Thursday, June 18, 2009

changing song lyrics

I was a bit late to the party on this one, but there was a post last week on the Sola Panel about changing song words.

I could start a long and angry rant here about the presumption of changing someone else's lyrics, but won't because it's too late at night.

But here are a few points:
  • lyrics are carefully chosen. The lyricist is probably a better writer than you are, so leave them as they are.
  • lyrics say what the lyricist wanted them to say. If you don't like it, chose another song.
  • lyrics belong to the lyricist. Even if you have bought a copy of the song it is still not yours. Don't mess with it.
  • lyrics are copyright. You are breaking the law if you change them.
You wouldn't try to change the colour of my baby's eyes, would you? Don't change the words of my songs.

There is an argument that always seems to pop up that says that songwriters should give their songs to the church for free and that there should be no royalties of any sort. Such an argument is stupid. Here are a few facts.
  • If you want to make money, go work at Woolworths. It pays much better than songwriting. We don't do it for the money.
  • Organisations that don't collect royalties generally don't have their songs sung. The sad truth is that it costs money to get songs out there. If evangelical songs are not properly marketed, charo songs will get more and more of a market share and the church will not be served well. We would not be doing the church any favours by not selling our songs.
  • By rights, we should get paid a whole lot more than we do. If we were secular songwriters we would get money everytime our songs were performed - each week in church. We (willingly) get none of that. The CCLI system where churches only pay to print off the words and music is very generous to churches.
I could go on, but won't.


  1. I always sing "we" instead of "I" in corporate singing at church.

    I think lyricists might write "I" when they're choosing the words to a song intentionally but in order for it to fit the corporate purpose it should be we.

  2. ...and that's aside from whether you get to speak for others anyway. If it's presumptuous to proclaim 'forever I'll love you...' then it's in a whole new league to make that audacious claim on behalf of others!!

    (I guess I'd rather people didn't put dodgy theology into my mouth ;-)

    Just out of curiosity, Simone, what did you think of my question re 'pain in the offing/offering'?

    (This is aside from the fact that I learned yesterday that all the people in one Bible study group were talking about it, and convinced that pain in the offing was a reference to how suicide is not so pleasant...I don't know, what do they teach at those schools these days? But perhaps now isn't the time to rant about teachers ;-)

    I should also add - I have had the extreme misfortune of singing a song where the argument 'lyrics are carefully chosen' simply cannot be sustained. I mean, it was abysmal. Never published, of course, but I was still stuck with it for a few weeks. In that case, I felt very free to not sing the song, as soon as I could drop it!

  3. I wouldn't be caught going to a church that sang a song as theologically bad as that.

    But songs where the change from "I" to "we" encourages the fellowship - I'm more than happy to do that. Despite Simone's feelings.

    I also wonder what this means in relation to the "open source" movement - I'm pretty keen on that... when it comes to software - and don't see why it should be much different when it comes to music.

  4. "Did the psalmists think that?"

    Are the psalmists a prescriptive model for songwriting?

    My cessasionalist instincts say no.

  5. Why is it worse to change the lyrics than to change the tune? Or is modernising old hymns a musical faux pas to?

    I would argue that if you're happy to change tunes to make the song more culturally appropriate and easier for the congregation then you should also be free to change the words.

    And when it comes to copyright I'd suggest there's a "fair dealing" element to the debate - particularly if there's a license involved. But I'm 4 and a half years past studying any sort of media/copyright law so my memory might be faulty.

    There's a difference between redeeming a faulty song by changing a word or two and a wholesale reworking of the fundamental concept of the song.

  6. Hi anthony. Yeah I read your comments.

    I know nothing about offing/offering in that song. I've always sung offering. Typos happen. Maybe the matt redman has fixed it up somewhere. Or maybe it was a typo in just one edition?

    I'm sorry that you had to sing a song with abysmally bad lyrics. Hard to know what to do in such a moment. I won't sing really bad words (theologically bad, that is). Words that are bad for non-theological reasons sometimes give me the giggles. If lyrics haven't been chosen carefully then there is no reason for the song to be on our church playlist. In such a case, changing a few words normally won't help. Ditch it. (Tricky if it was written by someone in the congregation. Send them to my lyric writing workshop!)

  7. Nathan. My lyrics are mine. The tunes are (mostly) Philip's. You are not free to change a note or two of his tune. I don't think you are free to use my words with a different tune unless I agree to it or after I'm well and truly dead.

    Trouble is that there isn't a whole lot of difference between changing a word or two and doing a wholesale reworking. Take my song 'Never Alone'. The lines that make some people uncomfortable is 'Never alone is now our cry, In joy, in grief, in lonely sin.' What if they wanted to change it to 'Never alone is now our cry, in joy, in grief in anything.'

    In their minds, this redeems the song. In my mind it kills it.

    There is no way of drawing a line. I'm precious about every word of that song (apart from 3 which I hate) and imagine that other songwriters feel the same.

