How Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda used Twitch to make a series of quarantine albums
As the world continues to find itself in the midst of a global pandemic due to the coronavirus, many are searching for new ways to occupy their time. Whether it’s finding solace in exercise, catching up on must-see TV, or painting that room you’ve been meaning to for so long, people are doing their best to make the most out of a woeful situation. For some, this newfound time has given them an opportunity to create something new.
Mike Shinoda, best known as one of the co-founders of rock giants Linkin Park, has spent much of his time in isolation streaming on Twitch. However, instead of playing video games like so many on the platform do, he’s been recording new music as his fans watch on. The result: a three volume series entitled ‘Dropped Frames’.
Will Lavin sat down with Shinoda to talk about the creative process behind his new projects, interacting with fans during quarantine, and why Twitch is a better streaming platform for your mental wellbeing.
“I fell into it because of the quarantine. Every day was starting to blend together like Groundhog Day and I just felt like I needed something in my schedule for structure. That was a part of it and then as I was doing it a little more, it turned into me being like, ‘Okay, I’m going to start going on at 10 and you'll catch me tomorrow at that time.’ From there, I just started doing weekdays.”
“It’s the community. I look forward to logging on because it’s a much more positive community than many of the other ones. You can't even compare it to the likes of Instagram or Twitter. Twitter's a cesspool. Instagram's a little better. I don't go on Facebook. And then TikTok and Snapchat are completely different things. I don't really use those very much.
“The thing I love about the Twitch channel is that they do a good job of keeping the riffraff out. Plus they gamify it so it's fun to just sit there. If you're going to sit there for five minutes or if you're going to sit there for five hours - which I never go on for that long - it's entertaining. I can play games with the people on my channel. I can engage with them the entire time.”
“By being in the chat on my channel, you earn loyalty points called ‘Shinoda Bucks’. You earn those just by being there. You can participate and play games. You can gamble your points and you can duel against other people for points. You can do a bunch of other things with them and bet on different things during the stream. These are all activities that I set up on the backend. I implemented the extensions and added them to my channel. I teach them to fans once or twice and then they teach each other. So then if somebody shows up and they don’t know what’s going on because they’ve never been to the channel or been on Twitch, they’re going to see all kinds of activities going on that they don’t understand. And that’s what I mean by keeping the riffraff out.”
“It is. But that’s what I like about it. If somebody is going to put in the work to come to the channel and figure any of that out, they’re not gonna do it just to come in and be negative. They’re not going to do it and then squander it all by being stupid. They’ve already put the work in, put the time in to be a part of the community. So far, up until this point, I’ve had a very positive experience on my channel.”
“I use Streamlabs OBS to broadcast my feed into Twitch. You can just go on your phone on the Twitch app and do it that way but it’s harder to integrate the sound component that I’m doing. I don’t think you can make beats and channel them into your phone - you probably can but it’s not ideal.”
“I go live from 10-1 Pacific Standard Time every weekday. Four of those days I do music, the other day I do art. So every week I’m making four beats, or four instrumental tracks, really. I was starting to do the math and thought, ‘Oh wow, If I do this for a while - and I’ve already got 40 tracks - I’m gonna have so many tracks. And if I hear something I like, that I think is spectacular, then I could use it.’ That’s how it started.”
There’s a track called ‘Booty Down’, which I would never have made had it not been for the fans because it’s so ridiculous. ”
“There’s been a couple of days where it’s swung in the opposite direction. There’s a track called ‘Booty Down’ [on ‘Dropped Frames’ volume one], which I would never have made had it not been for the fans because it’s so ridiculous. The challenge from the fans was for me to make a song in the style of Panic! at the Disco. Long story short, what I was making, a lot of them in the chat were like, ‘This is cool’. I on the other hand was like, ‘This sucks. I hate it.’ It wasn’t because it sounds like Panic!, but because it sounds like a crappy version of them and it’s not good. It’s terrible. I didn’t have the sounds that I needed to make the song.
"So we were at odds because there were some people in the chat who agreed that it was terrible. I just hated it. So I ended up just completely going left and pulling up joke sounds to make myself laugh. It ended up becoming a Miami bass song with vocal samples that say, ‘Booty down’ and ‘Booty up.’
