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Paul Colman Part One

Award winning singer/songwriter Paul Colman discusses why integrity is a "relative" concept for believers, tips for bands on tour, and what Ozzy Ozborne and Chris Tomlin have in common in this two-part interview.

Paul Colman (Newsboys / Paul Colman Trio) recently added "record producer" to his list of career accomplishments. This Australian born Grammy Award nominee and Dove Award winner offers insights that fine tune the typical lens most Christians use to view their faith and the Christian music industry. Hit songs like "Turn," "Fill My Cup," and "Run" put Colman's name on the Christian music charts, but it was during his time with the Newsboys that he began to shift his focus to what was really important, redirecting his life and career in a healthier new direction. IV squeezed in this controversial conversation with Colman between his hosting responsibilities at the 2010 Revelation Generation Festival in Frenchtown, NJ.

IV: What’s your history with Revelation Generation? How did they choose you to be the Master of Ceremonies (MC) for six years straight?

Paul: Simple: I performed the first year of RevGen and saw that they had a need for an experienced MC, so I volunteered. I love to perform and as the MC, I engage the crowd with small talk and keep the performers on track. Heck, I can even play songs on my guitar if a time-filler is needed. Being an MC suits all of my talents and preferences and I love to do it. I’ve always been excited about what music is capable of, but my number one love is people. I love people and what music can do to move their spirits. Music is the “ticket” to people’s hearts and that’s what I use it for, to speak to their hearts about the Lord.

IV: There are some bands in the Christian scene with lyrics that are not “Christian.” [Paul: “In what way?] Well, there is no hope in their lyrics. What’s the point of calling yourself a Christian band if you rail against the things Christianity stands for?

Coleman in hallwayPaul: I haven’t seen the lyrics you’ve talked about, but if I did see them, I would question them as well. See, the really hard thing about this whole genre is that we are trying to squeeze Jesus into show business. That’s the opposite of everything Jesus taught. Jesus talked about the opposite of self-promotion. He preached about doing good things in secret, letting no one see you, praying in your closet where you aren’t visible… the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. In the Christian music industry we are taking the teachings of Jesus and trying to promote them through artistic endeavor. That’s either impossible or near impossible. And I think it screws you up if you don’t know how to handle the clash of culture and ministry.

IV: How so?

Paul: Well because by its very nature, the music industry is narcissistic and ego-driven. Musicians, even Christian artists, are trying to promote their music. They want to include a “Christian” message, because it’s what they believe in, but they also need to pay their bills, be good at their art, use their talent for God’s glory, etc. In reality, everyone follows an industry model that’s the same whether you are Chris Tomlin, Ozzy Ozbourne, MercyMe or Marilyn Manson. You make a record, you promote it, tour and hope to make a living at it – rinse and repeat. Posting on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are the virtual equivalent of touring 28 countries. The model is the same, virtual or not, only the scale of the promotion budget changes.

IV: Was this a trend you fell into and how did it affect your life?

Paul: Definitely. When you make a record, it has to become ‘Number One’ in your life and everything else, including family and relationships, take a back seat. How do you make great art unless you give it everything you’ve got? So then, you leave your loved ones behind in your pursuit to promote this creation of yours. You know if you don’t promote it, it won’t get out in the market place and begin to make money to support the family you pushed to the back seat. You do it for every song or album you write. It’s a vicious, circular model that feeds off itself until it runs dry. Why do you think musicians are so screwed up? This isn’t what you were meant to do with your life, but we justify it saying we do it for the ‘message’ of Christ. Some people do this better than others. They take their families along on the tour and it doesn’t screw up everybody, but it sure screwed me up. So I don’t do it any more. I can’t do it. I hate that model. It’s the enemy of friendships, it’s narcissistic and it turned me into a manipulator. It made me completely dysfunctional.

Touring separated me from my wife, kids, friends and all things resembling ‘normal.' I’d come back home after a month of being waited on and worshipped by people who would do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to do anything for myself while on the road. After a concert, people would ask me to autograph a napkin or their shoe as if my signature would somehow validate them and give their lives meaning. I’d get back on the tour bus, go to the next town to do it all over again. What kind of life is that? People considered me a hero, but what about the selfless people who care about the poor? The real heroes get little recognition in this life. They should be on the stage! I’m not saying that you can’t stay grounded in this industry, just that it is really tough and it was too hard for me and I’ve had to change the way I work.

IV: What are some of the changes you’ve made to avoid the traps of narcissism?

Coleman on vintage truckPaul: I made a choice not to tour anymore. Now I fly into a place and I fly home when the gig is over. I don’t stay on the road longer than necessary. When I was in the Newsboys, please don’t get me wrong, they are fabulous guys! No matter how great it was, we were on tour for 15 months straight; 15 months!! That’s ridiculous!! I missed out on life events with my family like birthdays, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries. I wasn’t aware back then as to how much damage I was doing to my family. I was chasing a career to validate myself and I was doing it in Jesus' name - which is worse than anything! My priorities were all wrong and I’ve since made adjustments to my schedule and have been consistently trying to repair the damage my actions caused. The three years I was a member of the Newsboys were three of the best and most difficult years of my life because I learned an immeasurable amount about music, team work, ministry and life but pushed the limits of what my personal life could take. I am very happy to say that I left the Newsboys with our friendships intact. I always was, and always will be, one of the biggest Newsboys fans and supporters. Those three years also made me realize I needed to scale down my tour schedule.

That's one direct change I’ve made and why I love being the MC for RevGen. I work for a weekend, then I go home. I get to do what I love - connect with people all day. I took all the pressure off myself. I still sing at events as a performer, but I can’t live the whole lifestyle anymore. I just can’t. My music/career fits me now, not the other way around.

IV: What other things have you done to ensure a healthy, vibrant career and keep your integrity while on the road?

Paul: [Laughs] Well, that’s going to have to wait until after I introduce Brandon Heath… Be right back! (as Paul vaults off to the NY stage for his next intro...)

Next Page: Colman discusses how even devout Christians can lack integrity, why having a ministry is an illusion, the wisdom of firing an agent and the reunion tour of PC3>>>

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Suzanne Rahn is the Director of Development at InnerVoice. Suzanne is a freelance writer by day and a mother of 4 great kids the rest of the time. Suzanne lives in Somerset County and attends Liquid Church, Morristown campus.
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