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I.B. BAD: CAN THINGS
GET ANY CRAZIER?

INCREDULITY REIGNS: What was the YouTube brass thinking when they hired Lyor Cohen to fill the newly created role of Global Head of Music? Cohen is without question the most negatively chronicled individual in the music business, and his Snapchat feed has made him the poster boy for pomposity. The question on everyone’s lips is “Why him?” and thus far there have been few plausible theories. It’s highly unlikely that Cohen has been brought in to negotiate new rates with rights holders UMG, Sony Music and WMG, when his relationships with those companies have been questionable at best. Insiders feel he possesses neither the business acumen nor a basic understanding of the economics involved to make this deal himself.

Will Cohen handle label and artist relations for YouTube, thus becoming the latest music executive to be tapped by a tech company to play such a role? He’d then be competing against Apple Music’s Jimmy Iovine and Larry Jackson and Spotify’s Troy Carter, who share a rarefied skill for connecting with artists, while Cohen’s own track record with artists has been a series of disasters. For example, he got into a huge fight with Madonna that caused her to leave WMG after 25 years of hits, while Burnstein and Mensch moved Metallica off Elektra, and eventually off Warners altogether, to get as far away from Cohen as possible. Madonna now records for Interscope, while Metallica’s first self-released album arrives 11/18. In his dealings with artists and executives alike, Cohen has burned too many bridges to count.

Or could this move possibly have something to do with Google acquiring Tidal? Cohen does have a longstanding relationship with Jay Z, though it’s been based on Jay taking all the chips off the table in all the deals they’ve made. Google could use a premium service; Android is the #1 OS globally, but Google Play and YouTube Red have zero traction.

Cohen has always followed his own agenda while disregarding those of the people he’s worked for. True to character, he came back from his three-week honeymoon on 9/28, strolled into the 300 offices and dropped this bombshell on his staff, none of whom had any idea the boss was abruptly walking away from the company he’d started with Google’s $5m investment. He bailed after failing to secure a new distribution deal for the label, so the timing of his exit couldn’t have been better for him—or worse for 300’s employees.

The list of those Cohen has misled or blindsided during the course of his career includes his longtime lieutenant Todd Moscowitz. Now that Moscowitz is no longer joined at the hip to Cohen, will he be able to make a comeback, either formally being named the head of 300 after running its A&R and marketing departments, or going to another major?

STREAM LINES: Is streaming changing the way the rights holders are looking at the A&R process? Has disposable pop become more valuable now that that they’re getting paid for home listening, as the power of the playlist becomes ever greater? That begs the question, what is the appropriate balance between disposable pop and artist development under this new model? And how will the balance look a year from now, as the streaming of disposable pop becomes increasingly lucrative?... UMG’s nonexclusive policy has led the streaming services to increase pressure on Sony and WMG to deliver exclusives to make up the difference. But managers of major acts feel exclusives are not the best look for their acts, as they look to build bigger brands for their artists by getting greater exposure. Of course, some artists are willing to forgo wall-to-wall exposure if the check for their exclusivity is big enough… The streaming services can quickly tell if a new major artist’s record is a brick—sometimes within hours—by studying the skip rate, thus enabling labels to pull back marketing money.

GOING SOLO: How are the big artists who are managing their own careers doing? Troy Carter won his legal battle with Lady Gaga, who has a new album dropping 10/21 and will headline the Super Bowl in February. Now all eyes turn to Bruno Mars, who’s just released first single since the departure of respected manager Brandon Creed sold 60k in its first three days of release, while expectations are sky-high for his upcoming album.  

U.K. ACTION: Insiders say Sonny Takhar is exiting his post as SYCO President and using private-equity money to launch an L.A.-based company that will take a page from SYCO, with involvement in all aspects of artists’ careers. The newco will have an affiliation with Sony and most likely Columbia. Takhar will remain at SYCO until the end of the year. Will his departure from Sony U.K. throw greater responsibility on Jason Iley and his team? The news has renewed chatter about the role to be played by incoming exec Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, who’s been on gardening leave since resigning as Polydor President a few months ago. Some speculate that a significant job awaits him.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Russell Simmons, Doug Morris, Roger Ames, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Len Blavatnik and Stephen Cooper.

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