YouTube’s Lyor Cohen and Diane Warren headline Stockholm’s Polar Talks

Lyor Cohen, global head of music for YouTube and Google, and Diane Warren, songwriter extraordinaire, took the stage at Musikaliska Kvarteret theater in Stockholm on Monday (May 23) to be interviewed by Swedish journalist Jan Gradvall. Their appearance was part of Polar Talks, an annual day of conversations about “the power of music”, according to Marie Ledin, chief executive of Sweden’s Polar Music Prize. The award was founded by his father, ABBA manager Stig Anderson, in 1992 to honor the world’s greatest pop and classical musicians and the Polar Talks were added to the agenda a dozen years ago. years.

Cohen’s interview kicked things off as he answered questions about his life growing up and his current work on YouTube. Asked what advice he would give to emerging artists in the industry, Cohen said people who work in the industry tell artists they should always be there. “One of the saddest parts of this time is that these artists have to do likes, followers, subscribers and have so much duty in a social sense and last week I heard this man running a big house records say, ‘Focus on’ once in a while awesome.’ I found it perfect.”

Gradvall wanted to know how Cohen became interested in early rap music. “My brother was a carpentry teacher in South Central Los Angeles at a high school called Verben Dei,” he replied. “He used to take me to their basketball games. And every break, a guy on bass and a guy with drums and dancers would run around the middle of the court and do some of the funkiest beats. As a young child, I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Much later, when I listened to KDAY (R&B station from Los Angeles), I recognized many of these beats. I started to get interested in it and was curious to know what it was about. I went to work at the Bank of Israel in Beverly Hills and I was really miserable. My parents always encouraged the four boys to do everything in their power to avoid work and find passion.

Cohen hired a new trio called Run-DMC to headline a local concert. Joseph Simmons, known as DJ Run, called his brother Russell, co-founder of Def Jam with Rick Rubin, and said he should hire Cohen to work for the band. Cohen flew to New York and was immediately sent to London. “That’s how I became their tour manager for three and a half years. If I hadn’t gone to New York, what would I have done? I have no idea.”

One of Cohen’s most memorable gestures was inviting Adidas executive Angelo Anastasio to see Run-DMC perform at Madison Square Garden. “It was one of the most miserable nights of my life because it was the first time a rapper played MSG. It wasn’t just an achievement for Run-DMC, it was an achievement for the form of art. I remember backstage being horribly overrun [with people] and the big MSG boss said, “There’s not enough money for me to have another rapper back in the backyard.” It was a great learning experience for me because I was in control and everything was getting out of sync. But the positive thing that came out of that show was Run-DMC’s genuine passion and love for the Adidas sneaker. They loved the product so much. That’s why it was so great [endorsement] agreement for Adidas and for Run-DMC. But I would have liked to be more sophisticated, I would have made a better deal for the children. Still, the deal Cohen struck became a template for other hip-hop groups to sign major endorsement deals.

Speaking about his current work on YouTube, Cohen told Gradvall that the business nurtures the fringe and the avant-garde. “And suddenly you get the explosion of Afro beats or Latin music. “We went to Nigeria about four years ago and encountered the ecosystem there. I write in my blog that if you listened to the melodies, you would know for sure that they would have a global impact. It’s nice to see Burna Boy selling Madison Square Garden and all the growth like that, something you wouldn’t see without the growth of YouTube. I like to change things when they work, not when they don’t. I remember when I started [record label and entertainment company] 300, on the front of the office door, I painted a line from Bob Dylan: “If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.” This is how I feel. When you’re in friction and sparks fly, you get burned and I certainly got burned. The joy I feel seeing things happen outweighs any disappointments or burns I feel when I’m deep in friction.

“I know it seems strange that I’ve moved from traditional media to YouTube. They’re still trying to figure out why I’m here and why I’m reasonably successful. For me, I’m the musician who works at YouTube and Google. I like to put together things and so last week we had an offsite meeting in London and I asked the music industry to meet with the head of engineering, the head of product and the head of user experience and I stepped aside and let them build beautiful products. We have two billion daily active users. We have a lot of people who rely on the platform, both the user and the creator. is very exciting to see what is happening.

The conversation turned to how artists and songwriters make money from YouTube. “Last week I had the great pleasure of having a fireside chat with Björn [Ulvaeus] of ABBA, London. He is deeply passionate and so are we about improving metadata. We live in a digital world with imperfect information. There are a lot of wonderful compositions and songwriters who are not being compensated because of imperfect information and Björn has this program called Sessions. We work with him to make sure the metadata is great and whoever was there to record and perform on a composition gets paid. Now it’s all memory after the fact and lawyers and managers forget what they agreed. All these problems with time will be solved.

After Cohen’s interview, Warren took the stage to speak with Gradvall. When asked about the secret to her success and her working method, the Los Angeles-based songwriter and winner of the Polar Music Prize 2020 needed only three words: “I show up”.

Annika Berglund

Although Warren bought his own building on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood to house her own publishing company, Realsongs, she still works in her “cavern”, as she calls her old office in what used to be the RCA building on Sunset Blvd. Gradvall referred to the severe Northridge earthquake in 1994 which shook the building so much that all of Warren’s music equipment and tapes were thrown to the ground. “It always looks like that,” Warren told her. “Is it because of superstition?” He asked. “No, I’m just lazy,” she said to much laughter from the audience. She admitted that she took the keyboards so she wouldn’t have to play them while sitting on the floor.

With similar good humor, Warren answered a question about being a 13-time Oscar loser. She joked that it was the all-time record for a woman in the almost 100-year history of the Oscars. But then she added, “Everything is fine. There are only five nominated songs out of hundreds of songs written for movies each year. It’s a victory for me.

Pressed to pick her favorite from all the songs she’s written, Warren quoted “Because You Loved Me” from “Up Close and Personal,” which has a deeper meaning for her as it was a tribute to her father. , who always encouraged her to write when she was growing up in Van Nuys, California. “It became a great wedding song and a great funeral song. It’s really weird,” Warren said to more laughter. She also mentioned “Til I Hear It from You,” which she wrote with Lady Gaga for the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground.” While the film deals with campus rape, Warren said the lyrics could apply to many personal situations, including being bullied.

Warren also spoke about what inspired her to become a songwriter rather than an artist. “I read what was in parentheses under the names of the artists. I saw ‘Goffin and King’ on the Drifters’ 45 ‘Up On the Roof.’ She wanted to be Gerry Goffin and Carole King, not the Drifters.

Warren also brought up Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, saying the band told an interviewer they had “sold out” by recording a Diane Warren song. “Maybe it was weird at the time,” she admitted, “but it’s the biggest hit they’ve ever had.”

Warren received his Polar Music Prize from King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden during the ceremony held on Tuesday (May 24) at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. Although she was named the winner in 2020, there was no ceremony that year or in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

Comments are closed.