Linkin Park wasn't supposed to still be around by now. Appearing on the scene in 2000, the band barely distinguished itself from its contemporaries in rap-rock, the harsh hybrid of rage and rhyme that ruled airwaves at the turn the century with chart-topping and aptly named bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit.
But Linkin Park possesses commercial instincts the others didn't. From the 2000 debut of "Hybrid Theory," a multi-platinum cash cow whose liner notes started a band tradition of providing lengthy product endorsements, through a new album, the kinder and gentler "A Thousand Suns," Linkin Park has sought to express its angst, sure, but always just within the confines of what sells.
"We're not trying to make a song that, well, that's what other people are going to listen to -- that's going to be a hit," LP's MC Mike Shinoda insisted in a recent teleconference with journalists about the band's North American tour, which began last week. It was a conversation that included as in-depth a discussion of marketing experiments as creative decisions.
In fact, if you want to get a glimpse at the different sales strategies being auditioned by the unsettled music business these days, look no further than this band's tour. For good or ill, Linkin Park is on the cutting edge of plugging their music into new business models. Here are just a few of the ways the band is seeking to separate you from your money ...
with Pendulum; and Does It Offend You, Yeah?
7 p.m. Jan. 26
United Center, 1901 W. Madison
Tickets: $41.50-$199.95, (800) 745-3000, ticketmaster.com
1. Concert downloads
Included in the price of your Linkin Park ticket -- whether you want it or not -- is the cost of a digital recording of the concert. LP has teamed again with Base Camp Productions (the techies who pioneered "official bootlegs" from Pearl Jam, followed by Tori Amos, Kings of Leon, Sonic Youth and more) to provide ticketholders a mix of the show they just saw, ready for download within a few days.
It's a good mix, too. "It's not what they call a 'line mix' or a 'board mix,' which is the cheapest and easiest way to do it," Shinoda explained. "What happens in our show is the guy that mixes the show live for you records the show as it's going on. Then he takes that backstage and we do a special mix for your iPod and your car and something that will sound good on your stereo, because the live mix doesn't sound good on your stereo."
At the show, fans will see a text message code displayed. Send the text, and Base Camp responds with information on where to go for the download. Shinoda said other shows on the tour will be available for download for an extra cost.
"I wish I could have had the opportunity to take home a souvenir recording of the time I saw Alice in Chains at the Palace, back in the '90s. I saw Anthrax and Public Enemy play together. That was one of the first concerts I ever saw, which was the Killer Bees tour. I remember seeing Pearl Jam playing. ... For young people, I know they don't necessarily remember a time when this didn't exist, but for those of us who have that kind of perspective, it's something that's exciting and I feel like we take advantage of it."
2. Charity donations
Also included in the price of your ticket -- again, whether or not you wish to contribute -- is one dollar earmarked for the Music for Relief project, a coalition of musicians raising awareness for the continuing struggle of post-earthquake Haitians. (This includes the Download to Donate effort, which offers free music by Linkin Park and others in exchange for a $10 donation to Haiti relief efforts.)
LP singer Chester Bennington said he and his bandmates have been involved in relief charities for a while. "I went out to Thailand and went and saw some of the areas that had been devastated by the tsunami and kind of talked to some people and we ... helped build a house down there. Mike and I and some of our friends went down [to Haiti] with one of our truck organizations and helped clean up a school and take some debris and processed school supplies for the kids. Dave [Farrell, LP bassist] is ... going down to Haiti with some other members of Music for Relief to kind of see what's going on down there and how we can be more efficient or helpful."
Shinoda said they chose this particular charity because it seemed responsible, first asking, "What areas can be focused on that are going to make the biggest impact for that amount of money being raised? Because we don't raise huge amounts of money. We donate $1 from each ticket. ... We want to be responsible for the money that we raise and making sure that it's going to things that are actually going to be helping people."
3. Fan club convention
In Chicago this week, members of the Linkin Park Underground, the band's fan club, are converging for the two-day International LPU Summit. One of these events occurred recently in London, featuring fans hanging with band members and even jamming on stage with LP's instruments.
Chicago's event starts Tuesday, with fans competing in a basketball tournament at the Irving Park YMCA. Later, there's an ice skating outing at Millennium Park. On Wednesday, the day of the concert, activities include designing T-shirts to send to Haitian earthquake victims, backstage tours, a Q&A with the band, viewing of the sound check, plus both a raffle and an auction. (The event site has a helpful list of "what to bring," which includes "cash" twice.)
"We've done two [summits] so far, and we're doing a third one now," Shinoda said. "The one in London we saw people from as far away as South Africa, Asia, all over Europe flying out just to come and be a part of the event. Everybody meets the band, everybody talks to the band. You all get autographs, photos. You have opportunities to get up on stage, to play our instruments. A bunch of the fans got up on stage and jammed the song, 'Saint,' on our instruments. By the way, the drummer and the guitar players were incredible. They were so, so amazing."
Membership in the LPU costs $10/month or $60/year. Annual members can register for a free pass to the summit; monthly members can buy a summit pass for $75. Details about the Chicago event are here.
4. VIP treatment
Remember when the good seats were sold with all the others and an average joe with good timing could luck into the front row? Not anymore. Most arena concerts now cordon off the best seats for big bucks, simply by throwing in some cheap perks. Linkin Park's ticket prices, like most big shows, are tiered.
"We have something called the VIP concierge service, which is a higher-priced thing and you get special parking, special access, merch comes with it, and you get great seats," Shinoda said. "So if you've got the money and you want to pay for something extra, then that's great. It's actually an excellent product. But at the same time, if you don't have a lot of money and you just want to see Linkin Park play, then there are tickets that are affordable for you, as well. I mean, we'll see at the end. It's an experiment. We'll see how it works out at the end of this tour."
VIP tickets, which also include munchies and a cash bar, are $149.95 for fan club members, $199.95 for others. Regular tickets are $41.50 and $71.50, plus fees.