‘Someone’s going to do The Wall one day so we better have a structure…’ No one anticipated Pink Floyd. I do believe we would’ve had more Zeppelin records had they not had to climb Mount Everest every year to produce masterpieces. I think this is a liberation moment for the artist. Listen: Why do you have to do an album? Unless you’re doing something like The Wall, drop some singles and keep it going.”
Cohen added that he is “hungry” to find the next artists and behind-the-scenes players to lead the industry through the inevitable major changes ahead. “I do believe labels are still really important,” he said. “But someone has to ask: What is their value proposition now?”