Nearly 60 years after getting his start as a chart researcher at Billboard, Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein has a lot of accomplishments — and a few regrets — under his belt. In a chat with Yael Chiara, brand manager at European independent label and distributor PIAS, Stein reveals why he is “embarrassed” by the not-so-lucrative deal he struck with eventual superstar Madonna, and offered conflicted feelings about The Ramones, another iconic act he signed. (According to Stein, the Grammys have a tribute in the works.) The legendary A&R man also talks about the first act he ever signed, the two countries that are key to the music industry’s vitality, and why you can still see him at shows looking for acts.
On why he’s “embarrassed” by the Madonna deal, which was ironed out in a hospital: According to Stein, Madonna agreed on “$15,000 for three singles and then an option to pick up an album. That was not the usual kind of deal, but I felt that she would be the queen of the 12-inch ?–? and she was. And when I heard the fourth single, ‘Borderline,’ I knew there’d be no stopping her. I always believed she’d be very big, but not like she became. I couldn’t even think that big!”
It was Madonna’s success that convinced his parents he was a success: “They both lived to see Madonna be No. 1 on the charts. They were very proud of me.”
On Mattie Moultrie, the first artist he ever signed: “She was a black woman from Georgia, and I had always loved that song? — ?’That’s How Strong My Love Is.’ That was the first thing we did with her. Columbia wanted us, as much as possible, to sign black acts. They stated that. My background with King meant I used to go on the road with James Brown, amongst other things, all in my late teens. I never went to college.”
On what breaks his heart about The Ramones: “They’re all dead now — the last of them died last year. In addition, they never sold [what they deserved to]. But they influenced so much of the music business. I met with someone from The Grammys recently, and they’re going to do a big spotlight on The Ramones next year. It breaks my heart they weren’t bigger. But whenever the public learn who I am, the first thing they ask about is The Ramones. So they have ‘made it,’ I suppose, it’s just horrible they’re not alive.”
On why he focuses on China and India: “There are 1.3 billion people in China. And in India, there’s 1.2 billion, but it will eventually be bigger than China because there’s no restriction on the number of children they can have. In each of these countries you have 400 million or more middle class people–with millions more joining the ranks every year. [The music business] really better get started in these markets.”
Why you still see him at shows, no matter how dingy the locale: “Well if I survived the toilet at CBGB’s, which didn’t even have a door, I think I can survive any toilet out there.”
Read the full interview at Medium.