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Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small Paperback – September 15, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Freelance reporter Cook and Merge cofounders McCaughan and Ballance trace the history of the North Carolina–based record label that started in a bedroom and now releases some of indie rock's biggest names. The story is composed as a book-long conversation between McCaughan and Ballance (also founding members of Superchunk, hailed as the next Nirvana in the 1990s and one of Merge's first major hits) and myriad other voices from the music industry. Started in 1989 in Chapel Hill, Merge always put music and musicians first, with McCaughan and Ballance hand-stuffing the label's first seven-inch releases and eschewing contracts in an effort to keep things friendly. In a prime example of its dedication to artistic vision over pure profit, Merge took a gamble on Stephin Merritt and Magnetic Fields's ambitious three-disc opus, 69 Love Songs, when any major label would have balked. That record made numerous top 10 lists in 1999 and has sold more than 150,000 copies. While some of the label's artists may be beyond the scope of the casual music fan, bands like Magnetic Fields, Spoon and Arcade Fire demonstrate how vital Merge is to the indie rock landscape. (Sept. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Merge always put music and musicians first. . . .[B]ands like Magnetic Fields, Spoon, and Arcade Fire demonstrate how vital Merge is to the indie-rock landscape.--Publishers Weekly
From small beginnings, twenty years later, Merge has become one of the top independent labels in the world. --NPR's Sound Opinions
One of the most respected imprints in an often disreputable industry, Merge has defied the odds by releasing some of the finest rock and pop music of the last 15 years. --Chicago Tribune
The fact that they exist and that they've survived is really kind of amazing these days. It's really difficult and they've done really well. --David Byrne --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
Top customer reviews
First of all, since Superchunk is such an integral part of the first two thirds of Merge's history, if you're interested in Superchunk you'll love this book. I was hoping it would go into that with a little depth and was very surprised to find out how much. There is also very honest appraisal of the band's fallen stock in the last decade.
As for "how to run an indie label", this book is great. There's a lot in there about their early business model, how they handled increasing demand, why they didn't have contracts at first, what forced them to start contracts, how big labels treated both Superchunk the band and Merge the label, and much more. For the people who said this book is basically an advertisement, I was surprised to find people readily admitting to guilt - Superchunk admitting to remixing "Hyper Enough" for radio, Merge themselves pushing their artists on the world through definite non-indie channels.
One of the coolest things about this book is if there's a Merge artist you like - from the obscure Butterglory to the ubiquitous Arcade Fire - there's good stuff in there, from both label and artist. Find out how Stephin Merritt annoyed Mac & Laura (it wasn't the major label jump) or Spoon's bass player suing Spoon for allegedly co-writing the first Spoon album (I have been a Spoon fan for over 10 years and never knew that; explains why they don't play songs from the first LP anymore!).
To conclude: GOOD BOOK. LOTS OF GOOD PICTURES. NEEDED MORE PICTURES OF LAURA!
Not the best book about record labels (indie or major), but it offers fresh interviews with a plethora of people from the scene and lot of great information for fanatics.
Since the story of Merge goes hand-in-hand with the story of Superchunk there is quite large number of pages dedicated to the band alone so for maximum enjoyment it would be best to be a fan of the band.
The book consists largely of interviews with those involved over the last 20 years (the bands, the Superchunk members, friends, family, roadies, etc.), told in an impressive narrative form that reads as a fascinating story of a group of music outsiders who learned how to make the music they loved outside the corporate system, and make enough money to survive for 20 years and counting. The history of Superchunk is intertwined with the history of Merge (it's about a 50/50 split in the book), so for any even casual fan of this classic band, this is a must-read. But the story of Merge is equally fascinating, as are the in-depth chapter-long discussions of several Merge artists, including The Arcade Fire, Spoon, The Magnetic Fields, Matt Suggs, Lambchop, and Neutral Milk Hotel. I can't recommend this enough.