A Response to “Rock Music Sucks Now and It’s Depressing,” by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda

“They say the classics never go outta style, but, they do… they do.  Somehow baby, I never thought we do too…” – Refused, on “Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull”

My name is Mike Shinoda; I’m a songwriter, vocalist, and founding member of the band Linkin Park, and I’m a regular visitor of Pigeons and Planes. When I read the Ernest Baker piece called “Rock Music Sucks Now and It’s Depressing,” I had a few reactions. I sent them to the folks who run the site, and they asked me to share them with you here.

“The guy from Linkin Park visits this blog?” you say. Indie music purists may want to hate on this piece before I start, simply because I represent a mainstream music act which they think is at odds with their “independent” or “underground” aesthetic. If that’s you, so be it; I know your deal.

I was the same way when I was younger. I leaned toward (and still lean toward) independent, underground music. And then one day, my own band was embraced by the mainstream, and I was forced to reconcile my feelings about the situation. I remember a specific moment when the issue struck me: we were playing four to six shows a week when our song “One Step Closer” first started getting played on the radio. Up until that point, we were playing for a couple hundred people a night. Suddenly, that number doubled. Then quadrupled. And one night, I looked out from the stage and something made me think:

“Oh my God, we probably have fans who love music that I think is terrible.”

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not dissing our fans—the vast majority were (and are) cool. I was seeing people in our crowd singing along to our music, who I didn’t have anything in common with, and it made raised questions about integrity.

What does it take to balance integrity and record sales?

Integrity is subjective. Numbers are not. Today, for those of you who aren’t up on the latest of Linkin Park, we haven’t slowed down. Linkin Park is one of the biggest bands on YouTube; we’re the biggest band on Facebook, and we still headline most major rock festivals in the world when we go out on tour. We’re not a “legacy act,” riding out classic hits on tour like The Stones and Roger Waters, playing shows for nostalgic middle-aged crowd—instead, we’re constantly striving to innovate, in the studio and online with our fans. Every album we’ve released in the last 10 years has debuted at  No. 1 in at least 20 countries.

Yet, even with things still strong and growing, we’re not in the real mainstream, the Kanye-Taylor-Gaga mainstream. And we don’t really want to be, as individuals or as a band. Our fans sit in the shadows, like little sleeper cells all over the world, loyally supporting the band at every turn. Pop radio doesn’t play us, and award shows ignore us. We’re not bitter—we actually work hard to keep the delicate balance.

In Ernest Baker’s piece, here on this site, he wrote: “What’s interesting is exactly how the Rock Music Economy has collapsed over the years… It’s not that I don’t know about or listen to the awesome, great, independent, underground rock music that’s still being made and released every day. But the fact that it’s underground and not mainstream therein lies the problem. There was a time when rock had a complete, undisputed, suffocating stranglehold on the entire realm of popular culture, and that time is no more.”

I have absolutely no problem with the bands Baker cites—Fun., Vampire Weekend, and Mumford and Sons—in fact, they’ve released some of the better albums in recent years. But they’re not who I think of when I think of “rock.” Baker didn’t include huge, active artists like Linkin Park, Muse, Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Green Day, The Black Keys, Jack White, Fall Out Boy, Of Mice And Men, Nine Inch Nails, and hundreds of others. But it doesn’t matter which rock bands you’re talking about. You can make any list of popular rock bands out there right now, and you’ll find they truly have little influence, individually or together, on the zeitgeist.

Why is that?

I believe that these days, more than ever, it’s hard to start a rock band. Want to start rapping? Pull up an instrumental on YouTube, and you have a track. DJing? The software you need is either already on your laptop or it’s a few dollars and clicks away. Starting a rock band is a more complicated endeavor.

Firstly, it’s in the numbers. I believe that these days, more than ever, it’s hard to start a rock band. Want to start rapping? Pull up an instrumental on YouTube, and you have a track. DJing? The software you need is either already on your laptop or it’s a few dollars and clicks away. Starting a rock band is a more complicated endeavor.

