Updated: Mar 6, 2020
YouTube’s Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen has called out the record industry’s obsession with data.
Speaking on stage on Tuesday evening (November 19) in New York at a YouTube Music event celebrating 45 years of Hip Hop, the veteran record exec suggested that “the industry is so focused on the data that it’s a problem”.
“Right now, everybody’s so drunk off the data that they’re putting these kids in places prior to having any artist development,” he added.
The conversation featured Tuma Basa, Director of Urban Music at YouTube, and was moderated by Rob Markman, veteran hip-hop journalist and Genius’ Head of Artist relations.
The intimate gathering covered breaking into music, how data is affecting the modern industry, and the future of Hip Hop as a global commodity.
Hip Hop legend Fab 5 Freddy made a guest appearance on stage along with pioneering music journalist, Bönz Malone.
Other notable attendees included rappers Chuck D, Runny Ray, and Fat Joe.
“YOU GUYS ARE VERY LUCKY THAT YOU NOW HAVE DATA BUT [IT NEEDS TO BE] DATA COMBINED WITH HUMAN INSTINCT AND ALSO STILL BEING ABLE TO SEE AROUND THE CORNER ABOUT THE PERSON THAT YOU’RE GETTING INVOLVED WITH.”LYOR COHEN
Said Cohen: “I think the industry is so focused on the data that it’s a problem. You guys are very lucky that you now have data but [it needs to be] data combined with human instinct and also still being able to see around the corner about the person that you’re getting involved with.
“To me that’s the magic. Right now everybody’s so drunk off the data that they’re putting these kids in places prior to having any artist development.
“I think if we could potentially dial back and understand that the data is helpful, but you also need to be passionate about an artist and spend time with that artist.”
“I AM A BELIEVER IN THE COMBINATION OF GUT AND DATA, BUT I THINK GUT SHOULD LEAD FIRST. I’M A BELIEVER IN WHEN THE DATA SUPPORTS YOUR GUT.”TUMA BASA, YOUTUBE
Tuma Basa, Director of Urban Music at YouTube, said: “I am a believer in the combination of gut and data, but I think gut should lead first. I’m a believer in when the data supports your gut.
“All it is is confirmation and emotional quality control. It’s nothing different than what editors back in the day did when it came to choosing magazine covers or A&Rs seeing early signs.
“All data is to me is a signal. That’s it. It’s not the end all be all. It says, ‘Hey, something is going on here’ and then interpreting it.”
In addition to discussing his rise through the hip-hop business at Def Jam and beyond, Cohen also discussed his modern day professional home at YouTube.
“YouTube is about scale,” he said. “They want to build products that the users really appreciate and what better appreciation for a user than music, a global art form. When you say ‘Hey Google’ you don’t ask, ‘How do I get into my car I just locked?’, you say, ‘Google, play some Rick James,’ and it plays Rick James.
“What we’ve done is humanize and collaborate and partner with the industry to dream up what’s next. How can we help artists find their next fan? How can the labels utilize these incredible resources to make their jobs easier?
“To me that’s the most important thing YouTube can do.”
“WHAT [YOUTUBE HAS] DONE IS HUMANIZE AND COLLABORATE AND PARTNER WITH THE INDUSTRY TO DREAM UP WHAT’S NEXT.”LYOR COHEN, YOUTUBE
Yet throughout the discussion, it was clear that Cohen’s pre-occupation remains artist development, and the high-stakes game of being an artist (and, indeed, investing in an artist’s career) in the streaming age.
“I’m wrong on a daily basis, but try very hard not to be wrong twice,” he said. “You learn from all the bad moves you make more than you do the good moves. Catching an L is not the worst thing in the world.
“That’s the other thing that’s breaking my heart these days–everybody thinks you only get one shot. Baseball players get paid hundreds of millions of dollars to get it more wrong than they get it right.”
Addressing new artists breaking into the business today, Cohen gave some timeless advice: “No shortcuts! I don’t want any shortcuts.
“Take your time with it. Build your fanbase and then people will understand.