R.E.M. was an American rock band from Athens, Georgia, formed in 1980 by drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and lead vocalist Michael Stipe, who were students at the University of Georgia. Liner notes from some of the band's albums list attorney Bertis Downs and manager Jefferson Holt as non-musical members. One of the first alternative rock bands, R.E.M. was noted for Buck's ringing, arpeggiated guitar style; Stipe's distinctive vocal quality, unique stage presence, and obscure lyrics; Mills's melodic bass lines and backing vocals; and Berry's tight, economical drumming style. In the early 1990s, other alternative rock acts such as Nirvana and Pavement viewed R.E.M. as a pioneer of the genre. After Berry left the band in 1997, the band continued its career in the 2000s with mixed critical and commercial success. The band broke up amicably in 2011 with members devoting time to solo projects after having sold more than 85 million albums worldwide and becoming one of the world's best-selling music acts.
R.E.M. released its first single, "Radio Free Europe", in 1981 on the independent record label Hib-Tone. It was followed by the Chronic Town EP in 1982, the band's first release on I.R.S. Records. In 1983, the group released its critically acclaimed debut album, Murmur, and built its reputation over the next few years through releases every year from 1984 to 1988: Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Lifes Rich Pageant, Document and Green, including an intermittent b-side compilation Dead Letter Office. Don Dixon and Mitch Easter produced their first two albums, Joe Boyd handled production on Fables of the Reconstruction and Don Gehman produced Life's Rich Pageant. Thereafter, R.E.M. settled on Scott Litt as producer for the next 10 years during the band's most successful period of their career. They also started co-producing their material and playing other instruments in the studio apart from the main ones they play. With constant touring, and the support of college radio following years of underground success, R.E.M. achieved a mainstream hit with the 1987 single "The One I Love". The group signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1988, and began to espouse political and environmental concerns while playing large arenas worldwide.
R.E.M.'s most commercially successful albums, Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), put them in the vanguard of alternative rock just as it was becoming mainstream. Out of Time received seven nominations at the 34th Annual Grammy Awards, and lead single "Losing My Religion", was R.E.M.'s highest-charting and best-selling hit. Monster (1994) continued its run of success. The band began its first tour in six years to support the album; the tour was marred by medical emergencies suffered by three of the band members. In 1996, R.E.M. re-signed with Warner Bros. for a reported US$80 million, at the time the most expensive recording contract ever. The tour was productive and the band recorded the following album mostly during soundchecks. The resulting record, New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996), is hailed as the band's last great album and the members' favorite, growing in cult status over the years. Berry left the band the following year, and Stipe, Buck, and Mills continued as a musical trio, supplemented by studio and live musicians, such as multi-instrumentalists Scott McCaughey and Ken Stringfellow and drummers Joey Waronker and Bill Rieflin. They also parted ways with their longtime manager Jefferson Holt and band's attorney Bertis Downs assumed managerial duties. Seeking to also renovate their sound, the band stopped working with Scott Litt, co-producer and contributor to six of their studio albums and hired Pat McCarthy as co-producer, who had participated before that as mixer and engineer on their last two albums.
After the electronic experimental direction of Up (1998) that was commercially unsuccessful, Reveal (2001) was referred to as "a conscious return to their classic sound" which received general acclaim. In 2007, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in its first year of eligibility and Berry reunited with the band for the ceremony and to record a cover of John Lennon's "#9 Dream" for the compilation album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur to benefit Amnesty International's campaign to alleviate the Darfur conflict. Looking for a change of sound after lukewarm reception for Around the Sun (2004), the band collaborated with co-producer Jacknife Lee on their last two studio albums—the well-received Accelerate (2008) and Collapse into Now (2011)—as well as their first live albums after decades of touring. R.E.M. disbanded amicably in September 2011, with former members having continued with various musical projects, and several live and archival albums have since been released.