This leads to the second response to digital—a strategic approach called 360. The idea is essentially this: When an artist signs with Warner, the company becomes his or her partner in everything. The concept came to Cohen five years ago at a concert at Madison Square Garden, and it’s a management story that sounds like a parable: “I’m with my son, Az; he’s 12 years old at the time. The whole place is sold out, and he says, ‘Dad, I’m so proud of you. Look at all these people. Look at the action you’re getting a piece of.’ I lean over and say, ‘I don’t have any action.’ And he looks at me with such disappointment—it was ridiculous. So we leave the venue, and he goes, ‘Dad, they’re 10 deep at the merch booth. Don’t worry—at least you have action there.’ And I felt that small. That’s when it all just clicked for me; that was the end of that bullshit.”
Under 360, 10 percent of Warner Music’s revenues now come from what the business press calls “nontraditional” sources. This past May the company was sold to Access Industries, a conglomerate headed by Russian-born Len Blavatnik, for $3.3 billion in cash. Blavatnik is a Cohen friend, and Cohen came with the company.
We’re now back in his living room—a room, Cohen tells me, where Neil Young danced after his brain aneurysm surgery with “cords coming out of his head.” I ask to hear more about Cohen’s business approach. This time, what comes out is the Bible. “I show up,” he says. “When God first introduces himself in the Bible—now, can you imagine the guys who wrote that book? You think they just randomly came up with the words? Or do you think it took weeks, months, maybe years to figure out, What is God going to say to man?—first words he says: ‘I am here.’ I am here. Imagine. And that is so powerful now, in the digital world, where you don’t have to show up. It’s inconvenient. It’s far away. It oftentimes doesn’t fit into your schedule. But there’s so much information there. I show up. Period. End of subject.”
A Cohen day is a crowded day. It’s after nine, and he needs to attend a concert by Death Cab for Cutie, whose new album he has just released. We pile into a chauffeured Mercedes minivan—“This is not my car,” Cohen says, without further explanation—where I experience the thrill of watching Cohen swallow music. “So now I’m gonna play you a joint,” he says, and his whole delivery changes: His big ears seem to expand; his head swings side to side. When we pull up at the Bowery Ballroom, the bouncer—a slab-shouldered African-American with a Dostoyevsky beard—knows Cohen on sight: “What’s up, brother?” They shake. Cohen asks, “Is this the fastest way through? I wanna go right into the show.”