Why Phil Joel Cut the Social Media Tether
Name recognition is more valuable than gold for music artists. Few understand this reality better than Phil Joel, former bass player and vocalist for Newsboys.
Joel has been in the Christian music industry for decades. But his new band, Zealand, released their freshman album in February. Zealand is sure to top Christian music charts and fill radio playlists.
But it will be intentionally absent from one critical environment: social media.
A musician’s concerns
“A few years ago, on the advice of a manager, I fired up all the social media platforms,” Joel told AFA Journal. “It took only three weeks before my family had an intervention.”
Joel’s family saw that social media brought out aspects of his personality that were not good for him. He saw it too.
“When they told me these things, I had to agree with them. I didn’t like what it became, what I became.”
Joel began pursuing Christian music for two reasons. The first was to glorify Jesus through song. The second was to serve and encourage people.
“Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). And that is why I got into this,” Joel said. “When I engaged in social media, it altered the way I saw people. I began seeing them as objects to serve me, not the image bearers of God I should be serving. Everything was about me. I was losing my soul and trying to gain the world.”
The result of these revelations was a deep conviction. After wrestling with how best to apply the convictions about social media to his life, Joel deactivated all his accounts. Those around him witnessed the struggle, the convictions, and the application.
A generation’s challenge
Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2010, came of age with social media. Joel’s two teenagers are no exception. It might be expected that a man with Joel’s convictions would have a rule banning his children from participating on the public platforms. But those expectations would be wrong. He believes today’s teens must reach their own decisions.
“My kids saw my struggle and the development of my conviction over the course of 10 years,” Joel said. “They watched and were part of the discussion.
“Watching them, I realized how lucky I was this wasn’t around when I was a teen. I had time on my hands that allowed me to learn a musical instrument and hone my craft. I look back now and think if I’d had these distractions when I was a kid, I don’t know that I would be doing what I am doing now.”
A band’s consent
As Zealand was impacted by Joel’s conviction, the question became how to market a new band without the use of Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other “must-have” platforms.
“Marketing a new band without social media is an ongoing challenge,” he said. “Luckily the world is a huge place and there are new outlets for communication being invented every minute it seems, so I’m totally not worried. I want to be part of the solution and not the problem. That’s the measuring stick we try to use when deciding how to communicate and get our music out.”
Joel declares he never wanted to be a publicist, only a musician and an artist. But social media makes every artist into a 24-hour PR person.
“There are people who are great at marketing,” Joel said, “but I want to be great at music.”
Freeing itself from social media has allowed the band to be about the music, not who ate what last night.
However, they do want to connect with fans and let them know what is going on. Zealand.band became the solution. Here the musicians’ music, photos, and more can be found. Having a set place where all their content is stored, and not having the pressure of constantly updating social media profiles has given the band a genuine peace of mind and ability to relax.
“When I come home off the road, I am off the road,” he said. “And when I’m on the road, I’m on the road. I get to enjoy the moments from being on the bus to eating at restaurants to hanging out on the beach. I get to enjoy these things instead of feeling the constant burden of doing photos or videos in order to play the social media game.”
A man’s conviction
Joel recognizes his conviction is not for everyone, and he does not attempt to make it so. In every interview and conversation where his stance on social media comes up, he attempts to speak with the highest degree of grace and humility.
“I want people to hear the caution I try to speak with when discussing this issue,” he said. “Hopefully I don’t come across as grumpy or condemning. Social media’s here to stay, and I’m not trying to shut it down or judge anyone who uses it. I just want people to know there is another way. If social media is eroding their souls, they need to know, contrary to what everyone is saying, it is possible to live and have a completely normal life without it. Last time I checked, I’m still here making music, I have a pulse, and I’m loving life!”
When the subject comes up, Joel encourages listeners to experiment with his conviction. Social media has become an assumed reality to the point most cannot conceive living apart from it. Divorcing themselves from online self-publication does not seem like an option.
Joel added: “My hope is that my personal conviction not to do Facebook will put the option on the table for people to ask if they really need these things or if not doing them would free them to live without the constant pressure to craft their best life, and constantly compare themselves to a billion people they don’t even know. That is self-imposed stress that we’re not actually built to handle. The reality is that no one is forcing us to sign on. We all have the option to switch it off.”
People find a measure of value and validation in social media with the promise that users will be understood, seen—and even liked.
“But they are counterfeit to what only God can give,” Joel concludes.
That is why Zealand unapologetically—and cautiously—shares its convictions publicly. It is a stance many will find confusing or unnecessary.
“There are people who are drowning because of social media,” he said. “If we can give them the courage to turn things off and walk away so they can get their souls back and begin breathing deeply again, it’s worth it.”
For a penetrating essay on Christians and social media, visit "Why we should escape social media."