Not only is Mike Shinoda the principal songwriter, keyboardist, and sometime vocalist for Linkin Park, he also oversees the alt-rock/rap/metal outfit’s studio production, merchandising artwork, and online presence—an effort that has made the band one of the most popular on Facebook. Now, as Linkin Park is at work on its fifth studio album (expected later this year), Shinoda talks to Co.Create about composing the score—his first—for The Raid: Redemption. The Indonesian fight flick opened in select cities recently to mostly positive reviews and strong box office and marks another side project for Shinoda (see Fort Minor), one that he says taught him plenty of things to bring back to the band.
Less Second-Guessing, More Working
Shinoda was surprised that Raid director Gareth Evans was so hands-off; he left Shinoda and his composing partner Joe Trapanese alone for a month at a time without checking in. "It’s crazy to think about it," says Shinoda. "You do all this work and if we had played it for him and he said he really didn’t like a lot of it we would have wasted a whole month—and we only had three months to do it." But the songwriter was surprisingly happy with this way of working. "I was finding that we get further faster, we get better results faster." So he has now applied that to his process with Linkin Park: "I went back in the studio with the guys a few months ago and I said, 'This is what I want to do—I want to apply this.' We usually get together once a week to criticize stuff. Instead of getting together to do that, we got together to just work. There was no ‘I don’t like this.’"
And he really liked that. "I enjoyed being able to get further on something before second-guessing it or before questioning where we were. I feel like sometimes with [only] a few days’ work on something you don’t realize how good it’s going to get in a few more days."
Picking The Right Project
He’d been asked to work on films before (Linkin Park contributed some songs to the Transformers movies) but usually the approach hadn’t worked for him. "They would come to me and say, ‘Hey, we would like to have Linkin Park in our movie and we’ll make your name really big on it!’ That’s the opposite of what I want to do. Usually when they are saying that [they mean], ‘Hey we are going to have someone else score the movie and then you’re going to throw some guitars on it and Linkin Park fans will be all into it.’ But Linkin Park fans will [actually] say, ‘That’s lame, that’s not what we came to hear.’"
This one felt different from the start. "These guys called me and said, ‘We really love Linkin Park, and we love Fort Minor, and we love the remixes you’ve done.’ They got a lot of the stuff I do for fun."
And it was an environment in which he could learn and grow. "This is the director’s second movie ever, and I figured I could kind of work through some mistakes and it would be okay. He’s growing, I’m growing, I’m figuring it out." To that end, Shinoda hired Trapanese, who had worked with Daft Punk on scoring Tron, to be his composing partner. "He was honestly the guy with [the most] classical background, in composition, arranging, and stuff like that that could get me through the work flow," Shinoda explains.
"This is a score," he says. "It’s not like beats and tracks that just matched up with the movie. I really wanted to approach it from a more traditional way even though the music is very nontraditional, so adding vocals and stuff like that over the top of some of this stuff would be really distracting." And it’s nothing like what he normally does. "I’m used to writing like stuff that I would want to hear when it comes on the radio. I want it to grab you and pull you into the song and pay attention." But in scoring The Raid, he let that come from the script, the actors, the director. "I’ve got a supporting role, so as soon as I started doing stuff that I would normally do on a song, it’s very distracting. So I had to turn that down a lot in making this."
Unlike an American movie, which would start off with an over-the-top action sequence and then spend two hours trying to top it, The Raid—a brutal, intricately choreographed fight film—has a slow build. That let Shinoda slowly build his musical arsenal. "It’s like a video game, where he starts at the lowest level and as he goes up, it’s tougher and tougher, and ultimately what happens they run out at first with guns. It definitely gets more chaotic as it goes. At the beginning the earliest cues are more rigid, and as soon as they’re in SWAT team mode, everything is very digital and rigid and precise, because that’s how they’re operating. As soon as they start to get picked off and it’s chaos, you get a lot more big drum instruments. But it’s not like you put it straight on the beat, like you can do with all your hits, but we left a feel in there so you can hear the drums kind of collapsing on themselves. It just seemed like that was what they were going through." Rather than assigning a theme to each character, as John Williams did in Star Wars, Shinoda decided that some characters would have a particular sound. "Every time you see this one character or somebody is thinking about a character, it’s like a subliminal thing that we give you a hint of that sound and then you feel them."
Linkin Park And Social Media
Early on, Shinoda and his friends decided to spell the band’s name as they did in order to be able to secure their URL—and that was back in the mid-1990s. So it only follows that Linkin Park would have a strong presence online. Shinoda is proud to have the biggest fanbase of any band on Facebook, but he claims to not know how they did it. "If I knew exactly what it was, I definitely wouldn’t tell anybody about it," he says, smiling. Still, he acknowledges many of the things that he and his bandmates Brad Delson and Rob Bourdon do right. "We interact frequently with the fans," he says. "And it’s really coming from us—either it’s something I wrote in an email to someone who posted it, or I logged in and posted it myself, and fans know it. A lot of artists are too busy to do it themselves."
"On the last record, A Thousand Suns, we teamed up with MySpace, we teamed up with a company called Indaba, and we released some of the portions of the stems to our single before the single had ever come out," Shinoda explains. "So the first thing that our fans—and there’s a lot of them, and they are rabid—got wasn’t the single, they got little stems of a drum track and a vocal. They were isolated and they didn’t add up to the song. So we told them, now you take those, remix them, make them into something by adding your own stuff and doing whatever, and submit them to us and whoever wins is going to win something great. The guy that won is a kid from Poland, who even though he had not heard any of our record, his sound, what he put together, just clicked, it made sense. And the prize: We invited him to basically be an artist on the record. We put him on the record, worldwide, every copy of A Thousands Suns everywhere in the world, the end of the song 'When They Come for Me,' is done by Linkin Park and this kid who goes by the name No Brain. Our feeling was like, for a fan, what could be a better prize?" And although they had thousands of participants, Shinoda thinks it wasn’t big enough. Here’s why: "The description I just gave you is very wordy and long, and in order to communicate that story, I have to tell the story, but it doesn’t fit into 140 characters. And that’s what we learned. We learned that in this day and age, it’s got to be a great experience and a great story in the long form, but it’s also got to be able to fit into the short form, too, which that particular contest didn’t."
"I’m really excited for people to see what the online component of the release of this next record is going to be. It’s not fully formulated yet, but it’s going to be great. I think the art is just going to blow them away, because there is a tech aspect to the actual art of the album that is very cutting edge and to me it’s mind-blowing. This is stuff that without giving it away at this point, I know I have not ever seen this done anywhere and maybe it’s too subtle for most people to get. So there’s going to be that. In addition to that, we hope that the roll out of the record has something that can excite the fan base in an active way."
He won’t give real details beyond that, but he will say this: "It’s more than making a viral video. I mean, anyone can make a viral video."