When quarantine first became the global norm back in March, few musicians knew how they were going to survive with a year put on hold. While many artists went online with livestreamed performances, others connected to their fans with social media. For Linkin Park co-founder Mike Shinoda though, he took his whole process online and emerged with a new album.
It all began in mid-March when Shinoda began to speak to his followers on Instagram, presenting them with a demo for a track called “Open Door”, and asking them to submit ideas. By the end of March, Shinoda had taken to Twitch – an online streaming service popular with gamers – to pass the time, spending four days a week communally working on music, and a fifth day working on art.
In addition to creating musical mash-ups and artwork, Shinoda revealed that, by the end of June, he had made 47 different tracks from these sessions in quarantine. Days later, Shinoda announced the impending release of Dropped Frames, Vol. 1, an album created during these daily streams.
Almost entirely instrumental, the record features some vocals by way of the aforementioned “Open Door”, which sees Shinoda accompanied by a handful of fans. However, the end result is a kaleidoscopic collection of different genres, serving as mesh of “Mariachi,” “Bollywood hip-hop” and “90’s boy band pop”.
Arriving two years on from his first solo album, Post Traumatic, Dropped Frames is unlike anything ever heard by fans of either Shinoda or Linkin Park, despite both being born out of the same need to cope with unchangeable situations.
With the new record out in the world, and plans for more in the works, Shinoda spoke to Rolling Stone about time spent in quarantine, and the music he’s made with the help of his fans.
I should ask, how have you been dealing with everything going on in the world right now?
I’m good. Generally doing pretty well, I mean, like anybody else, I have good days and bad, but generally pretty good. I think the album that I put out, kind of the reason that we are talking, is one of the things that has kept my mental… has made things in my life more fun and more, almost like predictable in a sense.
You know, there is something about when choice gets taken away from you and change is forced on people and your norms get taken away and changed or whatever. Those feelings of being out of control and having to adapt are some of the worst human feelings. Having no control is one of the worst feelings. From waiting on doctors’ tests, to having a family member pass away or getting sick, or any of these things, it’s like that feeling of like, I don’t control things. And it’s just horrible, and being able, for me, in the last few years in particular, that when I’m feeling like that, feeling positive things that are totally in my control and I can just do, make part of my schedule. That helps me a lot, I will be like, ‘Oh, I can count on that thing.’ I can control it and I can count on it. It’s very simple.
I started streaming because it was, it let me know what time of the day it was and what day of the week it was. I was going to be doing that anyway, I was going to be making songs every day anyway, so I just made it into a bit of a schedule and then I thought ok, if want to quit doing this I can quit. If I want to keep doing this, I can keep doing it. Good. It put an anchor in place
So, when everything in the world sort of hit back in March, how long did it actually take before you actually found yourself on Twitch and streaming?
I don’t know. A month or maybe a few weeks. It started on Instagram. I have more followers on Instagram, and I was just, at that point I had no Twitch account. So, I had zero followers on Twitch. And I started doing a song on Instagram and I kind of shared some beats with the fans and eventually ended up doing a contest to let fans like sing the song and maybe I pick one of them and put them on it. So that became “Open Door”, which has seven different fan vocals on it.
And while that was happening, I was starting to wrap my head around, like you know what, doing this thing with the fans is really fun! I liked the idea of interacting with them in a way that… It was basically like, as long as I can still feel like I have my artistic voice, and if they’re okay with the idea that it’s still my music and I’m the boss of like, if I decide, “Hey, what we’re doing sucks for me.” Like, “You can be having the best time in the world but I am miserable. So, let’s do something different.” And they actually think that’s funny. It’s like, there are days when I’m making something on the chat, on the on the stream and I kind of love it and they are kind of just like, “Dude, you’re crazy! “Like, what are you even making?” And jokes get made, and there’s a levity to the whole experience of it that’s really fun.
Not that you didn’t before, but I’m assuming that this process has also helped you appreciate your fans a lot more as well?
Well, I don’t think I needed to appreciate them more. I almost, I think that that part of it wasn’t really the nucleus or the like the driving force of it. I think it was more about like, once I really started doing it… So, the beginning was just like, “Oh, this schedule thing is nice and doing this will be fun for me and fun for them.” But after a while I realised that – something about that platform more so than other social media platforms – my channel at least is relatively positive, it’s pretty civil. And that’s unusual.
It’s a nice change from the usual situation on social networks.
It could change tomorrow, by the way. It could be like tomorrow; it could all go to shit. And you know the chat could be a nightmare and people could be horrible to each other. But today we can talk about race, we can talk about politics, we can talk about religion and difficult subjects and stuff, and I can say things that, make a mistake and say something stupid, and they can go, “Dude, that was stupid.” And I can go, “Oh, my God, you’re right. You’re right. Like, that was stupid.” And we can talk about it. Or I can say something that they go, “Oh, my God, I’ve never thought about that before.”
