A Conversation with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda

Mike Ragogna: So, Linkin Park goes to the United Nations.

Mike Shinoda: We were on tour in the US as a part of our world tour behind our record A Thousand Suns, and we got an email from the UN. They were asking if we wanted to do a meeting with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and some members of the UN Foundation to discuss Haiti. We were thrilled about this opportunity because we’ve had this ongoing effort to benefit the folks effected by the earthquake in Haiti. Our effort is called Download To Donate. Basically, the UN wanted to recognize Music For Relief and Linkin Park as well as Download To Donate. So, long story short, we got online (on) the Facebook Town Hall. It was an online chat in four different cities, it was the biggest one they’ve done and it’s complicated to do. I think we were in New York, LA, The Bay at Facebook headquarters, and in Washington, DC. The UN Secretary General sat down in a room with four members of our band and we talked about Download To Donate and Music For Relief’s effort. They were very complimentary of what we’ve done so far, and we also got a chance to all talk out some of the ideas about how we can continue to help Haiti. Even a year out, the recovery effort is still on going.

MR: It’s encouraging there’s still a focus on Haiti.

MS: To be fair, there are always a lot of events that deserve that news time. It’s tough for people to figure out what to pay attention to and what to donate to and even if they have money to donate because times are tougher. People maybe don’t have the money to donate to a cause like this one even if they love it. One thing that we wanted to do with Download To Donate was to make it really easy for people to participate, and if they wanted to participate and they didn’t have money to spend, then they could do that to. We created www.downloadtodonate.org and a hundred percent of the proceeds go straight through to Haiti. The idea is that originally, we would let you go on and download all of the music, which at that point was twelve songs and you could donate whatever you wanted. At this point, it’s evolved into a different format. Now a year later it seems like a static donation price is really what’s working for us. It’s a ten dollar donation–you can either go to the website and donate that money or you can text relief to 41010. Basically, you get access to the entire library of music at Download To Donate–it’s no longer 12 songs, it’s now over 60 songs. For ten dollars, you can get 60 songs, it’s from artists like Alanis Morissette, All American Rejects, Crystal Method, Enrique Iglesias, Everest, Glitch Mob, Jack Johnson, Kenna, Linkin Park, Lupe Fiasco, Metric, and many more. There is tons of music, and if you go to www.downloadtodonate.org, you’ll check it out. And a hundred percent of the money flows right through and goes straight to Haiti Relief.

MR: What was your impression of how that Facebook conference went.

MS: I was thrilled with it. It was short because we were all separated. We wanted to make sure we got the basic information out there and really had an informative discussion. I felt like we had an informative discussion, I really learned a lot. Basically, we went offline and our band talked with the UN folks in LA for a while. Phoenix and I were actually up in Facebook headquarters, so we continued online with the folks from UN Foundation for a while. One of the things that stuck out to me was that they had done a campaign to get malaria nets to the families that were living in the tent communities in Haiti. A lot of people–their homes destroyed or had nowhere else to go–they were living in these tent communities. A lot of them were getting sick and dying from malaria, from diseases by insects, and they needed these insect nets in these tent camps. So, the UN Foundation did a campaign where they got those nets for the people, and they saved all of these lives just based on a simple campaign like that. They have a new campaign, which I thought was really great–it’s a solar light campaign. In a lot of tent camps, they found out that there actually isn’t any light. People are going around with lanterns and candles and things like that, but it’s not safe for women and children to be running around in the dark. There could be predators, and as a lot of people know, a lot of the prisons were destroyed, so a lot of the inmates had basically escaped. They haven’t had the best time in cleaning that up and recapturing the folks that were supposed to be in prison; they’ve had some violence and things like that. One of the things they’ve done to head some of that off is to create light at night. It seems like something that’s really simple and we take for granted for sure. They have a lot of sunshine down there, so solar lights are a good solution to the problem. So, they have a campaign right now where they are trying to get solar lights down to the families. We tend to support that with our campaign.

MR: The goal was a hundred new solar lights, do you imagine they will go beyond that?

