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YouTube hires Lyor Cohen, hip-hop heavyweight, to run music

Google's massive video site brings in a heavy hitter to swing hard against Spotify and Apple and help YouTube navigate a tense time with the record industry.

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Lyor Cohen will lead YouTube's music business, the company said Wednesday.

Noa Griffel

YouTube has a new band leader.

Google's giant video site hired Lyor Cohen, a decades-long recording industry power player, as its head of music, the company said Wednesday.

Cohen ran Warner Music Group, one of the world's three major labels, for eight years. He helped usher to success a who's who of hip-hop royalty -- Run DMC, Public Enemy, Jay Z, Kanye West -- as well as stars in other genres like Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran.

The hire comes at a sensitive time for YouTube's music business. YouTube is renegotiating its licensing deals with labels this year, all while the record industry has been beating a drum that the service is the prime example of a "value gap." The complaint is that the massive amount of listening that occurs free there doesn't match up with the level of revenue it drums up.

YouTube didn't directly discuss his role in those talks in its announcement, but as head of music he's likely to be instrumental in such discussions.

Competition is also intensifying among subscriptions music services. YouTube entered that race later than other big rivals, like Apple, and both Apple Music and market leader Spotify have been rushing to hoover up as many subscribers as possible.