Former Warner Music Group recorded music chief Lyor Cohen has named his new label ‘300’ and completed his distribution deal with Atlantic, he revealed to Billboard in an interview in this week’s magazine.
Cohen is starting 300 with his fellow ex-Warner Music colleagues Todd Moscowitz (ex-Warner Bros president) and Kevin Liles (ex-EVP Warner Music). All three had also worked together at Def Jam, which Cohen ran in the ’80s and ’90s.
The name 300 comes from Greek history of the 300 Spartans that fought in a vicious battle against thousands of Persian soldiers in 480 BC.
“It was a battle that changed the way wars are fought,” says Cohen. “These guys found that if you were well synchronized, strategic, loyal with great planning and preparedness you could do much more with less and be highly effective.”
Cohen’s thinking is that having a smarter, nimbler, more efficiently run music company that uses fewer resources to do more for artists has become necessary in the 21st Century music business. The idea is to better align cost structure to the industry’s current needs, where many new artists are naturally entrepreneurial by marketing and building buzz themselves on platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
It may be small but 300 will also have the flexibility to tap into the global distribution infrastructure of a major music label.
“We’re deep believers in the record business,” says Moscowitz, who describes 300 as a content company rather than label. “And we feel artists should be also be rewarded for the risks they take.”
Over the last 14 months Cohen has spent a lot of his time with digital companies trying to understand exactly what the possibilities could be and it has hugely influenced how he and his partners have structured their new business.
“I spent an enormous amount of time inside these digital distribution companies just talking and engaging with them and understanding what these companies now know about our music fans — something we in the music business never knew for all the years I’ve worked in it. I see a lot of opportunities and asked an insane amount of questions.”
The new company is looking to recruit 25-30 music veterans in areas like radio promotion and marketing alongside younger staffers who breath digital particularly in areas like data mining and data management, explains Liles.
“We want entrepreneurial people, industry veterans that are loving the opportunity of the change to the here and now,” says Liles. “We also want people from outside the industry, chief content officers, chief consumer officers.”
The company is getting backing from a wide range of investors, led by Google, which has put in around $5 million, according to one person familiar with the terms.
“With YouTube, we have a long history of supporting artists and content creators. So we’re excited to invest in 300, a new, innovative company designed to create opportunities for artists,” said a Google spokesman in a statement.
Another key investor was investment firm Columbus Nova, which recently took a significant stake in digital music service Rhapsody. He’s also being backed by Israeli-American hedge fund billionaire Noam Gottesman’s Toms Capital, whose offices Cohen has been working from since soon after he left Warner Music (the company is currently seeking their first formal office). Former Warner Music digital chief Alex Zubillaga (and in-law of Edgar Bronfman Jr.) is another backer. Zubillaga has a track record of digital investments including FanBridge and Chartbeat. One other investor is Andres Santo Domingo, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Kemado Records and a son of one of Colombia’s richest families. There are other investors who have declined to be identified. The investment agreements were pulled together by veteran media investment banker Aryeh Bourkoff and Ori Winitzer of LionTree.
Despite speculation around the time of Cohen’s exit from Warner Music in September 2012, a year after billionaire Len Blavatnik took control, his old team and its current owner could not be happier to have him back in the fold, albeit as his own self-contained unit.
“Lyor, Todd and Kevin all have well-established reputations as accomplished executives and entrepreneurs,” says the normally quite reticent Blavatnik in a statement. “This agreement will provide Warner with a great source of artistic talent and creativity and we are thrilled that they chose Warner as their home.”
Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald, the co-chairs of Atlantic Records, are especially excited about the prospect of having Cohen focused on the music and artists again and being part of their extended team.
“I’ve seen them out there again on the hunt for new artists. I’m really confident in them knowing the A&R talent of the three of them,” says Kallman.