Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
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Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  525 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Merge Records defies everything you’ve heard about the music business. Started by two twenty-year-old musicians, Merge is a lesson in how to make and market great music on a human scale. The fact that the company is prospering in a failing industry is something of a miracle. Yet two of their bands made the Billboard Top 10 list; more than 1 million copies of Arcade Fire's...more
Paperback, 289 pages
Published September 15th 2009 by Algonquin Books
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Andrew
I'm so glad that this leaked out onto shelves about a week early (in true indie fashion - snort!)! The book is a love letter to the label that once brought us Butterglory, the 3D's, Angels of Epsistemology, Versus, SUPERCHUNK, the Magnetic Fields and now brings us....uhh....the Arcade Fire and celebrity vehicle "She and Him?" Yes, organized indie rock is truly deader than dead, but those of us that lived through its early-to-mid nineties heyday can get all weepy with this handsomely designed mem...more
Anna
This was fascinating, and I'm not even coming from a background of having listened to much Superchunk. I can only name a handful of their songs, but this definitely made me more curious about them (ditto on some of the other Merge bands).
I usually struggle to make progress on nonfiction works, but I didn't want to put this one down. My only complaint (aside from wishing it was longer) is with the horrific foreword from Ryan Adams - it is a example of why I am leery of reading nonfiction about m...more
Ben Sweezy
This book is full of stories about Superchunk becoming Merge Records, and then great chapters on Neutral Milk Hotel, Magnetic Fields, Spoon, and Arcade Fire.

I love it because the whole premise of the book is relating all of those artists and the musical movements that they grew out of back to Chapel Hill. The story of Arcade Fire driving down to meet Merge Records and the founder taking them out to dinner somewhere in Chapel Hill. Neutral Milk Hotel's album duplication order form putting the art...more
Jenny
I loved every minute of this book! Great story about how a band operates, and how they created a label out of necessity. I love that they states true to themselves and never changed their business model to match traditions record labels. I live in Durham and know some of the people mentioned in the book, which made it even more fun to read.

If I had to nitpick, I would say that the story could've been fleshed out better and told from a third-party, non-biased, more biographical point of view. But...more
Kevin
If you're a fan of Merge Records like I am, you probably like almost everything they do. They're so consistently great and this oral history of their first twenty years is outstanding. Funny and revealing recollections from Mac and Laura share the pages with recollections from other musicians and record industry folks. My favorite parts were the chapters on little-known genius's Butterglory, the rise of Neutral Milk Hotel, the accidental "country" of Lambchop, the ups and down of Spoon, and the...more
D.R. Haney
Does this book really rate five stars? Probably not, but I did wolf it down, being the indie-music freak, stuck in the nineties, that I am. I've been revisiting Superchunk, Butterglory, Polvo, Seaweed, etc., since I finished Our Noise, and I'm once again crushing on Laura, while feeling all "Gosh, what a swell guy" about Mac. One thing that especially caught my interest in the book was Merge's take on the defection of ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead to Interscope in 2000 or so. I kn...more
Ginna
Skipped around a bit in this one. Probably would not have stumbled upon it except for my Rockstar bookclub, but glad to know more about one of my downtown neighbors. Pretty cool that some friends helped put this book together. Because I missed out on a lot of these bands' glory days by being out of the Triangle or just on the periphery of any kind of music scene (I DJ'd @WXDU for a year & saw some of the MERGE albums come through the playlist), I wasn't invested in most of the band stories....more
Rosie
Having worked at a record label, I could relate to a lot of parts of this book. I know a lot more about the behind the scenes of a small label than your average person so it was almost nerdy how into the business-like stuff the story got. Overall, the book does a good job of telling the story of Superchunk alongside the story of some of the label's bigger bands. Well written and a good read for any respectable music nerd.
Robert Vaughan
A very interesting read about Merge Records, one of the only successful indie record labels to survive the past two decades. Told in a roundtable narrative fashion. Highly entertaining.
Barry Southerland
Fun book on Superchunk and the little label that band members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance created, Merge Records. Mainly focused on their band and the creation and functioning operation and growth of their label, Our Noise also features stories about other artists (Butterglory, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lambchop, Spoon, Arcade Fire) and their contributions to Merge's, at the time of the book's print, 20 year run as a highly successful label originally known for 7" releases and now houses gold, pl...more
Ryne
Jul 29, 2012 Ryne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: music
I absolutely loved this book. Before reading it, I would have named Merge Records as my favorite record label just based on their track record of incredible releases. After reading, I had a much greater appreciation for how they were able to do this. I initially would read the book before bed, but I found that I would end up less tired than when I started, so I had to find time during the day to read.

