"It was such a blessing to really be able to achieve what we wanted to achieve and to be able to pay for it ourselves and do it ourselves," Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler says, as the rollout for the band's third album, "The Suburbs," begins in advance of its Aug. 2 release in the United Kingdom and a day later in Canada and the United States. "It gave us such a control over our own future that we are very fortunate to have. I don't judge anyone for wanting to take the money to be able to make the records you want to make. We had a very unusual situation."
The seven members of Arcade Fire retain a tight grip on their destiny: They own their own recording studio, master recordings and publishing rights; license those rights to different labels across the globe, territory by territory; refuse corporate sponsorships, private-party gigs and most commercial placements; and call the shots for every major decision required of the band as it keeps growing its success.
It's an approach that serves Arcade Fire extremely well, giving it the ability to manage its affairs in a way that embodies the DIY ethos born in the hardcore punk scene of the early '80s while writing anthemic, cathartic songs and performing them to arena audiences. Now, with "The Suburbs" about to land in cities and suburbs alike, the band's "new DIY" tactics can serve as a road map for artists of all sizes and styles navigating the 21st-century music business.
"In some ways they are forced to operate differently than other bands," says Mac McCaughan, co-founder of Merge Records, the North Carolina-based indie label that released Arcade Fire's first two albums in North America. "When your first album is 'Funeral' and it does so well and is so well-loved by people and there's such a level of fervor about the band from the outset, that creates a high level of expectation for everything they do from there on out. That's something that no other band on Merge has had to deal with."
"Funeral," which was released in 2004, has sold 501,000 in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan; 2006 follow-up "Neon Bible" sold 92,000 its first week, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, with sales of 437,000 to date. McCaughan anticipates that "The Suburbs" will be the biggest-selling album in the label's 20-plus-year history.
"They march to the beat of their own drum, and people really respond to that," says C3 Presents promoter/talent buyer Huston Powell, who booked the band for the first Lollapalooza festival in Chicago in 2005 and will see it return as a headliner this summer. "I wish for the whole music industry there were 10 more Arcade Fires out there."