Written by Sam Edgin
Music is meant to be shared. Live, it is incomplete unless a mass of people is moving in unison with the rhythmic flow, headphones will always be swapped when that one song plays, and at home there is little more rewarding than when a guest says, “Who is this? This is good,” as your iPod plays through itself.
Sure, the always-iconic mixtape of the late 80’s and early 90’s and its position as sharing medium of choice has been progressively usurped by playlists, burned CDs, and file sharing, but the idea is still the same: this music is good, and I want you to enjoy it too.
So our age of headphones and iPods may have created the reclusive idea that your music is your right, even in shared time, yet we still cannot resist giving others the music that has moved us, even if we insist on listening to it on our own most of the time. This drive, coupled with technology, saw the passing of the mixtape and even the compilation CD with the rise of Napster and peer to peer (p2p) sharing programs.
Music, indeed almost any music one could imagine, was now available at no cost to anyone with a computer and Internet access. In the wake of Napster’s downfall, p2p sharing truly took off, with sites like The Pirate Bay pushing downloads of any kind of media that could be digitized to anyone who could justify what had been termed “stealing” by the courts, or who just didn’t care.
Christianity has largely removed itself from this debate. Individuals make judgment calls and leave it at that. Most leaders tend to denounce sharing when confronted with the issue, mainly because the connotations it have with stealing. Yet one can assume that if a friend offers to burn a particularly good album for them, those same leaders wouldn’t turn it down. Really, it seems that the church, leadership included, doesn’t quite know what to do with a 21st century ownership and content issue.
Enter Noisetrade and Come&Live. These two sites, helmed, respectively, by a Christian recording artist and a Christian record label, have added their own voices to the debate. They supply a kind of third way to access music content online, one where the music is free and shared, but supported by, and in support of, the artists.
Noisetrade.com was sparked from the mind of influential Christian singer-songwriter Derek Webb, formerly of Caedmon’s Call. Modeled after the way he post-released his “Mockingbird” album (2005, INO records) in 2006, Noisetrade lets users download albums from artists in exchange for a little information (name, email, zip code) and a post about the site on twitter or facebook.
It has featured music from Webb himself, his wife Sandra McCracken, and bands like Waterdeep and The Civil Wars. Singles from the newest Caedmon’s Call album were even exclusively released on the site. The purpose is mainly to spread the music of up and coming artists through awareness and proximity to more popular artists, hopefully increasing concert ticket and album sales.
Come&Live, while still maintaining the “awareness leads to increased sales” ideal, presents themselves also as something a bit different. The main purpose for the site, as quoted from their “About” section is, “to establish the Kingdom of God within a community of musicians.” The label is a registered not-for-profit, committed to their musicians and the spiritual community in which they all reside. The whole organization is donation based. The bands on their label include Showbread, formerly of Christian-indie/punk standard Tooth and Nail, and the worship up-and-comer Lovelite.
These sites are notable within Christianity and the larger media culture for two main reasons. First, they have followed the example of Christ in taking a third way to answer a debated problem that is usually answered one of two ways. This idea, written on extensively by theologian/philosophers such as Walter Wink, suggests the Jesus’ response to most any given situation responded in a “third way.”
So, when Christ insisted that we “turn the other cheek” he was suggesting not that we passively bend to evil, but that in turning that cheek we look our enemies in the face and force them, non-violently, to consider us as equals.
What both Noisetrade and Come&Live are doing is providing culture with an alternative that doesn’t try to overcome the other means of getting music, but instead comes to terms with the fact that people want free music and that artists need to be supported in order to keep making that music.
Second, each of these sites have started something that appears to be unique, and uniquely Christian, within the scope of the larger culture. As the RIAA and the rest of big-business media wage war against torrents like the Pirate Bay and the thousands of people that use their services, something has sprung from Christian media – a genre and an industry that are often criticized for doing a poor job at representing both Christ and culture – that creates a new, unique way to access music in the way the public demands without leaving the artists and, in part, the industry, out in the cold.
This in culture-creating at its finest, a calling for followers of the way that can be explored in books such as Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. Will the larger Christian music industry finally catch on? Will the kind of music sharing and the Christ-like principles seen in Noisetrade and Come&Live spread throughout an environment that often appears to be defined more by profits than by Christ?
That kind of shift is difficult, especially within a multi-million dollar industry. Yet just because it is difficult does not mean that the corporate body cannot do what it can to push the trend toward change. This is done through using and supporting the efforts of both of these sites. So go, be free, and download.