Remembering Seymour Stein, Who Probably Signed Your Favorite Band

The Sire Records co-founder died at 80

Seymour Stein
Ice-T presents the award to inductee Seymour Stein during the 2005 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

An era in music history came to an end this weekend when Seymour Stein died at the age of 80. The fact that Stein was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 speaks to his place in the music industry. The Hall of Fame’s introduction to Stein notes that “[h]e unerringly predicted the next musical trend, then signed the musical act that inevitably became the epitome of that movement.” And to look back at decades’ worth of albums released by Sire Records, the label he co-founded, is to see that in action.

To some readers, the Hall of Fame’s description of Stein might come off as hyperbolic. In Stein’s case, it’s accurate. Among the artists that he signed to Sire Records were Madonna, The Replacements, Ice-T, The Ramones, Talking Heads and Depeche Mode.

In a 2013 interview with WNYC’s Soundcheck, Stein shared the story of how he began working Madonna, whose music he first heard while hospitalized — which Stein still was when the two first met. “I could tell right away, she couldn’t have cared if I was laying in the bed in a coffin, as long as I could sign a contract. She was as anxious to see me and get herself started as I was to see her,” Stein told WNYC. “That was very very impressive to me.”

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2018 saw the publication of Stein’s memoir, Siren Song: My Life in Music. In a review of the book for The Guardian, Richard Williams wrote, “Even at its most gossipy, the narrative bulges with insight into the musicians whose paths he crossed.” He also took part in a number of retrospective interviews on his life and career — including a terrific 2019 conversation with Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain in which he says, of his signings, “I didn’t let anybody get away.”

There’s plenty of history to be seen when looking closely at Seymour Stein’s life. He leaves behind an impressive record — as well as a lot of impressive records.

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