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"Every day I woke up, my whole thing was to defeat the majors. All my life. When I became a major, I was scared because all I had done was try to
kill them."
LIFE AFTER DEF JAM
A HITS Exclusive: Lyor Cohen Discusses His Move to WMG

Your decision to take WMG’s offer took some by surprise.
It was very sudden. They first approached me just around Christmas, but I turned them down. When I got back from vacation, they made an extraordinarily motivating pitch. My wife Amy helped me decide. I looked at Warner and the music business—and I’m bullish on both—and said, “What the hell? I’ll grow my career to the next level and have an opportunity to work with amazing, talented executives. Let’s do it.”

Was being offered a financial stake in the company a deciding factor?

It was extremely important to have equity, but that itself wasn’t enough. The fact that I knew both Roger [Ames] and Edgar [Bronfman Jr.] so well, and they’ve both been instrumental in my career. I’ve been at Def Jam 21 years. This was the hardest decision in the world. If all the elements hadn’t been aligned, I would have stayed. I love Doug [Morris] and I love the organization. He’s been incredible to me, an amazing mentor. For me to leave my company, my brand, my artists… If everything hadn’t been perfect, I wouldn’t have done it. But it was.

 

What is your first order of business at WMG?

The first thing is to learn what I’m dealing with and understand the organization and the people. Show them the massive amount of respect I have for those those who put points on the board. Ask them what I can do for them, and how I can contribute. I’m going to be supportive, encouraging and decisive… I’m going to work very hard.

 

It’s been reported that there will be $250 million in cost-cutting once the acquisition is complete.

Let’s not frame it that way. What the investors want is a relationship between expenses and revenues. This has to be run as a business.

 

A large part of your job will be restructuring the company.

It’s all about having the absolute finest, most dynamic team. That’s the only way to win in a creative business. And that goes from the top executives to the very bowels of the organization. The artists deserve that.

 

What has been the reaction at IDJ to your exit?

Everybody is shell-shocked. I’m embarrassed for this business about how porous information is. We should all work harder to be more discrete and not focus on gossip and rumors, but breaking new talent and bringing a great business back to its health.

 

This is a new role for you.

Every day I woke up, my whole thing was to defeat the majors. All my life. When I became a major, I was scared because all I had done was try to kill them. But my wife said, “You don’t have to be like your predecessors… You can make it your own.”

 

So you’re going to run WMG like the world’s largest independent label.

Because that’s what it is. And I intend to follow my wife’s advice. I  plan to make it my own.

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