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Why Christianity Needs Real (Not Safe) Art, Music and Story

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Derek Webb's Christian music is anything but safe - and thank God for it!

This Post quoting Tim Keller nails the need for inspiring artists within the realm of Christianity:

“The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination ‘gets you,’ even when your reason is completely against the idea of God. ‘Imagination communicates,’ as Arthur Danto says, ‘indefinable but inescapable truth.’ Those who read a book or listen to music expose themselves to that inescapable truth. There is a sort of schizophrenia that occurs if you are listening to Bach and you hear the glory of God and yet your mind says there is no God and there is no meaning. You are committed to believing nothing means anything and yet the music comes in and takes you over with your imagination. When you listen to great music, you can’t believe life is meaningless. Your heart knows what your mind is denying. We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.”

I’ll take it a step further: For me, musicians like Derek Webb and writers like John Eldredge have been a huge influence. I like them because they’re not a “safe”, watered-down, G-rated version of Mister Rogers’ Christianity. I see too much of that in well-meaning but rather hollow Christian music, movies and books that give up the actual art part of the venture in order to be “safe” and not offend anyone.

Derek and John tell the truth. Their work is transparent, unapologetic and inspiring because it is so REAL. It resonates with the life I live and the world I know. They don’t pretend and they don’t mince words. Many people – including those calling themselves Christians – consider them offensive and dangerous.

Folks, Jesus was (and still is) offensive and dangerous to many people. The Gospel is offensive and dangerous. Claiming to be the one true God, above all others, claiming to be the only way to heaven and everlasting life – that’s offensive and dangerous.

Jesus was wild, dangerous, controversial, beautiful, intimate, loving, kind, compassionate, empathetic, righteous and magnetic – the most talked about person in all of human history. He wasn’t always safe for the whole family. Let’s not water down our worship of him through art, music and story in order to be “safe” and non-offensive.

So keep it coming! I like my Christian art, music and books to reflect real life – dangerous, beautiful, inspiring and above all else REAL.

How about you? Who are your favorite Christian artists and why?

Ben Rector: A Case Study in Brilliant use of Social Media

I originally found independent singer/songwriter Ben Rector via NoiseTrade, where musicians give away songs for free – no strings attached – in hopes of building a following. Not only have I enjoyed Ben’s music and proven the NoiseTrade business model true by going out and paying for more of his music on my own, but I’ve also become a huge fan of how brilliantly Ben uses Social Media. His YouTube channel is hilarious, and his latest effort to engage and reward fans surrounding his new album’s release is classic Thank You Economy.

Below is Ben’s video asking fans to help spread the word about the new album, and what they’ll get from him in return. The effort apparently paid off. In less than a week, his album went to #4 overall on iTunes and #1 on the singer/songwriter list. All this without a major record label or promotional effort behind it!

As a bonus here’s one of my favorite Ben Rector songs. If nothing else, follow this guy for his Social Media savvy, because he’s doing a brilliant job!

The time in 2006 when I thought Derek Webb had gone insane, got thrown in jail or both

When I saw this, I thought Derek Webb had gone bonkers!

I’ll never forget when I first heard of the URL http://www.FreeDerekWebb.com. I thought my favorite controversial Christian musician had finally pushed the Modern Day Pharisees (MDP) too far and gotten himself locked up. I imagined the MDPs could take it no more thanks to songs like this, and had managed to throw Derek into some sort of prison where Christian dissidents like Don Miller and John Eldredge would also be held. As such, I figured the “Free Derek Webb” URL was designed to call attention to his plight.

Of course, that was not the case. But when I learned the true reason for the URL, I still thought Webb had gone crazy. I mean, this was 2006. Sites like NoiseTrade didn’t exist. Musicians didn’t just give away brand new studio albums for free.

But Derek Webb was doing exactly that! What a nut job.

As a huge fan of his, I was delighted to take advantage of Derek’s mental state and snag a free digital copy of his latest release. And of course (this is where Derek Webb proves he’s not insane) I ran out and became a brand evangelist, e-mailing (Facebook and Twitter weren’t mainstream then – remember, this was 2006!) all my friends and telling them about this amazing deal.

A few other people must have, too, because more than 80,000 people downloaded the free album.

I’m sure many were already fans like myself, but think of how many more thousands of people discovered Derek Webb’s music for the first time as a result.

Sure, he missed out on some easy/fast money by giving away 80,000 copies of “Mockingbird,” but he got great publicity/market exposure, and (more important) he did something Gary Vaynerchuk preaches all the time – Derek Webb began building lifetime customer value.

If you downloaded “Mockingbird” for free in 2006, and fell in love with this new musician Derek Webb, I’m betting you bought at least 1 or 2 of his other albums at some point in the future. Derek gave up a huge chunk of money in the short term, but over the long term he gained (potentially) tens of thousands of new fans, and (most important) made them fans for life.

UPDATE: Derek just posted a response on Twitter about this whole episode and its impact on his career:

And with Webb’s current fans like me, a free album download just endeared him all the more to us, and also jacked us up even more than usual to be his brand evangelists, telling everyone how great he was and why they should download his free album.

As great a musician as Derek Webb is, I think he’s an even better marketer. He proved all the way back in 2006 that he understood the power of Social Media and “Word of Mouse” before such a thing even existed. He does an amazing job in 2011 using sites like Twitter to connect with his fans in meaningful and lasting ways. And he constantly pushes the envelope for what’s coming next with sites like NoiseTrade, which people like me use all the time to download free music from new artists. And, funny, if I really like an artist I find for free on NoiseTrade, I always end up going back and buying more of his or her songs because I like the music so much.

Glad to know Derek Webb is not insane or in Christian jail. The music (and PR/Marketing) world would be  much less exciting without him.

Why Derek Webb responded to me on Twitter, and how it changed my life

Derek Webb = Twitter Gold!

I don’t think we can overestimate how important the “@” reply and “RT” features on Twitter can be.

Case in point: Derek Webb is hands-down my favorite singer-songwriter. His songs have brought me closer to Jesus than anyone else, and done so more times than I can count. His lyrics tell the truth in a raw, unvarnished way that resonates all the way to the core level of my heart and soul. He also has a snarky sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously. In short, I love the guy for his talent and authenticity.

Needless to say, whenever Derek Webb responds to a question or comment I send his way on Twitter, it means more than he’ll ever know.

From a Personal Branding perspective, Derek Webb does a great job of connecting with and engaging his fans via Twitter. I’m sure it goes a long way toward explaining how successful his career has been despite not having Major Label support and basically building his entire solo career (after many great years in Caedmon’s Call) from the ground up. Webb shares his life – the good, the bad, the ugly – with his fans and followers in a real, authentic and oftentimes humorously self-depricating way.

From a much more important perspective – God’s – Derek uses his gifts of music, humor and candor to share the Good News and reach countless people.

Below is a video of one of my favorites from Derek – “Ten Thousand Angels.”

My favorite line, which comes after a beautiful instrumental bridge:

“Ten thousand angels will light your pathway/until the day breaks fully in the East
And they will suround you/and make your way straight
‘Cause love has come, love has come, love has come … for you.”

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