“But I don’t pretend to think that ‘Dropped Frames’ is the kind of series that people are going to come back to in 30 years and be like, ‘Oh, this is a masterpiece.’ It’s like, no, this is a time capsule. This is a moment in time that is really odd and fun. For anybody who was there, I think they will remember it with a lot of, you know, warmth. It’s not for a big audience, it’s for the little audience."
“It does. I mean, there’s a huge cross section of people in my channel who only come to Twitch to watch me. They still don’t even really know what Twitch is. In the beginning, I could see a lot of them asking, ‘How do I do this? I just wanna participate. I don’t understand Twitch.’ They’ve figured all of it out at this point and luckily they’re teaching anyone new who comes in. The culture is like that, you know? They all go out of their way to help each other.
“It is. We’re all missing that sense of physical community and going out with friends and talking. I don’t even really go out to get food or buy groceries. I don’t even go out and grab a coffee. So that little exchange you might have with the barista: ‘How’s your day?’ Those little chats that happen when you get in an Uber, the micro conversations, they’ve all gone. I’m now starting to notice this. So having an online community like this is comforting.”
“The only time I let somebody suggest a sound - and this is for legal reasons - is when they pick a sound out of an online library of royalty-free music. If they redeem Shinoda Bucks, they can go into the store and suggest a sound for me to use, and then the sound goes into a certain folder in my library and I will attempt to use it in the songs I’m making.”
“I went to school for illustration and the dynamic in illustration is that you have a client who has demands or ideas and you try and find a compromise between their vision and your vision. That was one of my primary jobs in Linkin Park. I’d come up with ideas for songs and then the rest of the band would come in on a Monday and give me critique, like, ‘I wanna hear this and I wanna hear that.’ It would then be my job to take those things and assimilate them.
“I feel like nobody’s going to be as difficult as working Linkin Park. So dealing with a chat full of people isn’t that bad. The worst stuff that happens is that they might be a better guitar player than I am. They might be like, ‘You should try this.’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re the guitar player! I’m just a hobbyist when it comes to the guitar. My guitar playing gets the job done. It’s not shredding. I don’t have the dexterity on any instrument to go super fast or be super technical. I can’t make my body do that."
“No, I’m not. I mean, nobody’s Jimi Hendrix. But then some fans might think they are. Luckily, we haven’t had that yet. I’ve had people who have wanted to be on a song or submit stuff for a song. But at the end of the day, it is my stuff and I get to make the creative decisions. I know I’ve made stuff on the channel that I love and some of them may think it’s just okay, and that’s fine. And there’s definitely been things on the channel that I’ve made that they’ve loved, which I think is okay. You can probably guess which ends up on a ‘Dropped Frames’ record.”
“They can spend Shinoda Bucks to suggest a theme for the day. In the beginning, I was just taking the theme and doing it. Now, there’s too many themes, so I mash them up. We’ve had a Morris Day and The Time redemption. We had a Prince redemption. We had a Michael Jackson redemption, too. I try to work with neighbouring themes. If I know something or can give a perspective on something in terms of songwriting, arrangement, production, even the philosophy of putting a song together, what I try to do is give the channel a masterclass. For example, when we were doing the Prince jam, I was showing them my interpretation of the difference between a ‘1999’ era Prince song guitar and a ‘Thriller’ era Michael Jackson song guitar, and how you would play them differently even if they were the same notes."
“I think it’s remarkable because he not only said he was gonna go do stuff on Twitch but he said he was leaving other platforms. I thought it was remarkable because he’s obviously very cognisant of his mental health and he is echoing the sentiment that many of us feel, which is that social media has become an unnecessary strain on our mental health.
“That’s what I’m sorting right now. I’m working on having a partner deal with Twitch. I’m at an affiliate level right now and we’re just wrapping up the partner deal. With the exclusivity clause, it just means you can’t go live on other stuff. You can post on whatever you want, but just don’t go live on another platform. And then once you do your Twitch stream, you can take that video and put it up on YouTube or whatever.”
“I’ve been working on a few other things, so yeah, there’s other stuff in the mix. Once I log off Twitch, the rest of my day is me working on other things. But it’s like an R&D phase. I’m investigating a few other concepts and ideas. What I can say is, it’s mostly, well, it’s almost all music.”