A 38-second video posted May 26 on YouTube features Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda congratulating the winner of a scavenger hunt that included clues on five continents, lasted 16 days and concluded at BBC Radio 1 during Zane Lowe's show.
When the contest began - it was among the opening salvos for the band's fifth studio album, "Living Things" - Linkin Park provided no details about prizes, duration of the contest or even what would be required of the participants. "They had very little information and to me that's what made it fun," Shinoda says. The prize, given to a London-based administrator of Linkin Park fan site LPassociation.com, was a USB port with the new LP track "Lies Greed Misery" that the winner was allowed to leak, complete with the victor's name attached to the file. The contest targeted hardcore fans prior to mass-market campaigns and did so by engaging them online globally and physically where enthusiasm for Linkin Park is most fervid - Australia, Tokyo, Toronto, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro. It also turned upside down the issue of piracy. That final piece in the puzzle is what Linkin Park prides itself on.
"I basically came up with the pot of gold at the end," says Shinoda, who co-produced "Living Things" with Rick Rubin, an encore of their united effort on the last Linkin Park album, 2010's "A Thousand Suns." "The team and I brainstormed where it ended - they ran with the meat of it in the middle. That requires a lot of legwork from people on the ground in each of these countries. Basically, we're going to do something for every fan who was involved in this thing - anyone who found a clue, anyone who translated anything - we're going to give them merchandise or tickets. The funniest part about it is we started it off in a low-key way" - Twitter feeds, mostly - "and let it build organically."
Launching the fifth Linkin Park studio album has found the band striking early and often on promotional battlefields, aligning with numerous sports, gaming and entertainment companies to position their new music in areas where fans are likely congregating. By the time the release date rolls around (June 26), new music from the band will have been associated with the NBA, Lotus' Formula 1 racing team, the Euro Cup soccer tournament, Honda Civic, Deutsche Telekom and videogames with a major film tie-in on tap for the fall. Spotify launched its largest campaign with a band in the United States to date, releasing four playlists of Linkin Park live recordings weekly in the month leading up the album's release.
Even with an astounding presence online - more than 42 million Facebook users have clicked "like" on the band's page and at least three of its videos have each been viewed more than 70 million times on YouTube - Linkin Park's approach to marketing is as aggressive as its music.
"The momentum feels different," says Warner Bros. Records senior VP of marketing Peter Standish, who has worked with the band since it signed with the label in the late '90s. "The impact of social-media marketing has caught up to the band. One thing that separates them from other bands is they tend to be naturally involved - they get their hands in the dirt to bring these things off.
"They worked hard to get to a sweet spot by coming up with creative initiatives that are impactful," Standish adds, "and the management has worked hard on tours, on sales, on campaigns that make sense. The key in it all is everybody executes. Still, we're not high-fiving each other."
Standish and the band's manager at the Collective, Jordan Berliant, point to concert ticket presales as a sign of an initial, positive reaction to the first single, "Burn It Down." Berliant says presale numbers are two and three times higher than on previous tours, with Los Angeles and Houston shows hitting new peaks for the band, "which speaks to their interactive marketing campaign. We've done a lot of direct-to-consumer and it's gone exceptionally well."
The members of Linkin Park, formed in the suburbs in the northwest reaches of Los Angeles County, pounded their way to the forefront of alternative rock with their 2000 debut, "Hybrid Theory," which has sold nearly 10 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and remains the band's biggest seller. Two of the album's singles, "In the End" and "Crawling," dominated alt-rock playlists in 2001. The former was the year-end No. 1 track at hometown rock station KROQ.
As alt-rock tastes changed, Linkin Park remained at the forefront of the alt-rock/rap/electronica world with three albums hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 - "Meteora" (2003), "Minutes to Midnight" (2007) and "A Thousand Suns" - and another reaching No. 2 ("Hybrid Theory"). While the band held its own on the charts, sales in 2010, of course, weren't what they were even seven years earlier: "Meteora" has sold 5.9 million units while "A Thousand Suns" has yet to crack a million (850,000).
Shinoda has little issue with the sinking sales, preferring to point to recent albums as necessary steps in defining what Linkin Park is as a band.
"When we got to the end of the touring cycle on the second record, 'Meteora,' we felt like we needed to get away from that sound or else we were going to be doing it for the rest of our lives," Shinoda says. "That would've driven us crazy. In fact, after that, every time I brought in a demo that sounded like the first two records, it sounded like we were being lazy. It's much harder to write something completely new versus going back to the same bag of tricks.
