On a Friday evening, Jason Harwell plays his Gibson J45 guitar for an audience of his closest friends, passionately singing a love song about … a red folding chair. He closes his eyes tightly, as if singing directly to the chair with an undying love: Folding chair, precious folding chair/ The time we share is beyond compare/ You are there, sweet folding chair/ You keep me from crouching in mid-air. For his friends sitting around the room, the routine seems to be nothing new. Some of them smile at the song they’ve heard a hundred times, while others can’t resist laughing out loud. His gentle mannerisms and shy smile seem to reflect a quiet, sensitive personality. His small frame, Caribbean blue eyes and short spiky hair only add to the assumption.
But there is something inside of Jason Harwell, a fire that refuses to be extinguished. At the age of 24, his goal is to revolutionize the Christian music business. He began Rebuilt Records in 2001 with the help of Craig Gross and Jake Larson from Fireproof Ministries (based in Corona, Calif.) in the small college town of Athens, Ga. Rebuilt is unlike any record label today. To begin with, Rebuilt is nonprofit. It is meant to be a ministry above all else. Rebuilt pays for Christian artists to record their CDs and then keeps $1 for each CD sold. According to Harwell, today’s secular and Christian labels do the exact opposite, only giving the artists $1 for each sold CD.
What’s more, in the midst of court case after court case against sharing music files, Harwell brings a daring approach to the table, considering he is the founder of a record label. All Rebuilt music is available to download for free at Rebuiltrecords.com.
“If this is ministry, there is nothing wrong with spreading the Word,” Harwell said. “I want to further the kingdom even if you don’t have $10 to buy a CD. When people burn our CDs or download our music, they’re doing the footwork for us. They will tell others about it, and we don’t have to pay the money to do the publicity.”
Harwell and David Herndon are the first official artists of the Rebuilt family. Harwell’s CD, Building a Better Me, and Herndon’s Ten Million Times and One, both are available on the Rebuilt website to purchase or download.
As a solo artist, Harwell recently joined Pillar, the Benjamin Gate and EastWest on the Fireproof Ministries Tour. He spent six weeks traveling for the 27-date tour, which covered most of the continental U.S. Being on the tour opened Harwell’s eyes to these struggles of touring Christian musicians.
“They don’t get to go to church or see their families. They’re with each other 24 hours a day, and when they finally get a moment alone, they often take it for themselves. All of that makes it very hard to grow spiritually,” Harwell said.
As a solution, Harwell hopes Rebuilt will feel like a home for artists. The label is committed to developing and discipling artists and refuses to be known as a short-term label. In a sense, Rebuilt is a refuge for artists who are serious about their music and their desire to spread the Word.
From his perspective, American record labels work in a very predicable pattern. First, an artist is “discovered” and strikes a record deal with a company. The label fronts the artist money for touring, CDs, T-shirts and every other imaginable dream of an up-and-coming musician. Of course, they think, paying the record label back won’t be a problem. After all, most artists think being discovered automatically equals fame and fortune. Suddenly, the artist finds himself receiving a measly $1 for every CD sold, touring his life away to earn the money back and swimming in debt. And from Harwell’s experience, most people assume the Christian music industry escapes this pattern. Sadly enough, business is business; artists often are merely commodities, and even the heads of Christian music labels need to make a living. Yet Harwell is not satisfied with this, which is why he feels he needs to produce change.
“We’re not out to make a profit; we’re trying to help Christian artists who want to put their music out there,” Harwell said. “Sometimes I feel like I am the least capable, but then I realize that those are the exact people God tends to pick. When I think about it, there is no way this can work. But then I look at the Bible, which is why I think it is written down, so that we can constantly look at it for encouragement. Without God I couldn’t accomplish these goals at all, but He has given me the confidence and shown me there is no limit to what He can do.”
At the age of 16, in the small town of Eatonton, Ga., Harwell bought his first guitar and immediately started his first band, The Rubber Bandits. His passion for music grew from that moment on, though he admits his first desire to record his music stemmed from a desire to be famous, not to revolutionize the music industry to bring God glory.
“I wanted to be on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘Look Mom, I’m on the cover of Rolling Stone,’” Harwell said.
But he left for college with a heart broken by his high school sweetheart and a young faith that had not yet learned how to hear from God. During his four years at Reinhardt College, God used Harwell’s brokenness to instill a fire and passion in his heart that would give him the strength to act on God’s revolutionary idea for the music business. He had the opportunity to play in a rock band by the name of CopperJohn and received overwhelming spiritual encouragement from the guys in the band.
It was about this time that Harwell met the love of his life and biggest supporter of Rebuilt, Jana Harwell. Jason and Jana claim their love story is a “summer camp romance that worked.” They were both counselors at the Christian camp, Epworth by the Sea, and after fighting off their feelings for each other for an entire summer, they realized they had God’s blessing and married last spring.
Harwell and his wife agree on the dream of having the Rebuilt label firmly established in the next ten years. Having his own studio for Rebuilt is a major goal for him. He said he would even like to see others starting labels just like his and even doing it better. He dreams of the day when his artists play worship concerts in downtown Athens. Many people laugh at this idea because Athens is home to the University of Georgia, one of the biggest party schools in the nation. Yet that doesn’t stop Harwell from trusting in God’s ability to move in darkness. One of Jason’s biggest goals for the next 10 years is establishing an internship program at Rebuilt for teenagers, especially those who don’t know the Lord. He hopes they will come out of their love of music and leave with a knowledge of the Truth and a fire to enact change in today’s dark society.
Until then, Harwell will continue to perfect his art, record his music, make his friends laugh any time there is a guitar sitting around, and most of all, pray that what God inspires, He will bring to completion to His glory.
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