Dave Trout is the busy head of one of our favorite organizations here at Foundling House, UTR Media. For years, Dave has been spinning truth-telling, high-quality music and supporting the artists who make it. UTR puts out heaps of excellent, in-depth podcasts and runs amazing giveaways that you should all look into. Dave’s now gearing up for UTR Media’s annual music and arts conference, Escape to the Lake. Despite the whirlwind of activities, he was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of my questions.
Rachel Mosley: Where would you say you got your start in media?
Dave Trout: The unofficial start was in high school. I was one of those “only Christian music” kids, but it was a personal choice, not a rule given to me. By the time I was fourteen, I knew music was a force in my life, and that the music I chose to consume would affect my worldview and spiritual health. I wanted to share music I was in love with and started making mix tapes. My cousin Dan helped me plug a microphone into a double-cassette deck, and I would DJ an “episode” of Christian rock music, then pass out these tapes to kids in my youth group. I loved the idea of absorbing faith-infused music, allowing it to have a positive impact on my own life first, then passing it on to others. When it was time to go to college, I knew right away that I wanted to be in the Communications-Media track, and I joined the college radio station (WETN-FM) in October 1994.
RM: What do you think about working in so-called Christian music? What do those terms and labels mean to you?
DT: I love that I work in the world of Christian music. My faith and even the trajectory of my life would not be the same without faith-centered music. But oddly enough, I sort of loathe the term “Christian music.” I used to have a much more legalistic definition about what “Christian music” meant, a very dualistic mindset. Basically if you couldn’t buy it in a Christian bookstore, I wouldn’t consider it Christian—or Christian enough. It was pretty sad really. In 2007, I began working at ReFrame Media (part of the Christian Reformed Church), and I really resonated with reformed theology. I heard this radical idea (to me) that there are no such things as Christian books, Christian movies, Christian music—only art created from a Christian worldview. The “Christian” aspect of art is not the industry or the audience, or who owns the copyright, or even the store its sold in. Rather, it’s the faith-centered worldview of the artist himself. So, as I began UTR in 2008, I wanted the show to feature Christian music. I still knew the power of songs and wanted to be a faith-based resource, but we somewhat altered the definition of “Christian music” for many people, including radio affiliates. I would occasionally get complaints about songs I played on UTR, often from radio Program Directors relaying a complaint they received from a listener, that song “such and such” wasn’t a Christian song—or Christian enough. Old Dave could relate. Usually I could help people grasp this worldview perspective on music, because I went through that shift in perspective personally. Today, because “Christian music” is a loaded term, and often a negative one, we rarely use that term at all. We prefer calling the music we play “well-crafted and faith-inspired.”
RM: How is UTR a ministry and what does that mean? In what way is it a ministry? Why should people think of it the way they might think of something like a soup kitchen?
DT: I’m probably the wrong person to ask. To me, there is no part of UTR that isn’t a ministry. It’s ministry work pumping through the veins of the organization. But I’ve also realized that because the ministry value is so intrinsic to me, I’ve often failed at being able to communicate that ministry value to others who have a harder time seeing it as naturally as I do, but I’ll take a stab at it. One of Frederick Buechner’s famous quotes is: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The absolute deepest hunger in my life and the lives of many people around me is to pursue an authentic, dynamic relationship with my Savior. It just so happens that beautifully crafted songs, from fellow travelers in that same pursuit, are what feed my soul the most. The idea that God has called me into a role where I can use these passions while also encouraging others on that journey is mind-boggling to me. I have a definite sense of “deep gladness” in this work. Yet the feeding of the soul is not tangible, measurable, or sometimes explainable. I understand the idea that things like a soup kitchen, an anti-slavery movement, organizations addressing third-world poverty, and homeless shelters have intrinsic ministry value attached. It’s physical, it’s measurable. One can easily apply stats and stories to help people see results. To be clear, organizations that help the physically needy and marginalized are so needed, and are a light of the Kingdom of God. (My family supports several organizations doing this kind of work). But when we think in terms of being “spiritually needy and marginalized,” we often think of them/others. We co-mingle physical and spiritual needs. Yet, I have to own this truth: I am spiritually needy and marginalized. In fact I am WAY more spiritually needy than I am physically needy. So, although it’s harder to find because it’s not as easily measured in tangible statistics, I firmly believe that UTR is a light of the Kingdom of God, serving people who are spiritually fed by good art and good community.