We have so many interesting conversations and there’s a civility to the way that they talk to one another. And to me, at least when I’m on the stream that is not present on platforms like Twitter. Which is a total cesspool.
One thing I’ve noticed is that on a lot of platforms like Twitter, everyone on it sort of seems to put musicians up on some sort of pedestal. But with something like this, everyone’s on the same level.
So, in terms of the dynamic between people who are leading a community, okay, so if you’re a Linkin Park fan, then Linkin Park is leading your community. You can also apply it to politics or business, like structures of managers and workers and so on. There was a time when, in the music industry, everybody was really scared for their jobs. It was when downloading was really rampant and people were getting fired left and right. And I found myself having a conversation a lot with people who are running… people at labels, people at management companies, and then artists themselves.
And the conversation was about, “Well, you got to earn your respect, you can’t rule by fear.” You can’t just come in and say, “If you don’t do it my way, you’re fucking fired.” That’s only going to get you so far. […] I want to go into it saying, “Look, I have stuff to offer. I have stuff of value that you can care about or not care about, but I’m going to put it on my channel.” And people who are interested in it can come and check it out. And by the way, like, you don’t have to pay, you know, it’s not master class. You don’t have to pay for it. You can watch an ad here or there and just watch the thing for free and get everything you need out of it.
You’ve recently noted that when this whole thing started, you had very little idea of how it would go. So, can you explain how the creative process really works? How does the song sort of begin?
So, here’s the structure. And I warn you before I say it, it’s a tiny bit complex. I think the complexity is what keeps the channel vibrant. And what keeps the riffraff out. I stream from 10am to 1pm LA time, weekdays. Usually I do music Monday, Tuesday. I do art on Wednesday, and then I do more music on Thursday, Friday. I start with nothing each day and I make something from scratch that day.
While you’re watching the channel, you earn Shinoda Bucks, just for being there. And you can use those Shinoda Bucks to redeem… Like, you can pick a song style for me to do, or a thing for me to draw, or ask a question that I’m going to answer. And yeah, usually with the with the song part of it. You know, once in a while I just I really need to do my own thing and they know that some days I need to just do a freestyle session. That’s just whatever I really want to do. And that’s just a self-care kind of thing.
The rest of the days, I do mashups of the things that they’ve picked. [Shinoda picks up some Post-it notes featuring suggestions from fans.] So, for example, tomorrow is, these are all different fans suggestions. So, one suggested Blade Runner style, like the film. One suggested Japanese instruments. One suggested J Dilla. And then a bunch of other people.
This purple one was on here because the whole chat we were talking and they were like, “Do a session where you don’t use any expensive stuff, you just use low budget or no budget stuff, so that it’s something that we could do.” And I was like, “Cool, we’ll use Garage Band. And I’ll do all the rest of things I was already going to do, but I’ll do it in Garage Band.” Usually, I work in Ableton, so they were like, “Even Ableton with all stock plugins is too expensive.” I was like, “Fine, we’ll do Garage Band nothing else. That’s it.”
You mentioned how people have suggested styles. I have one question then: How did the song “Booty Down” come to be? What was the impetus of that song?
It’s basically the song equivalent of a meme on my page. I pulled a random song style suggestion out of the bowl, which is how I do it. I put them in there and randomly pick them out. And it was Panic! At The Disco. So, I tried to do a Panic! At The Disco song that day. This is before I was doing mashups. So, I just did the one style and I was trying to do that, and it just sucked. It was like I couldn’t, I just couldn’t get it right and I hated it. And some of the fans were like, “This sounds great”, but I was just like, “I hate this, it doesn’t sound good.” And it was making me like bummed out.
So, to like to lighten the mood I started picking through these like jokey samples. Whenever you buy a pack of samples for like your sampler, they’re available everywhere on the internet, but usually they’ll come with drum sounds and synth sounds and vocal sounds. And the vocal sounds are almost always atrocious. And I was like, “You guys don’t understand.” I was saying to the people on the channel, “You don’t understand these vocal samples are the worst.” And I started just randomly playing them. And you know, like, ‘Yeah’, ‘Dance’, ‘Wow’, ‘Booty up, booty down.’ And I was in hysterics, I couldn’t like, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that a human being got on a microphone and said those things and then expected, like a company expected to sell them to me for me to use in a song, in any kind of serious way. So, I, of course, I use them. And I built a Miami bass track around it.
