Linkin Park performing at Sonisphere Festival in Kirjurinluoto, Pori, Finland by Kallerna
Linkin Park are a chart-topping American band formed in 1996. Their first album Hybrid Theory was a massive success and achieved critical acclaim upon its release and beyond. The band have had their demons though and this article will not only be exploring the rip-roaring success they have achieved but also the hardships they have faced in terms of mental health.
Persistence despite initial setbacks
Anyone who has been in a band knows that it is not an easy career path to take. Simply being able to manage creative processes, egos, levels of commitment, short term goals, long terms goals and third parties such as management and record labels takes a lot of work in itself.
So, when the band feels like it is plateauing, like things aren’t going your way, like you are putting all of your time and effort into something that is barely going anywhere, it can get very frustrating. This is how a young Mike Shinoda felt before he enlisted the company of many of the superstar members we now associate with Linkin Park today.
The band that were then known as Xero were frustrated at their own lack of progress. Shinoda and the then vocalist Mark Wakefield created a 4-track demo that ended up drawing very limited label interest. Now, if there has ever been an advert for sticking it out and finding a solution to a creative block it is the difference between how Wakefield and Shinoda handled this situation.
Wakefield left as he had grown frustrated at the band’s lack of progress (imagine him now knowing that he left one of the most successful bands on the planet for this reason!) Shinoda, on the other hand, persisted.
He had to find a replacement for Wakefield and when choosing from a number of applicants, one in particular stood out. The applicant had a powerfully raucous voice brimming with emotion and grit. Chester Bennington. His voice is one of the most distinctive, instantly recognisable and iconic rock voices around to this day.
I wonder what it must have felt like to listen to Chester Bennington’s application to the band. To hear his talent and instantly know you are onto something with the uniquely aggressive melodicism of his voice. Shinoda and Bennington immediately hit it off and that sparked a friendship that would be as successful as it was musically prolific.
Let’s fast forward to the band’s debut album release, Hybrid Theory (2000) – which was the band’s name for a short time before the name was changed to Linkin Park. This album was what really propelled them to fame, turning them into the household names we know and love today.
It is a masterful blend of rap vocals, deep distorted guitar riffs, undulating synth lines and those trademark late 90s scratches. Many of these traits fall under the contentious label of Nu Metal but it was the nuance that the band brought to this genre that made them so successful.
As we’ve seen with so many other greatly successful artists such as Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, excellently thought through song writing is often a catalyst of success in the music industry. And it seems that this applies to Linkin Park’s first major multi-track release too.
Hybrid Theory was the best-selling debut album of the century, selling over 30 million copies across the globe. And this achievement would not have been possible without having an excellent creative dynamic across the band. Such a dynamic can be difficult to cultivate, because naturally, the better songwriters should have more of an influence on the song than those with less sense of how the song should be put together. So, how is it done?
The Recipe for a Great Band Dynamic
First of all, creating a great band dynamic requires all of the members to be on the same page. They should all have in their heads roughly the sort of sound they want to give to the world.
Clearly Bennington and Shinoda et al. wanted to polish the Nu Metal genre, substantiate its lyrical value, add clever but more mainstream melodies to chorus and enrich the general texture of the songs with electronic and synthesised sounds.
Secondly, each musician should be able to write effectively to that blueprint and meet the generic/ cross-generic demands of the original creative vision; there is no use having a red-hot jazz guitarist in a band that fuses the grunge and post-rock genres.
Or if it the writing process demonstrates that this fusion-style of writing works, it could be incorporated into the general creative vision that was outlined in the first step. This proves that all of these ‘steps’ are pliable, they move around depending on personnel as well as the ebb and flow of creative processes.
Perhaps the most important step or ingredient is a sense of judgement (and it does not have to be limited to one person) that shapes the song into a coherent whole. That makes the structure of the song as pleasing as the melodies within it.
It becomes a question of pacing, tempos repetitions, chorus placements and how they are integrated into the song; all of those decisions that are vital to shaping its structure. Just from the incredible impressive stats that the album has racked up over the years, it is very clear that each of these ingredients were present in Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory.
Shinoda himself claims ‘we would write a lot more than we played. A lot of bands rush their songs, and go out and play a ton of shows; we spent weeks and weeks on the music, and probably only played one or two shows a month.” This can definitely be used as a template for musicians who intend to write excellent songs in genres not normally known for their catchy songs.
Mental Health in the Music Industry
Of course, it is impossible to talk about the story of Linkin Park without discussing the tragic death of the lead singer Chester Bennington just over a year ago. Chester was intensely talented and one of the best rock singers on the world stage.
This led to him using a myriad of different drugs during his teen years, then resorting to alcoholism during his twenties to put off the cravings for the harder drugs. Music was always his escape, along with poetry.
He put his all into it to brave the hardships in his life and his talent, drive and dedication was rewarded with his record breaking international career with Linkin Park. But reaching the top, as this band wholeheartedly did, comes with a lot of pressure.
Many bands that start out eventually struggle with their mental health because of the touring lifestyle, the hard work and the set-backs that can plague the early careers of many bands. Some bands idealise the thought of making it to the point that it tears them apart.
They predict that making it sees the pressures of being a band melt away into nothingness and that is certainly not the case. Every level of being in a band is stressful and difficult and hard work but it is equally soul-warming and ecstasy inducing.
Perhaps it’s the high-high/low-low trade off that draws people in but at the same time it’s the high-risk/high-reward that drives the pressure that can get people down.
There are a number of excellent charities that work to help musicians affected by depression and other mental health issues that are growing in both number and influence such as Music Minds Matter , BASCA and Help Musicians just to name a few.
It is so telling that someone who was considered by most people to not only be at the top of his game but a full-blown rock legend such as Chester Bennington took his own life on July 20th, 2017. The band have stated their intention to continue with the Linkin Park venture with a view to honouring Chester and raising mental health awareness through numerous charities.
If you have a friend who is struggling, musician or not, make sure they know you are there for them. It could help them out more than you could know and more importantly, if you get a chance to raise mental health awareness or contribute to a charity, take it. You never know how much you could help someone.
Chester Bennington from Linkin Park performing at Sonisphere Festival by Kallerna