    In the songs that I use 'I' and 'Me' instead 'We' and 'Us' I've done it for a reason so don't change it or I'll hunt you down and do bad things to you.

  8. For me as a songleader, it's simple. Changing song lyrics is illegal and disrespectful to the songwriter (no matter what christian persuasion you or they are from).

    If you don't like it, don't sing the song.

    And I'm going to stick my neck out there and say I have no problem singing "forever I'll love you" (but that is another issue altogether). Though I understand that other people do and not everyone can sing that, and as a songleader I would honour that and not choose that song.

  9. 3 more questions...

    1. If a church "accidentally" sings the wrong lyrics - or if the piano player "rearranges" the tune in order to make it easier to sing - then this would be wrong under your ethical framework?

    2. Are you, in your treatise, considering all songs you've written or songs intended for congregational use - if the latter then I find your position problematic. Are Andrews sermons subject to the same standard of copyright? Do you think the psalmists (who you brought up) were subject to the same copyright?

    If it's the former then I'm right there with you - it depends if we're talking about something written as an artistic expression or for "corporate" use.

    3. When it comes to stuff written for congregational singing my feeling is that you're writing it as "God's employee" so he really owns the rights to your work - as far as copyright laws go.

  10. Also.

    I'm enjoying this.

    Couldn't you argue that you're changing the lyrics of a bad, but well known, song for the purpose of "satire"...

  11. And I understand the "public domain" rule. I'm not coming at this without a functional definition of copyright - but I think that there's an ethical implication as well as a legal implication of this argument.

    So I think if it's unethical to change someone's lyrics written now then it's unethical to change someone's music written years ago.

  12. Also - according to the SolaPanel - "Churches may alter the age of pronouns (‘ye’↔‘you’) and their number (‘I’↔‘we’)"

  13. Wow Nathan, that's alot of comments. Out the door now, will write tonight.

  14. I could be wrong (it has been years since I studied copyright laws at uni), but aren't retuned hymns legitimate songs in their own right, because hymns were written long ago so aren't subject to copyright laws? So effectively and legally, a retuned hymn is an "original" composition in its own right?

  15. Yeah - legally you're right. But my question is ethical.

    If it's obviously so repulsive to a songwriter to have their work impinged like this - then I'm wondering if it becomes ethically problematic to play around with other people's work just because they're dead.

    But like you my media law is about 5 years in my past so I can't claim to be an authority.

  16. At the church we went to in Gympie, I don't think I ever sang because most of the songs were theologically awful! And some I couldn't sing just because I was too busy trying not to laugh at the words...

    I think the issue is the same with the music as the words. I often wonder that when I cut out chunks of pretty stuff between verses because I don't think it's appropriate/necessary for congregational singing.

    But I also rarely play exactly what's written, I always play my own arrangement - generally made up as I go - is that wrong, should I be sticking to the exact notes written on the page.

  17. The exact notes written on the page as the accompaniment were never meant to be played. Of course you can mess around with them! We are free to rearrange the song - just not rewrite the tune.

  18. "The exact notes written on the page as the accompaniment were never meant to be played."

    Ahh, well who's to say that the exact words were meant to be sung. They're surely just a guide.

    Why are the words more artistically important than the music?

  19. nathan, go away.

    [said with much love and affection.]

  20. Here's an analogous thought...

    I write Media Releases for a living. I agonise over every word because they're often of a political nature or important to get right. It's important that they communicate a truth. Just as it's important that your songs communicate a truth about God.

    I get angry if they're misconstrued and used out of context.

    But if they're being used appropriately to communicate my organisation's point but my words are not used verbatim (except the bits in direct quotes) then I rejoice. Because they have achieved their purpose.

    Why are songs different? Are they all in direct quotes - and at that point should we be singing them congregationally? If we're only doing it to express the thoughts and intentions of the composer then are we legitmately singing heartfelt songs of praise to God? I would suggest we're singing the composer's song of praise to God if we're not owning the words - and not our own.

  21. "lyrics are carefully chosen. The lyricist is probably a better writer than you are, so leave them as they are."

    Another question - what if they're not, and what if they're not?

  22. If the song is stupid the answer is simple: don't sing it!

  23. i'm with simone on all this. It's like this annoying arrogance that someone's work is open for your changing and 'correcting'. Exactly what Simone said, if you don't like the song, don't sing it, and go and right your own. If I did a drawing and someone came along and 'improved' it I'd open a can of sweet home-cooked refried whoopass.

    It's about respect, and people arrogantly thinking that your work is freegame to be changed and made more this or more that. If they are such maestro's well, surely they can make up their own thing from scratch.

    so ner.

  24. See, I'd make a distinction between work produced for secular purposes or "artistic expression" and work produced for the purposes of glorifying God.

    But this comes down, a bit, to your theology of work.

    I think secular work, by its nature, is less valuable than "Christian" work - and I think we should be using our gifts for Christian work with a community spirit that I reckon is best articulated in a "Creative commons" approach.

