Seymour Stein leaves WMG, heading for the next chapter in his career
Music industry icon Seymour Stein, co-founder of Sire Records, the man who signed and released albums by Madonna, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, the Pretenders, and many others – will be leaving Warner Music Group after four decades with the company.
The announcement was made by WMG together with the news that Stein was honored with the Recording Academy’s Trustees Award last Saturday in Los Angeles.
Seymour Stein Honored with Trustees Award from the Recording Academy
Sire Records Co-Founder and Chairman Announces Departure from Warner Music Group
Sire Records Chairman and musical industry icon Seymour Stein was honored with the Recording Academy’s prestigious Trustees Award on Saturday night, July 14th, at the organization’s Special Merit Awards ceremony and tribute concert, held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Billed as GRAMMY Salute to Music Legends, the event will be broadcast later this year as part of the Great Performances series on PBS.
The award was presented to Stein by Henry Rollins, who said, “Seymour is the ultimate visionary indie, hearts & minds music executive of all time. His unquenchable passion has made the world a better, more open, free and cool place for almost six decades… Seymour, thank you for being the kind of record man that makes music history.”
The Trustees Award is presented to individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording. Past recipients have included legendary music executives such as Ahmet Ertegun, Nesuhi Ertegun, Jac Holzman, Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin, Mo Ostin, Chris Blackwell, Clive Davis, and many others.
Stein is the author of the acclaimed autobiography, Siren Song, which was published last month by St. Martin’s Press. In addition to his Grammy Award, Stein was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he co-founded in 1983; has been honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame; and was the first recipient of Billboard’s Icon Award.
Coinciding with his Recording Academy honor, Stein has announced his departure from Warner Music Group. Stein, who co-founded Sire Records in 1967 as an independent label, joined WMG in 1976 when Sire became part of Warner Bros. Records. For a half century, Stein has been Sire’s driving visionary and creative force, signing such groundbreaking artists as Ramones, Talking Heads, Madonna, Pretenders, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Cure, k.d. lang, The Cult, The Replacements, Ice-T, and dozens more. His unique ability to identify cutting edge talent and anticipate musical trends made Sire one of the world’s most influential record labels and cultural forces.
In making the announcement, Stein said:
Writing and promoting my autobiography, Siren Song, along with the news of my Grammy Award, brought a flood of memories from my earliest days at Sire right up to the present.
I was very fortunate during my youth to learn from so many great indie label people, like Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun and Jerry Wexler at Atlantic, and my greatest mentor, Syd Nathan at King Records. I went on to work with so many other great indies around the world as Sire grew to become the legendary brand it is today. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all the amazing artists – far too many to name – who have called Sire home over the years.
I’ve enjoyed much of my time at Warner’s, but in truth I long for my indie roots and the greater independence that I experienced back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. So the time has come to move on to the next phase of my career, leaving Sire in the hands of Rani Hancock, whom I sincerely wish all the luck in the world. I’m very proud that Sire was named the #15 label of the past 100 years in a major poll conducted by Variety earlier this year. I trust that it will continue to be a place where great songs and great artists will live for many years to come.
Rest assured, I intend to remain active, and I’ll be back in action again soon. I’m looking forward to the future and continuing to develop new artists in the music business that I love so much.
In 1955, when Seymour Stein was just 13 years old, he was granted access to the Billboard archives, where he painstakingly wrote down two decades of charts, while developing his encyclopedic memory of songs. Mentored by Music Editor Paul Ackerman and Chart Editor Tom Noonan, he was hired by Billboard when he was 15 and still in high school, and following his graduation, Stein became a full-time member of the Billboard staff.
In 1961, he moved to Cincinnati, where he worked for King Records founder Syd Nathan, getting his first experience on the label side of the business. Stein returned to New York two and a half years later to work with George Goldner, who had joined forces with legendary songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to form Red Bird Records, headquartered in the Brill Building. Among his other mentors during this period were Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun, Nesuhi Ertegun, and Jerry Wexler.
In 1966, Stein co-founded Sire Productions with producer Richard Gottehrer, and Sire Records was officially launched the following year. Stein had been a devotee of the English music scene since the 1950s, and in its early days Sire released albums by British acts like Climax Blues Band, Renaissance, and Barclay James Harvest, as well as Holland’s Focus, who put Sire on the map with their hit, “Hocus Pocus.” Stein also forged an association with British producer Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon Records, home to Peter Green’s original Fleetwood Mac; Chicken Shack, featuring Christine McVie; and Duster Bennett, among others.
Stein first saw the Ramones in 1975, and as he said, “It was like sticking my hand in a live electric light socket.” The band’s first album was released by Sire in 1976, and four decades later, it remains one of the seminal recordings in rock and roll history. That same year, Sire struck a distribution pact with Warner Bros. Records, and in 1980, Warner Music Group acquired Sire, with Stein becoming an official member of the company’s senior management team.
Stein put New Wave music – a term he coined – on the mainstream map with the likes of Talking Heads and Pretenders. And in a moment that has become a permanent part of music industry lore, Stein signed a young artist named Madonna while he was in the hospital recuperating from a heart infection. At the same time, Sire released classic pop singles like M’s “Pop Muzik,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” and Modern English’s “I Melt With You.”
Over the years, Sire’s roster has also included artists such as Tom Tom Club, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Ice-T, The Cure, The Replacements, k.d. lang, Echo & The Bunnymen, Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, Seal, The English Beat, Erasure, The Cult, Richard Hell, The Undertones, Madness, Everything But The Girl, Aztec Camera, Dinosaur Jr., Wilco, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Little Jimmy Scott, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Laid Back, Radio Birdman, The Saints, The Rezillos, Aphex Twin, Ride, Book of Love, Spacehog, Regina Spektor, Tegan & Sara, Cyndi Lauper, and many more.
The life of Seymour Stein and the story of Sire form an extraordinary, game-changing chapter in the history of music in the 20th and 21st centuries.