Maintain a Smaller Roster; Spend and Make Bigger Bucks: Lyor Cohen’s Tips for Success
As the founder of the second-largest independent label in America, the mastermind behind the successes of Fetty Wap, Young Thug, and Migos, Lyor Cohen knows some things. The 300 Entertainment head honcho recently sat down with rap journalist gawds Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller (for their Rap Radar podcast series) to talk about being in charge of a rapidly growing entity, his heaviest industry philosophies, and some lessons he’s learned along the course of his illustrious career. If you’re pushing for a career in the music business, grab a pen and paper—you’ll want to take some notes.
Understand Your Role
Lyor prefers to fight for his artists behind the scenes, rather than trying to control and manipulate their content. He stresses the importance of label executives and artist representation being a frame for the artwork. In his eyes, the purpose of a label is not to have a brush in the paint, but rather to guide the artist’s hand.
Rappin’ Ain’t Easy
Lyor explains that lots of labels like to jump the gun, marketing their new artists before they’ve fully developed their brand. “Why does the world feel like a rapper can be ready out the gate?” Lyor asks. “It takes time for a rapper to understand that lane.” There’s a certain incubation period, he says, that’s necessary for curating a great artist, and that often gets lost in our fast-paced digital culture.
The Boutique System
At 300 Entertainment, Lyor has no private office. He works among his employees, who, as he describes, like to shout to one another to communicate the importance of a decision-making moment. This intimate environment and no-frills attitude puts the emphasis on the artists, and allows the 300 team to listen to the details, helping them understand their clients. For Lyor, his mindset is “How can I be helpful?” instead of “Here’s how you’re going to make me money.”
“The only time you have a problem in this business is when you withhold bad news,” Lyor says. He stresses the importance of having a Plan B and a Plan C already organized and ready to be executed, because in this business, changes of agendas are inevitable.
Celebrate Your Successes
Lyor notes that a major shift in the industry is a lack of communal celebration. “Why isn’t anyone championing others’ successes?” he asks. To coincide with this idea, he urges up-and-comers to take emotional snapshots and to not neglect the present. He asks music industrialists to pull over and embrace the goodness in the now, rather than being constantly preoccupied with making the future better.
Keep Your Circle Small
Lyor’s latest mantra? Maintain a smaller roster; spend and make bigger bucks. He wants to have more immersive, committed relationships with a tight-knit group of artists. This stresses that “we’re all in this together” mentality, as he notes the importance of partnering with artists, rather than hiring them, to create and maintain healthy creative-business partnerships.