Seymour Stein - The Basics:
- Who - Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records
- Born - 1942 in Brooklyn, New York
- Significant Achievements - signing The Ramones, The Smiths, and Madonna
- Active in the Industry - 1966 - present
The Early Years:
Seymour Stein made music his calling at an early age. His first job was working in the chart reserch division of Billboard Magazine. He started this job in 1958, a time when music charts exploded in popularity thanks to the enormous boom in rock music in the 1950s and Stein had the opportunity to learn a lot more than how to compile charts in this position.
Stein eventually left Billboard, and in 1966 with the help of producer Richard Gottehrer, he started Sire Productions. The production company had minimal success, but it laid the foundation for what would take off for Stein - Sire Records.
Enter The Ramones:
Technically, Sire Records didn't get started with The Ramones - in fact, the first release came in 1973 and was by Focus, a Dutch prog-rock group. It is, however, The Ramones that will be forever linked with launching Sire Records.
Stein saw The Ramones playing at the epicenter of the US punk scene, CBGB in 1975, and signed them almost on the spot. One year and one shoestring budget later came The Ramones. This album took the world by storm and continues to be considered one of the most groundbreaking albums in the history of music. Sire Records was officially on the map.
Major Label Distribution:
Just after the release of The Ramones, Warner Music Group came knocking and gave Sire Records a distribution deal. For Stein's part, this deal gave him the backing he needed to continue to cherry pick bands - often from the stages of CBGB - for his roster. One other significant signing from this period was Talking Heads, who were signed in 1976 and became another one of Stein's early successes.
It's New Wave - You Can Quote Me on It:
A major problem Stein faced in his early days was convincing radio stations to play his music. They were a little gun shy about new music as they were just burned on the whole "disco" affair. They had embraced that fad and failed to get out quickly enough, and listeners had turned away because of it. Stein was was linked so closely with the punk scene, which DJs believed would die a disco style death. To distance himself from punk, Stein labeled his acts "new wave," and a new genre was born.
A Little Act Called Madonna:
Stein generally tended to choose underground acts with a punk/new wave aesthetic for his label, but he saw something he couldn't ignore in an up and coming musician called Madonna in 1982. From a hospital bed where he was recovering from a heart attack scare, Stein hammered out a deal with Madonna to release her first single, Everybody. The rest, as they say, is music history. Although Madonna didn't stay on Sire for her entire career, she arguably had her biggest successes with Stein at the helm and credits him with making her a superstar.
Sire Records Then and Now:
The distribution deal with Warners gave Stein the resources he needed to build Sire into a powerful and respected label, and this deal lasted until 1995. Stein then became president of Elektra Records, another division of Warners, and took his Sire Records there. In 2000, Stein left Warners completely and formed a partnership with London Records, creating the London - Sire imprint. This deal was short lived and in 2003, Sire went back to Warner for distribution and functions as a division of that major label.