As for the book itself, it has a bit of an unusual format. The book is roughly chronological wit...more
Josh Woods
Setting aside for the moment the fact that Merge is the record label responsible for no less than two of my top three favorite albums (Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and The Arcade Fire's Funeral), it should be known that Our Noise is an introspective look at one of the most (possibly THE most) influential label on the indie scene. The story of Merge is pretty amazing, even from a completely removed point of view, and the author's choice to let those most connected to Merge t...more
Aaron
I figured this would be an enjoyable read given I'm a fan of the label and a lot of its music. But I also feared it was going to be a bit of shameless Merge marketing. I should have known better, because that's just not what this label is like. It's a great little story for anyone who likes indie rock, the kind of story you would deride as "too unbelievable" if it were fiction. Two people in a great band decide to start up their own label to put out the music they love. They are too trusting, to...more
C.E.
A fantastic oral history of one of the best, most influential indie labels of the last 20 years, this also works as nice overview of why the major-label, corporate music industry has failed so miserably in the last 20 years. Where the majors spent wildly trying to get wealthy, Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan started a label to put out music that inspired them and do so in a way that was economically viable and sustainable for all parties concerned--in following their story readers are left with...more
Travis
Oral histories are such a pleasure to read, and I'm glad that Merge got represented this way. If you're not already vested in certain Superchunk songs then this might just be a small-business-somehow-survives story.

Inveitably, when I listen to a song or album I form an idea of them as people. Same with how record labels conduct themselves. Pretty basic stuff, I know. But it was refreshing to see Neutral Milk Hotel come across so well while Spoon was confirmed as careerist ding-dongs. The Magneti...more
Colin
Mar 21, 2012 Colin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: music
Seriously one of the greatest books on indie music ever.

First of all, I went into the book knowing next to nothing about Merge Records or Superchunk. I had heard No Pocky For Kitty a few times, but it didn't particularly grab me, and obviously I was familiar with Arcade Fire, Spoon, the Magnetic Fields, and Neutral Milk Hotel (all of which are profiled with individual chapters in this book) but mostly I looked into Our Noise for it's outstanding reputation. As it turns out, my lack of previous i...more
Jay
From a fanboy standpoint, Our Noise is ripe with juicy information. The oral history of Merge Records pulls no punches when it comes to Mac and Laura's relationship or label/band drama. But it also effectively communicates what people love about Merge Records. It's a label run by fans of music who are in bands themselves, and they've been able to float when other labels are sinking.

From a business standpoint, I found the book inspiring. I hope to create a small, small publishing company one day...more
Susie
I'm a huge Merge Records fan, and it was exciting to read about the beginnings of this label, how it's grown, and the people behind it (the super talented Laura Ballance and Mac Macaughan from Superchunk) I expected all the stories about touring & meeting bands & everything -- the kind of oral biography most bands partake in these days (ie Fool the World - the pixies; The Dirt - Motley Crue). What I didn't expect was the totally affirming running pep talk about DIY throughout "Our Noise"...more
Jennifer
a great read for any current or former superchunk fan (yes, every mix tape i made between 1996-1999 had "driveway to driveway" on it) or just for those with a penchant for indie rock. i really liked the format -- the author's own commentary/descriptions and interviews with band and industry folks interwoven with music reviews (pitchfork, Village Voice, etc.) The main "theme" of the book is major label vs. independent, with the majors being depicted as mostly evil, posited against down-to-earth i...more
Lou
Overall I liked this, an interesting story, and the layout of the pictures themselves helped a lot. Wished there was a little less about Superchunk- I like them but I would have been more interested in hearing about how other bands other than Neutral Milk Hotel, Magnetic Fields, Versus, Spoon and Arcade Fire ended up on the label- I love some of those bands records too (except Versus, bor-ing) but I'd like to hear some about putting out solid records that didn't sell well at all, like the Rosebu...more
Alex Orr
It should be required reading for any fan of independent music, and if you love Superchunk, this is a no-questions-asked, must-read book. To a large extent, you're going to know whether you want to read this book simply based on the content, assuming you're a geek about underground rock. The question is really whether it's a quality book, and I'm happy to say it is, in virtually every way. The Superchunk sections are very thorough, with reams of first-hand accounts of the band's history from Mac...more
Lisa
(Non-Fiction Oral History, Music Business) Our Noise is the fantastic story of Superchunk and Merge founders Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan. Twenty years ago, Mac and Laura began Merge Records simply because they liked music that they weren't hearing on the radio or MTV and wanted other people to hear great music. Who can argue with that?
Their record label has survived and flourished by putting bands before themselves, even if it meant little pay. Their story is the thread, but many Merge art...more
Louis Vigo
What a great history of music! This book has inspired me in so many ways. As a small business owner I've been inspired by Mac and Laura's wrestling to stick to their values, and doing what they love. Their quest to sell as many records as possible while not becoming a capitalistic machine. Their goal to treat their product with respect and love, and not just look at their bank account.