Do the math. If you want to start a rock band, you need more than proficiency and/or exceptional talent at your instruments. You also need some kind of production or recording experience, or access to it. You need chemistry. You need a group of individuals who have are all aligned on their vision of what kind of music they want to make. You want to be The Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Rage Against The Machine? MGMT? Your band has to come to a general consensus about what “credibility” and “integrity” mean. You need to be able to write good songs together. And when you finally start making songs for anyone to hear, you’re going to need to be able to get on a stage and play them well together. And for every aspiring rock band with four people who can manage to do all these things, there are four solo DJs and rappers trying to do it too (and probably finishing many more songs, many times faster).

Rock bands are outnumbered, and that’s only half the problem. The other half lies in rock’s culture of segregation—not in the fans’ minds, but in the bands’. Behind the scenes, more than any fan would ever imagine, there’s animosity between rock bands, even if they don’t say it. I ask my friends in other bands; their story is the same. A lot of bands are afraid to align with one another on record and on tour. Maybe it’s a credibility issue, or a snobbery issue, or maybe it’s just because rock bands are loners. Whatever the case, everyone else in every popular genre gets it, and they’re reaping the benefits.  EDM, rap, pop, and even country artists are jumping from record to record because a.) it multiplies the fans’ interest, and b.) it’s fun.

This month, my band will put out a song with Steve Aoki that blends both our styles. And our next album will probably have nothing to do with the Aoki song, or even sound like our previous album. Because lastly, the other half of the problem (yes, the third half), is the most important of all.

Rock music needs to take chances and innovate. Want to compare rock’s growth to other genres? Listen to a Rick Rubin production from the ’80s—which was the epitome of hip hop production at the time—and compare it with the soundscapes and variety that Kanye West, Pharrell, Kendrick and co., A$AP Mob, Odd Future, Azealia Banks, and all the rest are using today. Listen to a track by The Prodigy or Fatboy Slim from the late ’90s, then listen to Zedd, Knife Party, Glitch Mob, Skrillex, Deadmau5, Major Lazer, Avicii, Daft Punk, and TNGHT. And ask yourself: why isn’t rock doing this? Sure, rock is evolving, but it simply doesn’t have the vibrancy it could—and ought to—have.

After all, it’s not just about moving forward, it’s about the direction in which you move. Baker’s piece wasn’t just about “rock” as a genre being less popular. Rock is very popular on a middle-level, the level that doesn’t trend worldwide on Twitter and get talked about in late night monologues. Baker makes a point that the rock music has gotten, in his words, “pussified.” Where’s the rock that’s about innovation, energy, aggression, catharsis, passion? Where’s the explosiveness of The Shape Of Punk To Come? The ferocity of Master Of Puppets? The boldness of The Downward Spiral?

A girl from Japan told me once that she was worried about men of the next generation being what they called “Soushoku Danshi,” or “Sheep Boys.” This description was invented to describe people as either “herbivores” or “carnivores,” the former group being described as soft, non-assertive, and indifferent. For me, rock music has gotten a little herbivorous.

Where are the carnivores? At the end of the day, it will never be about one song, one album, or one band. A movement requires leaders who are restless, brave, and fucking disruptive.

Where are the carnivores? At the end of the day, it will never be about one song, one album, or one band. A movement requires leaders who are restless, brave, and fucking disruptive. I’m in the studio right now. I’m looking for ways to do it myself. I hope my peers and their fans are as well, because it’s the only way we’ll be able to force Pigeons and Planes to write a post called:

“Everything But Rock Sucks Right Now and It’s Depressing.”

– M. Shinoda
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Linkin Park x Steve Aoki’s “A Light That Never Comes” debuts in the new free-to-play Facebook game Recharge on September 12. Play the game at LPRecharge.com.