You’ve worked with plenty of people in the past as well. How exactly is this collaborative process different to others? Obviously, having more people involved would have been different.
I mean, it’s really not like anything I’ve done. And I’ve done a lot of different types of collaborative writing, like from being in the band to writing with guest artists to film and TV, and even video game score. This is unlike any of those things. And part of it is because I’ve gamified the process of it. I’ve turned it into an unpredictable beast. But part of is just like, the randomness of the ideas that come in. I just realised this today, that there’s like an element of… it’s almost like a modern jazz or something. There’s so much about improvisation in jazz. And this is like that in the sense that as of 10am, every day I’m starting with nothing. I have no idea what I’m going to do. And maybe I’ve collected a few sounds and put them, almost like a painter, like, you’ve mixed some colours. But you don’t know how you’re going to use them. Like, you’re just staring at a canvas going like, “Okay, well, here’s some lines.” And I’m only on for three hours, and at the end of two I’ve always got something
And I mean, some of them are crazy. Today I managed to make a song that mashed up the band Korn, the theme songs from Pokémon Sword and Shield, and classical piano. That was today’s jam. And there’s one section in the track where they all three of those things are in it. And it actually friggin’ works. And it blew my mind. I was like, I don’t know how these three things came together into something that actually sounds kind of cool. But it was super weird.
You also noted that this album is sort of more of a highlight reel than anything else. So, was there a specific moment when you began to realise that you can release this as a record?
I was surprised that, when I thought about how much instrumental music I listened to over the years, I never thought of myself as like, “Oh, yeah, I listen to instrumental music.” But then when I really thought about, I was like, “Oh, actually, I do.” It’s not the primary thing I listen to but ever since I was in college, I remember hearing DJ Shadow for the first time and there was a moments when bands like The Prodigy came out and their stuff is largely instrumental. They were one who used, they use more vocal bits than most. But yeah, UNKLE, Massive Attack [as well].
Since then, this has been humming along in the background, like of the things I listen to. Then I went back to check out producers like J Dilla and Flying Lotus and Ratatat and Flume. They are random, but they are just things that I like. And in my head, I was like, “Yeah, I could put out and instrumental record, that would be fun!”
I think one thing that I found that was interesting as well, is that this album comes two years after you released Post Traumatic. At the time you said that one was about coping and reflecting on things. In a way, the circumstances are different, but it sort of applies to this one as well because it’s born out of a need to cope and reflect on the times that we’re in as well.
That’s a great point. I mean, I don’t even think that was really, that hasn’t really occurred to me the way you just said it. It was like a, certainly the streaming and the… putting this in my schedule was definitely a coping mechanism for sure. That I did very intentionally. Because everything was feeling like Groundhog Day, it was just blurring into, one day was just blurring into the next. And there’s also something, like I think one of the things that we miss in quarantine is the kind of social interaction that you usually get during the day just being at work and being out and about.
I mean, even when you stop and grab a coffee or a bite to eat and you talk to somebody who’s there, you know, just those little interactions are missed. At least in my, we’re keeping quarantine pretty seriously. So, for me, those are all, we don’t go out very much at all. And so, inserting it back into my day in this way is, that was very intentional. It was kind of like a self-care effort.
A lot of people have worked on projects like this as a means to ride out quarantine, but if and when things returned to normal, is this something that you might continue doing in the future?
Well, I love the streaming. I mean, it’s really fun. Now, it’s become just the thing that I do. I don’t know if the hours would stay the same because I am, I do start at nine, usually, kind of wrapping my head around what I’m going to do that day, and then just doing some basic housekeeping on it. And there’s some to do afterwards. So, it’s more than, it’s like four hours or four hours plus, and then I try to write in the later part of my day as well.
So when quarantine’s up, I would imagine wanting to do a little more of the writing part and a little less of the streaming part but I don’t at this moment I don’t feel like shutting the streaming off would feel good. I like doing it and the fans there get… I’m pretty confident that they get a lot out of it. One of the things I get in the [chat]… So, you can redeem the Shinoda Bucks for question. And maybe around a quarter of the time, they don’t even ask a question. They just say thanks for doing the stream. It’s awesome. And they give an example of why they love the show like what it’s done for them personally. And that’s remarkable.
Originally when I was reading those, I’d read them out loud on the stream and then I refund the points and the chats started telling me, like the community started telling me, don’t refund the points, like, “We want to spend the points to tell you, thank you.” And I was like, “Okay, it’s your call.” Like, it was so remarkable. But again, I think that’s a hallmark of this platform and of the thing that’s going on my channel, at least, that I really like.
Mike Shinoda’s Dropped Frames, Vol. 1 is available for streaming and download now.