MS: I believe they absolutely will. They will get as many as they think are necessary. The good thing about these campaigns is that they are very specific with a targeted goal like the one you just talked about. It’s easier to see exactly what you need, how many lights you need, how many families they are going to, and what kind of effect they are having. A lot of people, when they worry about donating to a charity, it’s like, well, if the Red Cross takes in all of these millions of dollars, where does it all go? They want to know specifically what’s being done. With a targeted campaign like the solar light one, it’s all very specific and you get very specific results.

MR: It seems like your band is a band in which everyone is always experimenting with new things. Is that a fair assessment?

MS: Yeah, I would say so.

MR: How far do you think you’ve grown as a band since your early releases?

MS: Well, creatively where we were at in 2000, we were trying to make Hybrid Theory a statement record. We were saying this is who the band is, this is what we’re about, this is what defines how we mix different styles and how that differs from other bands. The record, from song to song, I feel, was intended to make a clear statement about the music we make. As far as the identity of the record, there was a lot of similarity from one song to the next. To give you an idea of how you record a record like that is, you set up a main guitar tone, a main drum tone, and you play almost all of the songs with that one thing as if you’re playing in your rehearsal studio. On each record, we want to challenge ourselves though, back then, it was challenging ourselves to make this sound that was our own and new. As the band has evolved, the challenge has been how do we take that and really represent where the band is at now. We want to keep it challenging and keep it interesting. If we were to just keep doing that over and over again on every record, that would be lazy of us. So, what ends up happening is, basically, from record to record, we do new things and challenge ourselves in new ways. Especially on the new record, obviously, we were trying to step outside of the box and try something different from what people expected of the band, and even maybe what we expected of ourselves.

MR: You also played “The Catalyst” at The Griffith Observatory to help promote the album.

MS: Another event that brings to mind was we played in front of a great Spanish landmark called Puerta de Alcalá, and that was for the MTV EMAs, and we played “Waiting For The End.” That was the song that was televised. but we actually played a full hour set and over 50,000 people showed up to watch the show. They were standing in the streets and singing the songs. We were able to film that, and we are going to be re-releasing A Thousand Suns with a special limited edition version which has the DVD of that performance. You actually get the DVD and the MP3′s of the live songs, so it’s a new release of the album for fans who are interested in that particular performance and want to see some of the old songs played live on stage.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

MS: My advice for new artists…I always feel like a broken record, I say the same thing. These days, the most important thing for them to do is to do it themselves, to get familiar with recording your own music, distributing your own music, building your own fan base without many other people’s help. I think the crutch for a lot of young artists is when they sign with somebody else, they think somebody who knows better is going to come in and magically make a fan base appear for them, but that’s not how it works. Really, there are so many applications, so many programs that you can download and you can use online that will allow you the tools to get it done. If you can create your own fan base of a thousand up to ten thousand fans, then if you decide to sign with a major label, you will have all of the leverage in the world. You’ve got a fan base of ten thousand people, that gives you more leverage so that they would have to give you more in your contract if you decide to do that. If you go it alone at ten thousand fans, you have every right to do that. You’re going to be making a hundred percent of the money instead of a small little sliver that they would leave you with at the end of getting involved with a small artist who has no leverage.

MR: Of course, there are so many more opportunities and options for an artist now than there ever were before.

MS: I was laughing about this with somebody the other day. Even just ten years ago, when we wanted to write music in our bus, it would take a unit the size of a refrigerator to get it done. Today, I can literally just take my laptop. We are talking about Pro Tools, we are talking about Garage Band, Logic, and all of the other things out there. I personally use Pro Tools, I think it’s great. Then, after you’ve made songs, you’ve got Facebook, you have Twitter, you have great sites like Bandcamp and Topspin that will help you, basically, sell your music and concert tickets. You literally can do so much now that you couldn’t do even five years ago. Artists can get really far doing it themselves.

MR: And you’re still on tour?

MS: Yeah, we just finished the U.S. leg of the tour, and we are getting ready for the European dates and all of the tour dates are on www.linkinpark.com. Don’t forget to go to www.downloadtodonate.org to get your sixty-plus songs. By the way, songs are continuing to be added. If you donate ten dollars now, then you get all of the songs plus whichever songs we add in the future.