Lyor Cohen: The 2014 Billboard Power 100
NO. 74

Lyor Cohen

Founder, 300

Back in startup mode for the music business’ next reboot

Emerging after a 14-month stint as a uniquely connected industry outsider, Lyor Cohen returns to the spotlight with a new label, a new mission and a new mandate.

With 300, the Warner Music Group-distributed label and management company he launched in November with former WMG executives Todd Moscowitz and Kevin Liles, the Def Jam pioneer and former WMG recorded-music chairman has carte blanche to reimagine the way a label should think and operate in a digital-first world.

“We don’t see artists as recording for us—we see us as working for artists,” Cohen says. “We want more intimate, immersive relationships with artists, managers, agents and promoters, all of whom are empowered to participate actively in the artist development process—that’s the key proposition.”

Cohen relishes the opportunity to helm what is essentially a startup, touting the benefits of what he calls a “boutique approach” to the music business. With a planned staff size of about 25, 300 is in a targeted talent-acquisition phase, recently luring Razor & Tie’s Pete Giberga to serve as head of A&R.

“We’re not interested in being the biggest, but we want to be the best,” Cohen says. “We’re going to leverage the transition to digital to yield bigger and better results from a much smaller capsule.”

With investment backing from Google, technology is integral to 300’s “more with less” ethos. Cohen is bullish on streaming, which he cites as the industry’s biggest opportunity for a return to growth. After leaving WMG, he spent time embedded with an array of digital music platforms, an experience that gave him a taste in particular for big data and the insight it can provide into consumer demographics and behavior.

The last time he was building an underdog young label, Cohen helped turn Def Jam into a household name. Then, as now, he’s slipped into the mind frame of an insurgent with a point to prove.

“Unless you had a certain point of view, there used to be all these barriers to entry for people trying to do anything in this business,” he says. “I think we can all agree that those barriers have dramatically come down.”