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
twitter.com/mikeshinoda
facebook.com/mikeshinoda
instagram.com/m_shinoda
mikeshinoda.com

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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.

  • <3 IMANAWESOMEGIRL <3

    I totally agree with mike but also rock is for the unique individual so if you think rock sucks then somethings wrong I think before you start to criticize a bands music take the time to listen and understand the music and what it means.

  • http://bloggingwithwhitekids.tumblr.com/ Mac Le Moan

    “Pop radio doesn’t play us”

    Come on Mike, this isn’t true. I’ve been hearing Burn It Down everywhere I go. I know you guys say you’re always trying to go in new directions but your last 2 albums have been nothing more than pop-rock for the radio crowd.

  • http://bloggingwithwhitekids.tumblr.com/ Mac Le Moan

    You fail to get Omar’s point Konrad, it’s not that LP aren’t evolving, I mean if they were still making nu-metal in their 30′s they’d become a laughing stock and no one would take them seriously but the direction they went in with Living Things and MTM doesn’t scream “evolution.” It’s just a follow up of current trends and I like what Omar said, it feels like only Mike and Chester are the ones contributing while everyone else takes a back seat. Why do they need to collab with Steve Aoki? Is Joe not in the band anymore or something?

    I have a lot of respect and admiration for Mike and think he’s a really talented song writer and general musician but the last couple of years have been hit and miss, I listened to the collab snippet of their new song and it’s really not anything new that I haven’t already heard before. It’s not innovation, it’s just blatant laziness. I’ve seen them live a couple of times and their performance is insane but in terms of being innovative they’re really not being that at all.

    In 2004, they used to cover NIN
    In 2011, they were doing an Adele cover

    That just goes to show how highly from their graces they’ve fallen in terms of sticking to their “rock roots.” And yeah yeah I get it people will hound me and say, “Hey music tastes change” and this is true, I definitely don’t still listen to the same bands I listened to when I was in high school, they’re good for nostalgia but that’s it, but the argument here isn’t that people want “The old LP” it’s more like they want songs and records that will live a lasting impression. I get a lot of emotion listening to a song like Breaking The Habit compared to their newer stuff which is mostly made for marketing purposes, eg. Transformers movies, Medal Of Honor etc. etc. I even watched their making of A thousand suns documentary and they were arguing about shortening a song for it to be playable on the radio…I mean what the fuck…if that’s not selling out then I really don’t know what is.

    This isn’t to say they still don’t produce quality music that pushes the envelope, Blackout comes straight to mind but every other track on the record is reduced to pop sounding radio friendly songs, and not to say that this is a bad thing, but it shows that their hearts aren’t in the right place seeing as they just want to churn out stuff that will reach the largest demographic, which is good for business, but not put out stuff that will not reach as many people but will be good from an artistic point of view.

  • Guest

    I agree, especially with the ‘back in the day’ part. Meteora was their peak.

  • MJ

    I agree with the fact that you think Rock music has gone to become “herbivores” over the years. I think Musicians are afraid that by trying something new they will only lose fans and in turn they will fade away. I love when bands try new things and continue to grow with their music. I think that is why I am always buying Linkin Park albums day 1 at least they are willing to take chances. I like all different kinds of music and I listen to pretty much everything but it is all starting to sound the same. and like you Mike I am waiting for someone to take the chance. Keep up the good work I loved the response you are a very smart dude.

  • Joyce

    Hi Mike! Just want to let you know that I like Victimized because it sounds like an opening song to an anime (and it’s already in a TV size version xD) and my favorite track on the Living Things album is Lost in the Echo. I would really love to hear an LP song in an anime one day. I’ve been an LP fan since Hybrid Theory and until now, I still enjoy your music. I salute you and LP for doing what you really like and not being forced by others just because they want you and the band to stick to specific style/genre. I support the direction you and the band is heading to. Keep up the good work and continue to lead the evolution of rock. :)

