Linkin Park embraced the digital age early on. Even prior to changing the spelling of their name (because LincolnPark.com was already taken), founding members promoted their music in online chat rooms when most bands were still relying on street teams.
The eventually Grammy-winning, chart-topping alternative band, best known for such hits as "In the End," "Numb," "Breaking the Habit," "What I've Done," and "New Divide," has used MySpace to promote the "A Thousand Suns" album and has topped 1 billion views on YouTube. Linkin Park remains the most followed band on Facebook (over 55 million users), and has already developed its own game -- Linkin Park 8-Bit Rebellion.
The band isn't letting up on the technological development -- they've been working with software manufacturer OpenLabs on StageLight, an innovative, music-creation app for Windows 7 and 8. They've even released a special Linkin Park Edition of the software.
Download.com rapped with Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda about StageLight, video games, whether MySpace has a future, and what's on the horizon for the band now that vocalist Chester Bennington is singing for Stone Temple Pilots.
How did you become involved with StageLight?
I've had a relationship with OpenLabs for years. I've used their software and hardware onstage. A few years ago I was transitioning from a more primitive setup and I realized that I needed a software solution that could play anything that I made in the studio that required a computer-based system. And once I met with OpenLabs and saw the gear that they had, they convinced me that this PC-based system would be the way to go. When I was using it onstage or in the studio, I'd be asking for additions or something specific that I might need in whatever situation, and over time it developed into a relationship that resulted in StageLight.
What sets StageLight apart?
StageLight is more like a music writing and music creation software, though it has roots in performance. But we started looking at it as there really isn't great music-creation software for PCs. Apple obviously has GarageBand, but there isn't an application that teaches and allows a brand-new user who's never really done a song before to make something from scratch. StageLight is designed so that within five to ten minutes a user who's never made a song before can create a song and share it on SoundCloud or Facebook, or any other place where they could interact with their friends and family online.
What distinguishes the Linkin Park Edition?
There's a special edition called the "Linkin Park Edition," which includes a library of sounds that we made in the studio; and if you buy that edition you could use sounds that are Linkin Park sounds and make your own songs. It's almost like an expansion pack.
Going back a few years, Link Park released 8-Bit Rebellion, in 2010. Why did you decide to release a video game?
Well, we're gamers to some extent. A lot of our older fans know that when Halo first came out, that was one of the things that people used to joke about our band, that we were super into that game, in the first three editions of it. We would play on the bus and challenge other bands and challenge fans and it was so funny how competitive we were.
8-bit Rebellion was created as a visual reference to the stuff that we grew up with, things like Nintendo. If you finished the game, you'd get a free song. At the time, it made us a little nervous to do, because it was something different from what others were doing. But I think, for us, it set the tone for what we're doing now and what we can do in the future, because, as you know, the industry at large is moving in that direction, like the Jay-Z album with Samsung and other people putting out exclusives with various brands; so if it's something that is done right, it doesn't have to be this weird, corporate thing. It can be something that's organic and good for the band and good for the fans, most importantly.
Do you have plans to release another game anytime soon?
We have 55 million plus fans on Facebook, and knowing that's a strong place for us and knowing that a lot of those people are gamers, we wanted to make something again that we would enjoy playing, that they would enjoy playing, and that falls in line with the way we see our band -- and also, in this case, that has a philanthropic component.
Recharge is going to be a Facebook game set in a future time where the world's natural resources have almost run out and you, as a player, are part of a rebellion, because the bad guys have gotten their hands on the Earth's remaining resources and are using them to enslave the rest of the planet. You're going to fight the tyrannical bad guys; and on the way, any money generated from certain items that you might spend money on in the game would benefit Music For Relief, which is our organization to combat environmental crisis, climate change, and to provide relief to those who've suffered from natural disasters. That ties the theme of the game into something along the same lines in real life.
Linkin Park has done a lot of charity work over the last decade. How do you think apps have changed the philanthropic space?
I think two places where it's been really apparent are the online component and being able to reach that via mobile and the text-to-donate component. When something happens and you really want to go to work and do some good for the people who need it, being able to do that in as few clicks as possible or reaching people in that moment of realization when they want to help -- even if it's a dollar -- means a world of difference.
Forming in 1996, Linkin Park has really grown in popularity in tandem with the Internet.
We had a really intentional focus on it from the beginning. Spelling our band name "Linkin" was to get the dot com and that just set the tone for us. And over time, everybody just started to switch. We were always a part of that and it's always been a way for us to keep connected with each other and with our fans, to stay connected with families at home when we were on the road -- and now it's just second nature.
I'm personally very interested in technology. I love finding out about new apps and technology, and in some cases, if we can be a part of the innovation process that's amazing and it's one of my favorite things to do. When it comes back around to releasing music or entertaining our fans, or staying connected to our fans, that's high on our list. For example, one of the places where we've put a lot of focus and made some headway is our direct-to-consumer campaigns where we try to spread the word every chance we get that if you want to buy a Linkin Park song or album, do it from LinkinPark.com. You don't have to go to other places to buy it and we incentivize fans to make it interesting.
Along with most other bands, you've certainly minimized your MySpace promotional initiatives in recent years. Does MySpace have a future?
I'm currently not using it very much, so I wouldn't be the best person to ask. I don't know, so that might be a function of it being totally lame, or maybe I'm just missing the boat.
What can you tell me about the new Linkin Park album? Will singer Chester Bennington be a part of it?
There's not much I can say, at this point, but Chester has not left our band. He's just doing Stone Temple Pilots when he's got days off and it's not a big deal as far as scheduling goes. We're very supportive of him and he's doing great with them and they're having fun playing.
As far as we're concerned, we're going to have some interesting stuff going on in the future. I would say there are some surprises lined up in the coming months and I can't tell anybody about them, but you're definitely going to want to watch Linkin Park, be it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube, wherever you're connected and want to stay in touch with the band. There'll definitely be some cool stuff happening in the coming months.