RM: How is leading UTR more or less difficult than running a mainstream radio station of some kind?
DT: It’s less difficult in that we can be experimental. If we wanted, tomorrow we could launch a podcast featuring only songs that begin with the letter “M.” The freedom to try and fail and have fun is invigorating. A full-service radio station is expected to color within the lines. There are many aspects where running UTR is more difficult though. It’s much more hands-on work. Each interview we do, each song we play is done with extreme intentionality—where many radio stations can be mostly automated. Plus, I’ve never had to wear so many hats. I’m not only thinking about the big picture vision and mission, but I’m also managing fundraising campaigns, website posts, podcast production, event planning, sponsor coordination, email copy, video editing, budgets and accounts, social media posts, shipping & receiving, donor relations, conference exhibits, graphic design, strategic growth opportunities, and a couple handfuls of smaller tasks. Now, this list is not to brag—because I don’t think anyone would want to take on a job description with all of that, but it’s also not a complaint. I’m passionate about what I do, so it doesn’t even feel like work most of the time.
RM: What are your “pie in the sky” hopes for UTR?
DT: Okay, it may seem absurd at this stage, but I would love to see us having such a steady flow of high quality content, that we are considered the NPR or the MTV or the Huffington Post of mostly independent, faith-fueled music. I believe our core audience already considers us a trusted resource. I see the ministry fruit of this work, which right now is mainly one solo staffer (me). Imagine how much content and new, fun, creative ideas could be explored if UTR was a staff of twenty people! I’m grateful there’s never been a lack of vision inside UTR. As our funding grows, the organization can grow with it. For the folks that contribute regularly to UTR, they’ve gotten to see the first-hand results of us stretching every dollar and changing and growing our focus year after year.
RM: What are some ways that people can get involved in UTR and participate in its mission?
DT: Besides prayer support, another free way to help us is to be a social media advocate. Since nearly all of our ministry is web/Internet based, the reach of our content can sometimes be hindered by social media algorithms. So if folks “like,” comment on, or share our posts (@utrmedia on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter), it helps put them in front of more eyeballs. If anyone wants to become a financial backer, we actually have a summer fundraising campaign going on right now, called All Aboard 2018. Folks can qualify for a $100 matching gift, and a full reward package that’s only available during the campaign.
RM: Tell us more about Escape to the Lake!
DT: It’s my favorite week of the year. This will be our 6th annual ETTL event – coming July 18-21, to Cedar Lake, IN. It’s this fun, friendly, joyful, and inspiring time, where music lovers and music makers all hang out—enjoying meals together, sessions, concerts, and more. It’s designed to be a place of refreshment, no matter where you are in life or what baggage you’re currently carrying. Of all the things we do at UTR Media, I think ETTL is the best and maybe most important thing. Because of ETTL, countless songs have been written, artist connections made, friendships formed—the ripples of ETTL have extended far beyond anything I could have imagined.
RM: Tell us about an album you love that might surprise people. What do you love about it?
DT: I have a seemingly endless list of albums I love, but most wouldn’t surprise anyone. My shocker is probably “Freedom” by Michael W. Smith. (a) Smitty is pretty much the opposite of an underdog indie artist. (b) It’s all instrumental, and I’m more of a lyrics guy. The album really does showcase Smitty’s versatility as a composer. But the biggest reason I love it is because it was released the same year Laura & I got married (2001). We honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies, and that was the main album we listened to as we drove around the majestic landscape of Banff National Park. Music has that unique ability to be tied to place and time.
Be sure and get your tickets to Escape to the Lake while you can. In the meantime, you can checkout all of UTR Media’s worthwhile podcasts and content at UTRMedia.org. If you are a fan of their work, do consider donating! As UTR is a 501c non-profit, all donations are tax-deductible.