"On 'A Thousand Suns' we really went out into the wilderness [and] did our best to do a record that's substantial. We were on a search for new tools, for new ways to write a song, new sounds. It's a concept record that we hoped people would listen to beginning to end. We knew it was going to be a challenge to the fans and it was a challenge for us to write. Considering where we could have ended up with it, I consider it a huge success. It sold [fewer] copies than our other records, but it wasn't necessarily about selling copies - it was more about taking people on a journey and expanding the possibilities of what the band could do."
For the new record, Linkin Park sought a balance of approaches: the energy of the first two and the songwriting/production of the last pair. Key to that, Shinoda says, was narrowing down the amount of equipment used. "If you can cut down on the number of pieces of gear, you can create a signature sound for the record," he says. "As we were working on it, it was a goal to only use the important sounds. Anything that wasn't playing a role in a song we got rid of."
Many of Linkin Park's songs begin as demos that Shinoda records in his home studio and then presents to the other five members: singer Chester Bennington, guitarist Brad Delson, DJ Joe Hahn, drummer Rob Bourdon and bassist Dave "Phoenix" Farrell. The six of them, all of whom share songwriting credit on each song, pick apart the tracks and make suggestions from the demo stage until the music is mixed and mastered, Shinoda says.
Delson brings in arrangements for songs he has worked on, but otherwise Shinoda leans on his compositional and piano training to flesh out musical ideas. Shinoda plays the role of "internal producer"; Rubin is considered the fresh pair of ears who comes in about once a week to provide feedback on the recordings.
"The writing process is open to anybody as a general rule of thumb," Shinoda says. "Some bands will jam something out, write it, record it, mix it and master it. We're just doing everything at once. We'll be writing vocals, mashing two songs together and even writing during the mixing and mastering process - every song [is] in a constant state of flux."
One example is "Living Things" closer "Powerless." It was trimmed from a seven-minute epic, given a more compact arrangement and, on the last day of recording, filled out with live drums. "In My Remains" stands as something of a breakthrough: "We would have stayed away from that kind of song two or three years ago," Shinoda says. And "Castles of Glass" began as a folk song with a Johnny Cash rhythm that, as the band added parts, took on more of an indie rock edge with futuristic samples. Shinoda's vocal on the first verse and chorus, however, came from his demo.
"Rick told us while we were in the studio this time, he is positive no other band writes the way we do," Shinoda says. "He wasn't saying it was better or worse, just that it's different."
Once "Living Things" was finished, the band began to seek out song integrations with brands that would be more than a simple placement. "Burn It Down" became a signature song for the NBA playoffs on TNT with a video that captured the group in motion similar to the players featured in the clips used. Similar clips were made for European sporting events like Formula 1 racing and the Euro Cup in Poland and the Ukraine. Linkin Park toured Europe first to be present for the games.
"We didn't do that on the last album but it made sense on this one," Shinoda says. An international tour in the fall is in the works.
Before Linkin Park set out on its global adventure it went old school first, playing an intimate show for select fan club members at the House of Blues in West Hollywood and working with KROQ to reintroduce the band through "Burn It Down." Shinoda called the station in mid-April to unveil the single and 100 of the station's listeners were selected to attend a six-song rehearsal in the San Fernando Valley. The response was strong: "Burn It Down" became KROQ's No. 1 song for May, and the track has sold 356,000 copies, according to SoundScan. It peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is in its fifth week atop the Rock Songs chart.
By the time the band returns stateside for its Honda Civic tour that starts Aug. 11, it'll have added "Burn It Down" and another song to the set lists while incorporating snippets of another two inside other tunes. The band figures it'll play 20-22 songs per night, creating three rotating set lists that it'll adjust as the group travels and assembling different mashups of various songs.
"It's a very fluid process," Shinoda says of composing a set list. "Each time we rehearse and put a set together, we try to reinvent anything that has become predictable," a philosophy that was extended to the new album. "As it turned out, we made these songs that embrace a lot of other sounds we have made and a bunch of new things we hadn't tried . . . This record felt like it all added up. The tools let us take a step using the right sounds in the right spots. We want to be good at what we do-we want to be agile and versatile."