Chad Johnson (Come&Live! Records) interview

Source: Absolutepunk.net

For anyone who doesn’t know of your resume, can you run down a brief history of how you got started in the business, and your time with Tooth and Nail Records, up until Come&Live! Records?

Sure. My career in the music business started a long way from anything glorious or exciting. I was fresh out of college, newly married, and decided I’d use some of our wedding money to print up a thousand 7″ vinyl records for a band that was no longer even together (bad move # 1). I was working for a moving company, where I daily dreamt of doing something with music. I started a small distro (Slacker66) on the side where I began selling records at various local shows. Eventually Slacker66 became an actual storefront that served as a record store, skateboard shop and live music venue. Out of that venue came multiple “finds,” including Underoath. One of my fondest memories from the Slacker-era was the Jimmy Eat World/At The Drive-In/Twothirtyeight show. JEW were touring on “Clarity” and a whopping 90 kids showed up, I recall a couple of them having laptops (which was HUGE back then), and they gave me a copy of the first edition Clarity release on vinyl. I had launched Takehold Records by this time and was beginning to face the many challenges of single-handedly trying to run a record label, sans any music or business experience. Takehold survived nearly 3 years before I found myself in nearly $115,000 worth of credit debt. I had released 30 different albums and none of them were selling much more than a couple thousand copies, at the most. The first Underoath release sold about 3,000 copies with the second selling nearly 4,000, never would I have guessed their future success. Reality set in, and I knew there was no hope of digging myself out of the huge pit of debt I was in. My wife and I literally got down on our knees and asked God for a miracle. That prayer was answered – within a week – in the form of a miracle by the name of Brandon Ebel. We began talking about the idea of Takehold being purchased by Tooth and Nail/SolidState, and then moving my family and I up to Seattle. I fondly remember those early conversations as he began to realize what kind of a mess I was in. I still consider it a total miracle of God’s grace that six months later I was able to pay off all my debt and begin working a job in Seattle.

The opportunity Brandon and the T&N team gave me was the wind I had been waiting for. What began as a collage of roles being played at the Nail, quickly turned the corner towards a more direct focus on A&R (Artists&Repertoire/Airplanes&Restaurants). Underoath, twothirtyeight, and fewleftstanding had come along with me from the Takehold days. None of them were initially taking off, and due to a variety of circumstances, I soon found myself working with my old friends in Further Seems Forever and mewithoutYou. It wasn’t long before I had my hands full in the A&R world. The team at T&N began to grow, and Brandon brought in a few key players that really made it their passion to help develop all these 2nd wave artists. T&N began to see great success as countless bands were beginning to explode. The highlight for me came in early 2004 when I first heard 9 demos that Underoath had recorded with Matt Goldman. As soon as I heard those songs I knew something big was about to happen but I certainly did not expect the enormous growth that took place once They’re Only Chasing Safety was released.

I was with T&N nearly 7 years when I began to lose my passion for working with artists under the existing business model. It was becoming increasingly difficult to “break” bands, and it seemed expectations on the part of the artists were at an all-time high as they were still looking at all our past success and wondering why the same was not happening for them. Beyond the business challenge, I had been enduring a mental/spiritual battle over where I was in life. I was making great money, had a nice home, wonderful family, awesome job, and very few worries. But, in the midst of it, I felt a deep calling that I had not felt since I was in college. I grew up in a Christian family but walked away from faith in Jesus for a few years before dropping to my knees and admitting I needed help. At the height of my career with T&N I was also reading a couple of books (“Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper) that really challenged my pre-conceived notion of Christianity and further highlighted a growing emptiness I was feeling. I want to be extremely careful in how I say this because I have a deep gratitude for everything T&N has done for me. I was not a disheveled employee who felt he had deserved more, nor did I feel any animosity towards the Nail. If anything, T&N deserved more by way of an employee that still felt the passion I had early on. But something was missing inside me. The workload was very demanding and I found that I had very little time to do what I was most excited about – encouraging/challenging (on a spiritual level) the bands I was working with. The question was posed to me back on Sept. 14th of 2008, “Are you really creating disciples out of these bands?” For those of you who may not profess Christ Jesus as Savior of the world, I’ll help clarify that statement and why it meant so much to me. As Christians, Jesus taught us that we (His hands and feet on Earth) were to go and make disciples all through-out the world by loving and serving others, showing them by our actions that the love of Jesus was a genuine experience to be had. I already knew the answer to this question. I had tried to live a great example of Jesus at the label, but deep down I knew that I had not been able to pour into these artists in the way Jesus would have. In less than a week I emailed Brandon and let him know that I felt God calling me into full-time ministry. That decision has been the best, but also the most challenging one I could have made.

