Merge Records is an independent record label based in Durham, North Carolina. It was founded in 1989 by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan. It began as a way to release music from their band Superchunk and music created by friends, and has expanded to include artists from around the world and records reaching the top of the Billboard music charts.
After releasing a number of 7" records and cassettes, the first Merge Records full-length CD release came on April 1, 1992 with MRG020 Superchunk - Tossing Seeds, the band's first collection of singles.
The label's first album to reach the USA Billboard 200 was Arcade Fire's Funeral, a 2004 release. Arcade Fire gave the label its then highest-charting release with their follow-up, 2007's Neon Bible, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, and, later, reaching #1 with their third album, 2010's The Suburbs. Other Billboard Top Ten releases include Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Transference, along with She & Him's (actress/musician Zooey Deschanel along with M. Ward, a popular Merge folk musician) Volume Two. Other notable Merge releases include Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, The Magnetic Fields's 69 Love Songs, Caribou's Polaris Prize-winning Andorra, M. Ward's Hold Time, Camera Obscura's Let's Get Out of This Country, and She & Him's Volume One.
In February 2009, due to adverse market conditions it was announced that Touch and Go Records would no longer manufacture and distribute records for Merge and many other independent record labels; Merge had been "under the Touch and Go umbrella" ever since its 1992 release of Tossing Seeds. Merge quickly reached an agreement with the Alternative Distribution Alliance to continue distribution of its releases.
In September 2009, Algonquin Paperbacks released Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, a book chronicling the label's history. This followed a 6-day music festival in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC, featuring over 40 Merge acts from around the world celebrating the 20th anniversary of the label's first release. The label also released a subscription-only 17-disc box set SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records throughout the 20th anniversary year curated by pop culture tastemakers the likes of David Byrne, Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis, Jonathan Lethem, Peter Buck, David Chang, Mindy Kaling and more, with all proceeds going to charities.
In August 2010, Merge Records released Arcade Fire's The Suburbs to critical acclaim, preceding the band's headlining appearance at Lollapalooza. The album went straight to number one on the US and UK charts. Famed director and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam also directed a live online broadcast of the bands's concert from the historic Madison Square Garden in New York following the album's release, which was streamed live by an estimated 1.8 million unique viewers. The Suburbs won the Grammy for Album of the Year at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards on February 13, 2011.