Our Noise: The Story of Merge RecordsI just finished reading the terrific Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, The Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small, by John Cook with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance. It's a history, primarily oral, of Merge, the great indie from Chapel Hill, North Carolina which has brought out so many great albums - not just by Superchunk (McCaughan and Ballance's band) but also Neutral Milk Hotel, Magnetic Fields, Spoon, Arcade Fire and many others - over the past twenty years. Mac and Laura started Merge from nothing, from being merely a vehicle for releasing 7-inch singles by Superchunk (whose first three albums weren't even on Merge) and their obscure Chapel Hill friends to becoming one of the most important record labels around, indie or otherwise. It's truly inspiring to read how Mac and Laura have made Merge into a success completely on their own terms, simply by doing what they love and following their hearts. None of Merge's artists were brought on because of their hitmaking potential, but because they made great music that Mac and Laura wanted to bring to the world, and because of the great music and the label's passion and commitment to doing things the right way, some of Merge's albums became bonafide hits (Arcade Fire and Spoon in particular). As the physical album gives way to the digital delivery of MP3s, the book ends on a somewhat nervous note, as even Mac and Laura seem uncertain that Merge can continue to thrive in the post-CD age, but if anyone in the record industry can pull it off, it's them. I'll certainly be cheering for Merge, the little label that could - and can.
(Special thanks to John Kenyon at Things I'd Rather Be Doing for sending me the book.)