This also gives a good primer on corporate mainstream rock, why it was so awesome in the 60's and 70's and why i...more
Bobby
Although I'm much more familiar with Merge's more recent catalog (Arcade Fire, Richard Buckner, M. Ward), this was a well organized inside look at the history of this unique label with insight into the music industry as a whole. Yes, it's a bit Superchunk-heavy for those of us who never really understood their acclaim, but it's told with honesty and level-headedness that was refreshing. I'd love to read an updated version that reflects on Arcade Fire's Album of the Year Grammy, continued explosi...more
Cherie
Oct 20, 2009 Cherie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Superchunk fans, any Merge record fans
Shelves: non-fiction
A This is one of the best music books I've ever read - a must for any Superchunk and Merge Records fan. Cook chronicles via interview format (with different paragraphs from various Mergers, like Ballance and Spoon and Arcade Fire and all those good bands) the history of indie rock as we know it, and more specifically, Merge. They can dis big labels, but they're very respectful when they do. Fascinating, interesting, full of great music tidbits -- I listened to Superchunk for a week straight nons...more
Tim
Gives the history of a lot of bands you know and a lot you do not. I was really impressed that they would give so much time to unknown Merge artists such as Butterglory and East River Pipe. I also got to learn a lot about Superchunk (they are by far the most covered band here), in which they were a band I just never gave enough time to (which they ironically state was always a problem for them; people hearing about them but never going the extra mile to buy their records).

While there is a stron...more
Todd
It is impossible for me to write an objective review of this book. For me, this book was like sitting with one's idols while they told all the stories you were always so eager to hear about. On top of that, not only did they live up to your impossible vision of them, but were even cooler than you could have possibly imagined. I don't think most people would get as much out of this book as I did, but outside the Superchunk fan service, it is also a fantastic look at the music industry post-Nirvan...more
Tyler Giesa
Two of my favorite things - oral histories, and books about music. "Our noise" has to be the most positive book I've ever read about the industry, as they seem to be one of the few who "got it right". This book could be adopted by niche marketers or other types as the perfect model of a streamlined business - Lest we forget what it is that intrinsically motivates the Mac's and Laura's, a genuine passion and love for the music they release. I love the horror show that is a good rock book, but thi...more
Jim Jones
One of the best books I've ever read about the music business and small labels. I'm divided on Merge's roster: I like Arcade Fire, Rosebuds, and Olivier Tremor Control, but many of their bands leave me shrugging my shoulders (Superchunk, Magnetic Fields, Lambchop, Polvo, Portastatic). Despite this, the book is a fascinating look at how the record label got started and has not only maintained, but prospered, while much of the the rest of the music industry slowly goes down the drain. Chapters alt...more
Elizabeth Lilly
I'm a big fan of several Merge Records bands. Superchunk is also from my college town, so this seemed like a natural to-read for me. This is an extremely detailed account of how that band came about and as a result, Merge. It really is a testament to the founders how well the label has done as such a small operation.

Individual chapters talk about current (like Spoon), and past (like The Magnetic Fields), Merge label bands. As a fan of some of these bands and a huge indie music fan, this was an...more
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