Linkin Park’s singles often inspire the question “haven’t they already written this song?” An mp3 that does the rounds from time to time mixes Numb (on the left) and Pushing Me Away (on the right) to illustrate this with almost comical effect: All Linken Park Songs Sound Exactly The Same.
As shown below, and forgive the hyperbole, much more than they sound the same all Linkin Park songs look the same. And while it’s easy to criticize the band for their overuse of a formula that’s by now cliche, the similarity between their tracks at least holds a lesson on the importance of song arrangement in pop music production.
The Linkin Park Formula
The standard Linkin Park structure looks like this:
- Quiet intro: Each song has a relatively quiet two-measure intro.
- The instrumental kicker: The full band come in together on the down-beat, and play two or four high energy measures, usually instrumental.
- Quiet verse: The song eases off for a verse or two, heightening the dynamic contrast between the song’s sections.
- Heavy chorus: Usually the same chords established in the kicker, with Chester screaming over top for added emotion.
Here’s how it “looks” in practice. Each image below shows the audio level in (roughly) the first 90 seconds of a Linkin Park song. Note that I adjusted the tempo of a few tracks for better visual alignment:
If the pattern isn’t clear to you, mouse-over each image to highlight the 4 sections: Intro, kicker, verse, chorus. And click the title to hear the song on Youtube.
There’s nothing particularly surprising or innovative about the structure. But its repeated use by Linkin Park is clearly successful: They’re one of a few acts still selling lots of CDs.
Why It Works
There are several reasons why this song formula works, and whether or not you record pop music, understanding the reasons will make you a better producer:
Dynamic contrast: Our senses are drawn to change (remember why we listen to reference tracks while mixing?) so we find dynamic, evolving sounds more interesting. The up-and-down of a typical Linkin Park song grabs listeners’ attention on an instinctive level.
Memorable hooks: Because it’s often jarring, the kicker at the start of Linkin Park’s songs is memorable, and makes for a great hook. Pop songs hit or miss mainly on the effectiveness of their hooks.
Familiarity: For lovers, it breeds contempt. For pop music artists, familiarity breeds fans. It’s a truism in the traditional music industry that to succeed, a band needs a “sound.” Linkin Park’s re-use of the same basic song structure makes their music instantly recognizable, and lets their listeners feel immediately comfortable with new material.
Again, you may not write or record pop music. You may even despise the stuff. But knowing why a band would choose to re-use a formula like this will help you make better decisions about your own song arrangements (even if only to avoid having your music compared to Linkin Park.)
What does this say about Linkin Park’s music?
On one hand, the band and their producers deserve kudos for finding and exploiting a successful formula. They’re in the entertainment business, after all, and appealing to fans is any entertainer’s number one job.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to view the six images above as a statement on the music industry. The major labels decry the actions of listeners who download music from free sources. But this is the alternative they offer: The same song, repackaged six different ways. The vast majority of music listeners who aren’t Linkin Park fans ask the same question I did in the first sentence, “Haven’t they already written this song?” And the obvious follow-up question, “Why would I pay for it more than once?”
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