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Mike Shinoda writes a provocative guest article on the state of rock music. We share our thoughts. What do you think?

Mike Shinoda

Pigeons and Planes is a site that until this morning, I had honestly never heard of. Now, I may be in the minority there, but apparently it’s a relatively big music site that covers a wide range of topics. As with most sites that choose to cover the wide range, their coverage of the sort of music that we would traditionally listen to isn’t all that great. In fact, their resident rock critic Ernest Baker wrote a scathing piece about why “Rock music sucks now“. It’s hardly the most professional piece you’ll ever read and the primary feeling one gets while reading it is that Baker doesn’t know half as much about rock music as he likes to think he does.

Regardless, his whining and unprofessional insults aside – Mike Shinoda, who you may all know as one of the two frontmen of nu metal legends/whatever they are now, Linkin Park, decided to weigh in with a response. We could argue all day about whether Linkin Park have any real relevance on the music we listen to anymore (they don’t), but no one can deny their power at the start of their career. Besides, a lot of the points that Shinoda raises in his article are relevant to all independent artists. I’ve taken the liberty of quoting the article from pigeonsandplanes below:

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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?

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. 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

Interesting Response

I googled “Interesting Response” and got a picture of A$AP Rocky. Clearly fate has aligned with me today.

It’s an interesting response, and one with certainly more validity than the original article that it is responding to. At the same time though, this does make me think that “rock music” has lost its meaning somewhat as a label. Metal originally started as an offshoot of rock, but over the last forty years it has grown to an incomprehensible size, mixing influences from far and wide. The people that complain that rock has lost its fire, I would argue that metal has taken it and run with it. Metal is constantly expanding out in a series of explosive and exciting directions, while rock is more in a standstill. So much so, that you see the creation of the label “hard rock”.

Now, to me, for the most part, hard rock, is basically what rock used to be, and probably still should be. The meaning of rock has been diluted over time and has changed so much so, that self labelled rock fans look more like pop fans to your average metalhead. That’s why you constantly see true hard rock bands doing better when they promote themselves to more metal leaning circles.

Also, the albums that he mentions as revolutionary, I think a lot of people would probably not consider them to be true “rock” records, meaning that he could have probably picked better examples to make his point. By the same token, the idea of “fierceness” in rock is largely subjective, and I’m sure that someone who’s never listened to anything heavier than Britney Spears would probably think that the new Linkin Park record sounded really “fierce”, so how do we go about defining that?

I feel that a lot of artists and people who talk about the “good old days” forget about context. At that time, music was still developing at an organic rate, and right now, all of our musical developments are happening largely to do with technology improving and the mass availability of it expanding. I would argue that modern music makes rapid tiny steps of progress forward, due to the sheer volume in which it is made, compared to the massive strides of old.

As for his point about segregation – I have seen cases of both. In the independent metal scene there are some fierce rivalries between bands that can get very ugly, quite rapidly, but at the same time there are also a lot of great people uniting for the sake of the music and not to scratch their egos. I imagine there’s plenty of both types in all underground and independent scenes, but not enough to make you lose faith in music in general.

The last point I’ll make is one that I’ve learned while working on Monolithic Records, and also by being close friends with a number of musicians – the relationship between band members, and their individual views of the industry, can be a big hurdle for a band to overcome if they’re incompatible. Shinoda touches on it lightly, but I can’t stress it enough that if you guys can’t align on an approach or a philosophy on how you approach making your music and adapting to the industry then you need to have a very serious discussion or disband. You won’t believe the sheer amount of bands I’ve come into contact with who can’t agree on anything – least of all how the industry works, and more often than not you’ll find bands are held back by outdated views of how everything works, and their own stubbornness. It’s a real shame, as it’s a massive enemy of a lot of independent bands and can seriously harm your chances of success.

Oh, and Ernest Baker – go listen to some more music.

That’s enough from me anyway. What do you guys think about Shinoda’s words? Do you think that rock music is dead? Do you think the industry is dead? Sound off in the comments!

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