What inspired you to come up with a business model like Come&Live! Records?

The example that I found in the Biblical and historical Jesus is what caused me to question the current model and to begin seeking out something very different. Specifically: Jesus’ teachings on generosity and on the love that His followers should have towards others (specifically what He defined as the first and most important commandments – loving God with EVERYTHING you have and loving neighbor as yourself – Mark 12:30&31). I began wondering what it might look like to fashion a music model on the real principles that Christ taught. The first thing that would have to change is the focus from financial PROFIT as the top priority for a business, to the needs of everyday PEOPLE as priority number one. Jesus gave us the story that He was the good shepherd, of the kind that would leave behind the majority (99) to pursue the minority (one sheep who had lost it’s way). I’m most interested in pursuing those who have lost their way in the world by providing the best example of Jesus that I can. Come&Live! was birthed when I began taking the words of the New Testament seriously and applying them literally to a music concept.

What problems, if any, have you run into with the beginning stages of this idea? How are you overcoming them?

Without a doubt, the greatest hurdle has been on the financial end. It’s a horrible economic time to try and start a business of any kind, yet alone for a radical idea that emphasizes, “giving as better than receiving”. I walked away from T&N totally unprepared. I was not ready (financially) for the move, and yet I felt the peace of God going with me and ahead of me. I knew that if I didn’t follow-through with the decision to jump ship when I did, I probably never would. It has been an absolute miracle to see how many friends have come alongside this vision and are willing to sacrifice their own dreams/financial status/desires just to follow God’s leading and help see this through. It is truly humbling to have had hundreds of artists come our way who have expressed interest in this idea. We are still operating on a bare bones budget, but we’ve been trusting God over the past nine months and as much as I’ve prayed that He would open the doors for a job that actually paid the bills, I’ve felt such a joy in my heart that this is my job, regardless of what I’m paid. I can say that although this move has been very challenging and very difficult on numerous levels, my family and I have not gone without food, shelter, clothing, or any other basic need – not once. It truly astounds me that God has continually provided for our every need, just as He promises in Scripture (see Matthew Chapter 6: 25-34).

Can you explain the idea of “musicianaries” and how it relates to the label and its artists?

The idea is really simple. It just combines two key words, the first being “musicians” and the second being “missionaries.” Everyone reading this will be well aware of the first word, but the second may need a little explaining. The word “mission” is derived from the Latin missioninimus, meaning “act of sending” or, literally meaning “to send” or “to dispatch.” Jesus said it this way in the book of Matthew, Chapter 28: “….”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In other words, our focus is not just to raise artists to a place of success defined only in worldly terms, but we want them to consider the impact they have on every single person they encounter – that impact lasting forever, being eternal, and extending for all time. If a Christian (artist or not) just took note of the massive opportunity they have to love even just one person in the way Jesus loves, everything would change for them. That’s the road I’ve been walking down. Learning to discover what it means to love the way Jesus loves: genuine, pure, honest, real love.

Who were the first “musicianaries” to be signed to C&L!, and what was their reaction to this new venture?

The Ember Days from Auckland, New Zealand were the first band that felt God stirring them to come on board. They called me and said, “Man, this is crazy stuff, but in the kind of crazy that would please Jesus.” I literally had a period of about three months where a whole slew of bands began approaching me. Out of those bands, I had originally asked God for twelve (to represent the twelve apostles). I couldn’t stop at twelve and ended up deciding on fifteen.

On the donation page of the website, your statement reads, “100% of our profits are contributed towards the needs of other charities and individuals as the Lord directs.” Does this mean that your artists only make money on merchandise and touring? How does their music ownership/publishing rights work/recoup?

Our ultimate goal is to give every penny of profit right back to needs of others around the world; to help those who are less fortunate than us and who need to experience a tangible expression of God’s mercy and love. We feel God has called us to radical generosity as He Himself has radically provided us with generosity beyond anything we deserve.

