What Independent Artists Can Learn from Lyor Cohen’s Reddit AMA
Lyor Cohen is a name you've probably heard but might not be well-acquainted with. You're tweaking if that's true.
The 56-year-old Los Angeles native has been involved with hip-hop since the near beginnings, helping to build up Def Jam and Warner Music Group. Over the years he has helped to guide the careers of artists like The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Kanye West and just about everyone in between.
Last week, Cohen teamed up with Reddit for an AMA and the resulting conversation was packed with interesting nuggets and tips for navigating the constantly-changing landscape of the contemporary music industry. 300 Entertaintment, which Cohen founded in 2012 alongside fellow industry vets Roger Gold, Kevin Liles and Todd Moscowitz, is focused on working closely with artists, while trying to redefine what a "label" means to an artist.
We sifted through the AMA, which was strewn with independent rappers pimping their material, and pulled out some of the better quotables and tips for all you independent acts still grinding.
"I think labels in general need to adapt. Not as a reaction to the DIY, but more because it's critical to transition from old media to a progressive one......I agree with you. It's (standing out in the contemporary music environment) really really difficult. That's why labels are increasingly more important. "
Yes, obviously. This answer is a given and was offered in response to a question about the current trend of independent artists, like Chance The Rapper, who have adapted their hustle to release music for free while operating their own business structure. The fact that labels need to adapt isn't a new or unique thought, but Cohen is actively a part of helping create what the music industry might look like in the next decade or so. The young label has positioned itself to be one of the more forward-thinking outlets in the game today. The ascendance of artists like Fetty Wap and Young Thug speak to their ability to work closely with acts to build a solid portfolio. It's also a smart move. As blogs, streaming services and the other building blocks of the recent independent movement that spanned from 2008 to present disintegrate and assimilate into a more corporate-leaning dichotomy, flexible, progressive labels like 300 will likely help to dictate the future.
"Risk tasking is the important important, core principle of being a high quality a&r person. Not following the leader. Breaking in....by all means necessary."
Once again, nothing too crazy about this statement, Cohen really didn't go out on a limb during his AMA conversation, but of course he didn't get to where he is today by playing things safe. Everyone in the world wants to be an artist. With the advent of previously stated building blocks suddenly it seems a feasible goal to everyone as well. Those that are willing to bleed, struggle and fight for their work that will ultimately find success. It's a symptom of choosing a life of making music, but one that is important to keep in the back of your head if you're trying to win on the come up.
Thanks for this question. Being a road manager at heart, there's no better way than connecting an artist through the live, personal appearance.
This answer came in response to a question about fostering real connections between artists and fans in this internet-driven reality. I've encountered plenty of artists that have found some real success via the internet but are regularly skeptical about traveling out of town to play small shows in unfamiliar places. The reality of the industry is that you can tweet, Facebook, repost, and like your heart away, but if you're not getting boots on the ground outside of your own neighborhood or town, it will probably be all for naught. Shout out van travels!
Scott was Cohen's response when he was asked who he believes is the best performer in hip-hop today. I can think of a handful of Lollapalooza workers and festival organizers, along with a few Chicago Police officers, who might think otherwise. For those of you who didn't see the footage, Scott damn near started a riot after missing half his set. I don't get the excitement around an act like Travi$ Scott. I'm not the only one, either. I can't agree with Cohen on this one and independent artists shouldn't be tempted to act crazy on stage in order to merely garner attention and praise.