Exclusive: Lyor Returning to Music Biz - And Not As a Manager

Lyor Cohen is on the verge of returning to the business he loves so much, following his exit in September from Warner Music Group, where he oversaw all of recorded music.

The business has been a far duller place without Cohen, and many -- including Atlantic Records chairman/COO Julie Greenwald (No. 19), a longtime protégée and colleague -- have missed his passion during the last six months. “Under Lyor’s leadership, we had incredible success and an ability to break acts on a global basis,” Greenwald says. She gives Cohen credit for global breakouts of fun. and Ed Sheeran. He also brought chart-toppers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to WMG’s Alternative Distribution Alliance.

Given that he spent much of his childhood moving between different countries, Cohen -- more so than many other U.S. executives -- sees the industry’s future opportunities lying in global sales. He put a global priorities system into place at Warner Music, which was first implemented with breaking Bruno Mars internationally. “He made the world a smaller place for us here at Warner Music,” Greenwald says.

It’s a sign that he parted ways fairly amicably with Warner Music that his non-compete term has been relatively short. It’s also important because Billboard has learned that Cohen is working on returning to the content creation side of the business rather than, as has been much speculated, a dedicated artist management role. He’s hoping to combine his decades of experience as an independent with his insight as a top influencer at the majors to develop the type of business he believes the industry needs today, according to a source familiar with his plans.

In Cohen’s world, content is still very much king and, in fact, it becomes even more important as he sees the upheaval in the distribution landscape settling down. “Lyor’s an ‘artist person’ -- he loves artists and lives for them,” Greenwald says. “For him, ‘artist development’ is not just a buzzword, but an actionable item.”

That is why, even in a currently undefined role, Cohen still wields power. Friends and rivals alike are curious to hear what his next move will be, and many are ready to work again with a rejuvenated Cohen, away from the restrictions and disciplines of a buttoned-down corporate structure. His record of breaking acts against all odds and championing his artists on a 360-degree basis will almost guarantee him an influence that many of his peers can only envy.