Ted Cohen, one of the first music industry executives to embrace digital distribution, is leaving EMI Group today to start a consulting practice -- as what was once a geeky niche has matured into a flourishing online business for record labels.
Cohen, 56, is credited with recognizing in 1999 that the renegade Napster file-sharing service didn't represent the death of the business but a new way to sell music. As EMI's senior vice president of digital development, Cohen pushed the company to the vanguard of new technology.
Cohen urged EMI to become the first major music company to make its repertoire available to digital music services that predated Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store.
The company was the first to allow listeners to download permanent copies of songs, transfer tunes to portable music players and make copies to blank CDs.
"He very much was one of the first of the senior label executives to bridge the technology and content gap," said Sean Ryan, former chief executive of Listen.com, an early online music subscription service. "That's really what excites Ted."
But as online sales grew and became more integral to the labels' business -- EMI this month reported a 135% surge in revenue from downloads of songs, ring tones and other digital products -- Cohen said he found himself missing the more entrepreneurial spirit of his early years at EMI.
"This division was like a start-up," Cohen said. "Then we got acquired."
Cohen said he decided to return to consulting to once again help companies find new business models, work with early stage technologies and form alliances.
As a founding partner of TAG Strategic, Cohen will help companies, such as Gibson Musical Instruments, make transitions online.
Cohen -- a longtime technophile who carries a constantly squawking collection of mobile phones and e-mail pagers -- will be a consultant to EMI, identifying trends, providing intelligence and representing the company on some trade groups.
Before joining EMI in 2000, Cohen spent much of the 1990s working on interactive videos at Philips Consumer Electronics, then became a consultant to Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Liquid Audio Inc.
"Ted was very much of a connector of new ideas and a connector of people, bringing them together to create business," said Will Poole, Microsoft's senior vice president of the market expansion group, who has known Cohen since his days as a consultant.
"He's been a good friend of many in the industry in the sense that he was always open to creativity and innovation and tried to make things happen."