With Lyor Cohen: YouTube's Global Head of Music | SXSW 2018 Keynote Speech

Lyor Cohen at SXSW - Photo © Concentus Music - Reproduction without permission not permitted

Lyor Cohen at SXSW - Photo © Concentus Music - Reproduction without permission not permitted

SXSW is more than just a series of new music showcases, but it is also in fact an opportunity for aspiring music business executives to learn and interact with the heart and soul of the business, including an annual Keynote Speech specially for the music conference.


Previous years have seen Nile Rodgers and Zane Lowe take this title, but this year we saw someone who’s spent the years a bit farther away from the spotlight open up – Lyor Cohen – YouTube’s Global Head of Music.


What does ‘Global Head of Music’ mean? Cohen’s job entails him managing YouTube’s business partnerships both in the US and International market, and artist label relations, though that is a very simple one sentence answer of what is one of the most important jobs in today’s digital-streaming-led landscape.


Sharing a wealthy knowledge of some 40 years experience in the music business, including the founding of numerous influential companies such as Island-Def Jam, Cohen addressed issues from the likes of digital to sexual assault, really giving aspiring executives a broad insight into the industry, and even a brief history of hip-hop.


A rather emotional moment both for Cohen and the audience was his condemnation of Russell Simmons. Whilst making his admiration and loyalty to Simmons clear, he still did not hesitate to openly speak about his disappointment for the allegations – demonstrating a shimmer of hope amongst the current chaos in the music industry on the issue. Though he made an effort not to let this take up a large portion on his talk, he very encouragingly focused more on what’s good with the industry rather than what is not.


Though the talk was largely centred around his autobiographical rise in music, it was easy to extract the knowledge that came with this, and apply his experiences to yourself. Particular stand out moments was his addressing the internet’s significance in the music industry, and this related to his general point of “change,” honing in on the necessity to be adaptable in an ever changing industry.


Showing a genuine interest in the audience who were there to learn, answering every questions possible and even requesting to have the lights on so he could see everyone's face, Cohen ultimately only put a positive light on the music industry. He clearly has a genuine love for his music and all the artists he’s met throughout his career, generously offering his time to encourage all the hopefuls in his audience to keep going and embrace the crazy but special world that is the music industry.