On Common Ground

Linkin Park

As I approach the 200th post of Weekly Music Commentary I have had the privilege of featuring some of the best bands of our day. I must say there is something special about a band. The term band can refer to a variety of musical units but this week I am referring to those units that consist of both instrumental and vocal performers. Many folks start out in high school joining with friends to have fun playing and dreaming of that day when they become stars. I never joined that kind of band back in my high school days. Of course, being a horn player made me more of a luxury than a necessary component. It definitely would have been different if I played the guitar or drums. Nevertheless, I had an appreciation for those bands of high school kids, and still do today regardless of musical genre.

Several years later I started to work in my first print media job; a regional music magazine. It provided me with the opportunity to meet various bands in different places within the music industry. Some were just starting out, some were signed to recording contracts, and a few were living the dream. One thing I noticed about each conversation was that all band members seemed to work very hard in all aspects of the music business. When you are an aspiring musician there are so many things to be done daily. There is no team of people working on your behalf; all promotional leg work is done by band members – and/or friends and family members. On top of that work there is the everyday task of improving musically. All the band members I came in contact with understood the necessary effort and worked tirelessly to make it happen.

The bands who were close to the top of the industry also took nothing for granted; always working day and night to stay in their position and provide fans with better music. It was that dedication, the drive and look in their collective eyes, coupled with the conviction of words that brought all band mates together as brothers. I still sense this common ground among bands each time I feature one in the Weekly Music Commentary. Of course, once again I feature a hard-working band: Linkin Park.

Going back in time to 1996, Linkin Park was founded by three high school friends; Mike Shinoda, Rob Bourdon, and Brad Delson. The three attended Agoura High School in Agoura Hills, California, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles. After graduating from high school, the three began to take their musical interests more seriously, recruiting Joe Hahn, Dave “Phoenix” Farrell, and Mark Wakefield to perform in their band. Of course, at this time they were known as Xero. Though limited in resources, the band began recording and producing songs within Shinoda’s makeshift bedroom studio in 1996, resulting in a 4-track demo tape, entitled Xero.

For all of you struggling bands out there that last part must sound familiar. You can almost guess what happened next. Tensions and frustration within the band grew after they failed to land a record deal. The lack of success and stalemate in progress prompted Wakefield, at that time the band’s lead vocalist, to leave the band in search of other projects. Farrell also left to tour with Tasty Snax and other bands.  Chester Bennington, who was recommended by Jeff Blue, the vice president of Zomba Music at the time in March 1999, joined the group as vocalist. Another name change, to Hybrid Theory, and the release of an EP which they promoted utilizing the young on-line community helped the band move ahead.  The band’s renaissance culminated with another change in name; from Hybrid Theory to Linkin Park, a play on and homage to Santa Monica’s Lincoln Park. After facing numerous rejections from several major record labels, the band signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records and released its breakthrough album, Hybrid Theory, the following year 2000.  Now we arrive fourteen years later, after the string of successful recordings, live shows and constant promotion to the release last month of Linkin Park’s sixth studio album The Hunting Party.

The music video has become the standard promotional tool for all popular musical acts today, and I noticed some of Linkin Park’s videos included interesting themes and imagery. I found that many of Linkin Park’s videos were directed by fellow band member Joe Hahn. He handles the turntables, samples and programming for the band; important elements in any nu metal band. Hahn and Mike Shinoda are also responsible for most of Linkin Park’s album artwork. In a 2003 interview, he told MTV that film-making was his true passion, and that “doing the music [was] more of an extra thing”.

The “extra thing” is working out really well as Linkin Park has sold over 60 million albums worldwide and has won two Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards for Favorite Alternative Artist.  I have been listening to The Hunting Party since the release. It is a very polished work overall and seems headed for more critical acclaim for Linkin Park. Even after their successful foray into the music industry they still appear to me like that bunch of high school kids working hard to get to the top.  Linkin Park and all the other hard-working bands out there are working on common ground.

photo by Brandon Cox

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