I’m kicking off a new series about how our life in Christ connects to culture. We can’t hide ourselves from our culture; we are fully immersed in the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are free to take pleasure in certain God-given areas of culture and many are important and even beneficial to the Christian life. I hope you join in on the dialogue with each post in this series.
What better way to start than with an interview of my husband? Joshua Wann wears many hats (literally and figuratively), can do many things, but above all he desires to honor God daily with the way he engages the culture.
One of Josh’s first ‘hats’ (have I mentioned he has a lot of hats?) started in 2003 to give those in Christian hip-hop a platform for releasing music without having to deal with the business side. His record label was dubbed Lamp Mode Recordings and was intended to make music primarily for the edification and teaching of the Church.
Josh’s second ‘hat’ is Scouts Honor, which started in 2012. It began as a combination graphic design, branding, and video production company, but has since focused solely on video production. It exists to bring higher quality production value to mid-sized companies and musicians.
What was your purpose and desire in starting Lamp Mode?
At the time, just out of college, it was really just a hobby that turned into a career. I waned to create a record label that did away with a lot of the “industry” and business politics that tend to squelch artist autonomy. Lamp Mode had a philosophy of giving artist’s creative control with financial backing. In addition, there was the theological thread of all the artists. At that time there wasn’t an iTunes, or digital market that exists today. Because of that, it was hard for an artist to be independently successful. I wanted to create something that bridged the gap between a commercial model and an independent artist model.
What was the approach you took in making music and in the creative direction of Lamp Mode?
The approach was to let the artist be the focal point, not the music business. Most commercial models of a record label are focused on profits and market value. I wanted a record label that focused on highlighting the artist as artist, even if that meant not having commercial success. If creating profit is the end goal for any art, then the art is diminished and relegated to only a select few. In the end, that’s a short-sighted way to run a company or even an industry. It doesn’t create good music, but only creates a product.
The balance is that Lamp Mode needs to be mindful of the business and commercial viability of its artists, but not in a way in which it trumps everything else. We always had to juggle artistry, business and theology. All three are necessary components of the brand.
Was the business affected by your Christian beliefs? If so, how?
The only part of the label that was affected by my Christianity would be the theological component. Before becoming a Christian and being involved in the music industry, I had the same philosophy of letting the artist reign supreme, even at the expense of the business side of things. So the philosophy came from wanting to see the artist have full creative control, but the Christian convictions fueled the content of the music and the artists that we chose to work with.
How do you feel God was glorified in the process and end product of your musical and art endeavors?
On the horizontal level, I feel that he was glorified in treating our artists more fair than any other record label that I know of. I don’t know of any other record label that has treated their artist’s the way that we have, which also includes the deals we made with them financially. I believe this comes down to just doing good business. Doing things ethically, treating people right and having integrity. In our industry, we still have a good name and reputation.
On the more vertical side of things, I believe that he was glorified by the nature of the content of the music. Most of the music is focused on the character of God, the message of the Bible, and communicating the gospel.
How does God’s Word speak to all this?
From creation man is called to work. The way in which he works reflects the image of God. As a worker, there is opportunity to do good or to do harm. I believe we did good work most of the time and that it honored him. Also, in the Bible it speaks of doing everything to the glory of God. In secular work that looks like having integrity. In work of a more religious nature that means representing him accurately. Those are the things that bring him glory.
How do you think our culture views art and music?
Without trying to be exhaustive, I think one example is what I would call the “passive consumer”. They fall victim to what the machine feeds them. The machine is the totality of the industry. The executives of the record labels and people in charge of the distribution channels. They determine what gets most visibility, and in turn, the consumer is programmed. The consumer doesn’t make a decision about what they like or what is good. They just get fed by the industry, by what they hear on the radio, and by what they see on TV.
I think all people should be able to step back from the machine of the industry and be able to think for themselves. They should be able to determine what they like, regardless of what is popular and what isn’t. They are not the only victims. Unfortunately, many artists lives are disrupted by the pursuit of the dream. They might share relative success for a year or two, only to be abandoned by the next artist of the day.
How should art and music be a unique and different view for the Christian? And how can we share common ground with our culture?
The Christian should be able to think holistically about these things. One way to think about this is: a person’s art should not be exploited for profit. This is really an exploiting of the artist. We should care enough about justice and fairness that we reject industries that don’t treat people fairly. This is part of loving our neighbor. Any time profit is the ultimate goal, people will be hurt. We should be able to step back from the machine that the word propagates and see it for what it is. See it from God’s perspective. In turn, that can help us to also not be influenced by it.
Sharing common ground with the culture is one of those things that can be terribly misunderstood. It is not a bad thing, in fact it is unavoidable. I think the first thing is to acknowledge that we already share a great deal in common. It is as simple as the language we speak, to the way we make music, the equipment we use, the way we distribute music, use of the internet, etc. There is undeniable overlap. It’s in this overlap in which we can develop relationships and foster conversations.