As the economy, and music piracy, continue to worsen, one question hangs over the entire music industry like the clouds of a coming storm: “Can we still make money doing this?”
Chad Johnson is writing his own solution to this problem: form a company that doesn’t make a profit. After 11 years in the music industry, the guy who discovered and developed Underoath, Anberlin and Mae left Tooth & Nail Records to establish a “missionary record label,” that follows the Radiohead model (“pay whatever you want—even if it’s nothing”), and depends on missionary-style fundraising for survival (artist and staff members will be raising their own support).
Come&Live! will be giving 100 percent of their profits to humanitarian and missions organizations, and will package exclusively with recycled materials.
Their website has only been up for a week, and there has been no press outside of this article. They’re basically telling the artists they sign that they’re entering a life of staying broke and living on the road—and artists have been coming out of the woodwork to join, some of whom walked away from “traditional” record deals to follow the vision.
I sat down with Chad to learn more about the only company in existence that’s making music solely for the benefit of others.
You plan on giving 100 percent of the profits of your company away. Tell me about the organizations you hope to support. Do you plan on making music about these topics?
Absolutely. We’re allowing each of our artists to choose a partner charity that they really feel led to be working with. We haven’t formalized partnerships considering we barely even have a website up yet, but some of those we are looking at include Healing Waters, Project Ak-47, Preemptive Love Coalition, Compassion International, Mocha Club, etc.
We’re looking to form partnerships with these charities where we’re able to offer exposure of their great efforts to a young audience, and in return they expose what we do to their own audience. Considering our music will always be available free of charge digitally, it’s much easier to expose our music to the customers of these charities.
Come&Live! is going to provide “support and pastoral care” for artists. This is the first time a label has ever done this. Tell me what that looks like.
It starts by modeling humility and a servant’s heart to the artists. Hard to expect them to step out in faith to trust God if Come&Live! isn’t doing the same. We follow through by praying with and for the artists, holding them accountable, encouraging them, helping provide for basic needs without any idea of “recoupment.”
We’ll also be looking to host annual or bi-annual retreats called “Come&Die!” where artists can come together to be fed and strengthened in their faith. We are also challenging them to ensure they have a solid local church that helps provide accountability and added support. The global Church is called to work together, so we hope to start seeing local bodies (or members of) coming out to shows, praying with our bands, taking them out to eat, bringing them an encouraging book, etc.
You’re currently turning artists away from Come&Live! because of the overwhelming response. What makes an artist “ready” for this life?
It’s been overwhelming to witness the response that we’ve received in just a few short months. If anything, the artists are the ones that seem more than ready for this. Multiple factors come into play on why artists are coming out of the woodwork and showing serious interest. The most common factor is that they’ve been dreaming of a better model that would allow them to express their hearts and be allowed to do what they’re called to. The reality that the music industry is severely struggling causes just about any artist to recognize that it’s near impossible to gain traction anymore.
The famous quote by the late Hunter S. Thompson is probably not too far out of line with how most musicians view the music industry: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
I know you’d never say this about yourself, but around the industry, you’re known as an A&R legend. Anberlin, Underoath, Mae. What qualities in an artist lead to great art?
The strongest indicator I’ve found to be true in great artists who create great art is an undying passion that leads them beyond all the obstacles. There is a work ethic that exists in some artists that just keeps them pressing forward, even in the face of great opposition. What I’m looking for in artists for Come&Live! are people with genuine hearts that want to join a community of artists stepping out in faith to trust God for our very existence. I’m of course looking for artists who are making great God-glorifying art, but at the top of the ladder has to be a wonderfully huge heart full of faith and love, and [one that’s] eager to experience an adventure.
Anything else you’d like to share with RELEVANT’s readers?
Yeah, consider being counted as one willing to leave behind everything to follow the heart of God wherever He leads you. Pray about simplifying your life so you can give generously to those brothers and sisters of yours who really need it—those living with nothing more than a straw hut for a home and a bowl of rice as a meal. They are your neighbors, and the command is to treat them better than yourself. Pray God gives you the strength to follow the example of His Son and pray that He gives us the strength to stay on the path He has us on. We would love to have you join us in the mission of revolting against a dated system and inviting God to establish a new one. If you feel led, help us live this dream.