  • Conner Luymes

    In my opinion, music in general is a tough thing to get “right” in regards to what’s popular and should be popular. The blunt truth is, there are billions around the world that each have a unique taste of what they enjoy and think should be popular, which, in some ways, is a little selfish. Why should one person’s taste in music be more popular than anyone else’s?
    Being a musician myself, I think that what we listen to and choose to listen to has a strong impact on the kind of music that we in turn decide to make. Years ago, I wanted my music to sound like Relient K. Next it was the “Linkin Park” sound, and more recently has evolved into more of a folk sound. The point is, musicians are going to make the kind of music that they want to make, and part of that is trying to be innovative, as Mike put it. Music would be so boring if artists made the same album ten times over. I respect Linkin Park and Mike as a producer in the fact that they are keeping their eyes up towards new sounds and styles of music.
    I think it is stubborn to say that music “sucks” nowadays. Music has evolved as the mainstream fan base has, and will continue to do so. There will always be music that one doesn’t like–we can only imagine a world where each and every song that plays on the radio is our “favorite”. That’s just not a realistic goal. While we are all entitled to our opinions and unique sets of favorite bands/styles, we should learn to be more respectful towards others. I, myself, am very passionate about my personal bubble of music that I am biased towards, and I can honestly say that I would rather gouge my eyeballs out than listen to some songs. But I understand that as long as there is a market for that kind of music, it will keep coming.
    And finally, I am just in an awe in regards to Mike openness as a musician on this issue, as well as his humility to know that his position doesn’t mean that he can’t interact with fans, as he is on this cite. Artists should look up to MS in that sense–we don’t see a lot of that as fans these days. Complete and utter respect for you, Mike. Keep it up.

  • Conner Luymes

    Wow, just realized this was a lot of rambling and isn’t very organized. What I’m trying to say is, let’s learn to respect good music as good music, regardless of the genre. When I say we should be more respectful towards other people’s musical niches, I mean that we shouldn’t necessarily become fan boys of all genres, I mean we should simply respect the music if it’s good, well-produced, and innovative.

  • SixDays

    I love rock music, in it’s various mutations.
    Let it die. Let it slip from the view and consciousness of the mainstream. Let the flame be carried by the brave few. In a world where attention spans have shortened, where everything’s value is tied to the extent it can be consumed, let rock music die. Laughing lions will still carry the flame within. That will be where rock will continue to live.

  • random kid from .MN

    Keep mixin the genres…n throw out another side project…rising tied is the most understated realist sht that hip hop needs..or atleast rap in general.. Almost as Ill as lamar had it not been so long since you tore up a track..where’d you go? ; P

  • J (LPMB)

    Great response Mike!
    - one of your many loyal sleeper cell peeps ;)

  • GO

    I only watched Transformers because of their OST, LOL!

  • Marcial Brummel Jimenez

    nice! as for me, I hate the fact that transformer movies don’t follow a certain plot from the 1st to the 3rd. LoL

  • LES

    Great article!

  • Jim

    The problem with music now is that the mainstream is aligned (more or less) to the tastes of the masses, and the masses don’t seem to appreciate the underground element of music in general. So, in a way, it’s good that rock and so on are underground. If they were mainstream, the formula would be broken, because they would be generic and exactly what the majority of consumers want, which at present is NOT rock. As a musician, you can’t change the opinions and preferences of the masses, but you can continue to look for what works for you and your fans.

  • ALinkinParkFan

    To start off this comment, I would like to say that I am a musician, and a young one at that. Linkin Park is and, since I started listening to rock, has been my favorite band. Contrary to my listening habits, my favorite genre of music to play is classic jazz, and am currently in a 2 man jazz combo. I have also been a member of punk, classic rock, and metal bands. Everyone needs a bass player! I, in my “band travels” have found that, for me, jazz is the most expressive. We do not write originals, but instead read lead sheets and solo. I feel that in my experiences, it is not as hard to start a rock band as it once was. With the introduction of technology and computers into the everyday lives of average people, there are more options becoming available for people who want to make music. For example, electronica and dubstep are becoming more popular for this reason. They are accessible, amazing genres! Almost anyone with the time and a decent computer can become a musician. This is the beauty of the downfall of rock.
    Back to my main thought, music rises and falls (offspring reference :) with the times, and rock is simply on the outs. Take jazz for instance. In my area, there is one classical jazz station on the radio. Throughout every decade in the past 100 years, there have been differentiating styles of music which take the lead. We just have to accept this is not rock’s decade and patiently wait it out until its return. :)

  • ben

    all the bands he mentions sucks. The problem began in the 90′s when musicianship started going down hill

  • Ben

    pop was hendrix, zep, and eagles, joplin it was way better

  • ben

    the problem is that no body can real play in a tasteful, way where at least its on par w the 60′s to early 80s. Lincoln PArk and Limp Biskit ruined it for opportunities for perhaps better rock bands, rock just just like rap did for rock, and disco did back int he 70;’ (except disco has musical elements ). Prob w todays music is that its loop music, no great instrumental work, or guitar solos, and the songs are entirely forgettable. Thisis because the music industry only seeks to clone copy bands to seel their agenda $$$, Thats why ii cant tell the diff from any of these modern bands, its lesser art,

  • tired

    sisters of mercy

  • tired

    sisters of mercy

  • sleepy

    robert johnson

  • sleepy

    the birthday party

  • Sel Melvin

    If electro punk, doom metal, and jazz rock because big, then I’ll accept that modern rock is worth saving.
    Linkin Park is good though; kinda feel sorry for them. Dave Grohl once mentioned playing at an awards show as the complimentary “rock” band, so the popsters/rap stars/etc have a rock band just to have one. They, LP, Metallica, Slipknot, it’s like they’re not popular, but tweens need a “rock band” on their iPods so they were their choice. Kinda sad.