None of our releases are currently being distributed nationally or internationally, but all of them are being set up to be given away purely “as a gift” on our website. Our intention is to always provide 100% free, no-strings-attached, no registration required, downloads for each of our artists via our website. It’s one of the smaller ways we can think of spelling out the word “love.” The idea is that anyone can access the music without any required financial obligation – but that they’ll also be able to purchase the titles if they so choose. We do intend to eventually distribute (and sell) physical and digital CD’s through regular outlets, but that’s not a top priority right now. The strength of this model is that Come&Live! acts more like a management firm, and less like a conventional record label. Our artists own all the rights to their music. This allows each artist the freedom to seek out other partners if they feel that’s what is best for them, and still allows us to play a vital role in their spiritual and career development. We want to be in this for the long haul, truly looking towards the best interest of the artist in a career perspective on both sides of the fence – business and even more importantly, spiritual success.

What charities is C&L! already working with?

Most recently we’ve really been impressed by a group out of Texarkana, AR that are truly loving their neighbors in a radical sense of the word. They’re called, “I Love Evelyn”, check them out at http://www.iloveevelyn.org. Some of the other orgs are Global Support Mission (http://www.globalsupportmission.com), Amor Ministries (http://www.amor.org), Preemptive Love Coalition (http://www.preemptivelove.org), XXXChurch (http://www.xxxchurch.com), Faceless International (http://www.faceless.org), DesiringGod (http://www.desiringGod.org) and The Love Alliance (http://www.thelovealliance.net).

What about “I Am Living! Volume One,” what are some of the responses you have been getting from it so far?

The response has been really strong, especially considering we haven’t spent a dollar in conventional marketing to spread the word about the sampler (or the site); it’s all just been viral word of mouth. In the first week we had already given away thousands of samplers, and we’ve received a wonderful response to it. It excites us to be able to start giving away full album downloads in the coming weeks. Our plan is to begin giving a free album download (per week) once the website is fully launched (mid-October).

Even though the organization is in its early stages, how much of a response have you gotten from other upcoming artists to join onto this idea and business model?

This has probably been the wildest realization for us thus far. We’ve had a couple hundred artists reach out to us at this point, showing interest in wanting to join up with us. We’ve got a healthy amount of work to do before we’re able to open the doors to a next phase of artists, but it’s truly humbling to see the level of interest we’ve received.

C&L! is definitely a Christian label, backed by Christian ideas. What do you feel about that factor, and the success that bands like UnderOath, Norma Jean, Emery, among others, have had over the past few years with an audience that might not hold the same beliefs, but are supporting these artists’ creative efforts? What do you feel about the successful “Christian rock/hardcore” scene in general?

One of the things that we feel strongly about is the fact that Jesus associated with everyone, regardless of belief, social, or political systems. He especially loved those that the conventional “church,” at the time, would not. It was very encouraging to see “Christian” artists being so well received by a “secular or mainstream” crowd, though I personally wonder whether part of that acceptance is due to such a low Jesus-saturation in many of today’s “Christian rock/hardcore” bands. I’m certainly not trying to point the finger at my fellow brothers and sisters, because I’m sure as soon as I do, I’ll be knocking people down with the 2×4 plank coming out of my eye. But Jesus was explicitly clear that our job (as those who profess Him as Savior) was to bear fruit – fruit that would last forever (John 15). The question I have to ask myself daily is, “Am I bearing fruit in my thoughts, in my motives, and in my actions?” It’s a question we all should be asking as Christians in the “scene.” If we are not pointing others back to the total perfection of Jesus, and modeling that both on, and especially off stage, we are missing the point. It might be easier than it seems to love the Lord our God with everything that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves, but it’s the challenge every Christians needs and we’re promised that God’s “power is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

If you could sum up the mission statement for Come&Live!, pertaining both to its mission statement as a label and mission of changing the elder business model, what would it be?

Four simple tenants would sum it up: Give – Our art as a digital gift. 100% Free. No Strings. No sign-up. No obligations. Love – Train, equip, and mentor artists to live intentional as “musicianaries,” spreading the Gospel of Jesus through the demonstration of His power in their own lives. Share – 100% of the profits that C&L! makes go right back out to supply for the needs of the less fortunate. Challenging a generation to “live simply to give generously.” Revive – We pray daily that God would use our efforts to revive the hearts of those who desperately need Him, ourselves included.

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