July 18, 2018
By William Glanz
Music industry legend Seymour Stein may be 76 years old, but he doesn’t plan to slow down.
Stein said today he’s leaving Warner Music Group (WMG) after 42 years and returning to indie music.
“I’m able to do it. I want to do it. I was first exposed to music when I was five years old, and I’ve been a fan ever since,” Stein told SoundExchange in a phone interview.
He co-founded Sire Records in 1967 as an indie label and then joined WMG when the indie label became part of Warner Bros. Music in 1976.
Looking ahead, Stein told SoundExchange he wants to focus on cultivating international talent from areas including India, China, South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia.
“One thing I believe – music is global,” Stein said.
Stein is credited with discovering Madonna, the Ramones and the Talking Heads.
He recalled signing Madonna in a 2016 interview with Billboard.
“When I signed Madonna, I was in the hospital and there was only one song, that’s all she had at the time; “Everybody,” it was called. It barely hit the charts, but I heard something there and heard something in her. She was not just a singer, she had the ability to write, because it was a very good song. Thank God I signed her. That’s what I’m most famous for – Madonna – and she’s just so unlike anyone else I’ve ever signed.”
Stein told WNYC that his efforts to sign Madonna met with opposition at Warner.
“I was shocked that I had a lot of opposition at Warner Bros. from the very top – from Mo Ostin, who was the chairman of the company, and also from their head lawyer at the time, David Berman,” he recalled. “They didn’t hear it at all. Fortunately, I reached out for support from the head of international at Warner’s, Nesuhi Ertegun… and he said, “whatever it costs, we’ll pay it.” I knew right away that Madonna not only would be big in America, but probably even bigger outside of America.”
He also spoke to Billboard about his first impressions of the Ramones.
“Johnny’s guitar work was amazing, Joey’s voice was so totally unique. And they all were so different from each other. They dressed exactly alike, but they were so different. And I just loved talking to them. I’m from Brooklyn, they were from Queens, and I could see we were alike. They made up their minds quickly they wanted to be with me. And if I like something, as I told you, I like to sign as quickly as possible. The shortness of the songs, right to the point, they didn’t mess around. And there are all different kinds of songs. “I Want to Be Your Boyfriend,” that was a love song and slow but still, it smacked of the Ramones style. You could always tell a Ramones song instantaneously, there was no doubt about it,” Stein said.