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  • brianz

    Just because you’re popular, it doesn’t mean you are a good band. ie Limp Bizkit. I don’t even know the last song from LP that had a guitar solo in it. I’ll stick to my 50s, 60s, and 70s rock music thank you.

  • Devito

    I stumbled across this article today (25.march.2014) and i want you to know this: everything ou said is the absolute truth about Link Park.

    I wish we could travel together and read your post in their faces. You feelings and thoughts towards this bad is exactly as mine. Thank you. Long live to Xeno, Hybrid Theory EP/Album, Reanimation and Meteora.

    About creativity and emotions in music, just like Breaking The Habit, they made more songs without the LP’s Nu Metal style: Cure For The Itch, Sessions and the magnificent My December.

    That being said, Minutes To Midnight has the last listenable tracks they made, after that, everything is a huge pile of horse shit.

    Cheers.

  • Nico

    In the nu-metal era, it was not uncommon at all to have one dude singing and one dude rapping. More so, having a DJ. Having two Asian guys, that was particular. But anyways there was some diversity before (of the top of my head: James Iha, Kirk Hammett), specially out of the mainstream.

  • chief

    Music in North America is significantly weaker these days in my opinion. I’ve found some salvation in European artists, and their more symphonic approach to rock and metal. I think there is a market there that hasn’t attracted North Americans yet.

    Note: I don’t hate all music that comes out these days, but I just find (again preference) that it’s significantly weaker than the 80s and 90s.

  • http://www.miasma.org Njordr

    Kinda just thinking in text here, but…

    What you said: “I get the sense that those who like rock music think that their preferred music is the only “true” type of music,” makes me think back on when Linkin Park released Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns. I seem to remember there was quite a bit of conflict going on about LP’s new albums and their old albums, the changes in the music and the way it sounded, which ones were better, etc. This is an example, but I’ve watched it happen a few times and in different ways (see: Nightwish’s Tarja vs. Annette, or the whole split between the music of 20-30 years ago and toady’s industry.)

    I agree with you. I’m kind of drawing the connections here, between old and new, the “true” type of music, the common assumption of “first was best,” and people being afraid of change.

    If any rock band (or any band period, really) tries to do something fresh and innovative with their type of music, they also risk losing their following due to what I just mentioned above. With “mainstream” music as it is now being at the top, and the most popular artists/bands defining each genre, there seems to be this stress surrounding change or innovation. Stress about whether or not people will like the new change and continue to follow the band, or if they don’t like it and will stop following the band.

    Hopefully I’m understanding things the right way. I mean, this is all coming from a college student with the only connection to music being as a consumer. As it is, I’m just gonna stick with jumping from rock/metal genre to rock/metal genre, but here’s to hoping for the future of rock music.

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  • Jackov

    “Meanwhile pop and hip-hop are finding ways to keep themselves fresh and interesting.”

    You lose all credibility by uttering the complete and utter nonsense quoted above.

  • I will find you and kill you

    “Want to start rapping? Pull up an instrumental on YouTube, and you have a track”.That`s like sayin ” find a old guitar in your basement, and you are a rock star”.Everybody can download instrumental,eveybody can buy a guitar,everybody can write a song,everybody can dj-ing but when you do something like that is one thing,when you do it great is another thing.I never played a guitar but nobody stops me to start playing…just find one and start…it will be pathetic but i will “playing on a guitar” and if i wanna record it,I will and nobody can stop me.I will have a “rock song” even if it is the worst song ever…that`s the same with rap,everybody can make a song, but not everybody can do it “good”.The man sad that about rap music that everybody can do it deserve to be punched in the face.

  • forallthecows

    LP is a horrible band. I wont even start on in as how they are today. Also you forgot that Deftones did also play a BIG role in Nu Metal. Even LP ripped off their shit back in the day.

  • forallthecows

    Sorry did mean to reply to you Sean D i meant it to the OP

  • Jonathan

    In Pieces has a solo in it.

  • Marry Park

    It was a great answer by Mike. I love him. I have got all linking park albums with the help of a finance service called bridging finance