  25. i don't like this line of thinking. It's like saying the work of the minister is more useful, holy and God-glorifying than the average Joe who cleans the toilets.

    God gave people creativity. When we use that (with the right heart), it is God-glorifying, whether I work hard to draw something good for my job, or whether i work hard to paint The Last Supper. Neither is more or less God glorifying.

    it's dumb to make a distinction between the two

  26. Hi Simone,
    I followed the link from Nathan's blog (but don't hold that against me).
    This may be the Pharisee inside me, but I was wondering where you stand on a couple of issues (me pushing the extent of the law.) How do you feel about Be Thou My Vision in 4/4 rather than 3/4? I like the arrangement and it's easier to sing but does this ignore authorial intention?

    Also, it was suggested at a conference I was attending last weekend (a conference called 'God, ministry and emotions') that Blessed Be Your Name needs to be rewritten in a minor key to more accurately capture the emotion of loss (taking away). While loss rightly brings forth sadness, that doesn't change our underlying conviction that God is good and worthy of blessing and honour. Whereas musically the song's tone is unbridled happiness.

    I have two questions.
    1. If this rewriting was done without changing the melody (kind of like doing an arrangement) would you frown upon this?
    2. If it's kosher, can you get your TWIST buddies to do this?

  27. Ben,

    I disagree brother.

    "It's like saying the work of the minister is more useful, holy and God-glorifying than the average Joe who cleans the toilets."

    The minister is more useful, holy and God glorifying than the toilet cleaner (assuming we're talking a man who cleans toilets for his living not in service of the fellowship.

    I think our doctrine of work has been affected by some sort of identity crisis and mad political correctness.

    The bible clearly spells out more reward for those who do the work of ministry (which can include things like cleaning the toilets at church) - and ministry is more likely to produce fruit.

    Gospel proclamation is of infinitely more value than other "order bringing" work. If we don't affirm that we risk sending a generation of people into full time work because they see that as "ministry".

    I'm all for glorifying God in whatever you do - I just don't think that makes a statement that things are of equal value.

  28. "I think our doctrine of work has been affected by some sort of identity crisis and mad political correctness."

    Hmmm...are you sure about that? I think the doctrine of work that Ben is suggesting is actually much closer to the reformers than yours, Nathan.

  29. Well then I think the reformers were wrong - because I think mine is closer to the Bible...

    That was facetious.

    The panel of Presbyterian Ministers from the Reformed side of the reformed scale suggested that secular work should not be considered "worship" to me the other day when we were discussing what I believe "worship" is with reference to the Westminster Confession.

  30. Are you suggesting that if I feel that I am "gifted" and able to serve the body of Christ in some sort of teaching capacity that I am not doing said body of Christ a disservice if I choose to stay in the PR industry?

    I don't know how we can possibly hold both types of work "equal". The Bible doesn't. You can affirm the value of both without equating them.

  31. "The bible clearly spells out more reward for those who do the work of ministry (which can include things like cleaning the toilets at church) - and ministry is more likely to produce fruit."

    I'm also not really sure what you mean by this. Which passages are you talking about? Yes, the Bible says that ministry produces fruit and great reward, but as far as I'm aware of, passages that speak of the fruit from ministry aren't written in the specific context of 'ministry vs. secular work'. The only thing I can think of is the idea of storing your treasures on earth as opposed to storing them in heaven. But I don't think that's what Ben is talking about.

    Maybe you could explain to me?

  32. 1 Corinthians 3 is where I'd be drawing most of my thinking from.

    Verse 8 implies a reward directly linked to ministry.

    8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.

    Verse 9 implies that Paul is specifically talking about ministry...

    9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

    Verses 10 through 15 seem to be linking the heavenly outcomes for those in ministry with the quality (not quite the word I'm looking for) of their work...

    "10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

    I contend this isn't talking about the vocational cleaning of toilets - though that be done well and to God's glory.

    I don't think you can form a doctrine of work solely from the exhortation in Colossians 3:17 - "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

    Then finally, 1 Timothy 5 suggests gospel workers are worthy of double honour...

    "17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning."

    Then you'd have to consider Ephesians 4 - which suggests acts of service are a gift, but I don't think it equates exercising them in the secular context with exercising them in order to serve the body of believers...

    "11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."

    And finally, 1 Corinthians 12. The whole chapter is relevant. It starts off by establishing that while gifts are different they all come from God - but then the chapter only really deals with gifts that serve the body - again, not equating secular work with serving the body of believers.

    "4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. "

    And the last few verses seem to establish a hierachy - and exhort us to desire the "greater gifts"

    "28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

    That's my thinking anyway.

  33. "The panel of Presbyterian Ministers from the Reformed side of the reformed scale"

    What’s that? Are you talking about a modern panel? Sorry, I’m a bit daft when it comes to these things. I was thinking of Luther when I made that comment, how he broadened the term ‘vocation’ to show how any one could serve God in any calling.

    I agree that secular work should not be considered worship. That's idolatry. But I would argue that ministry can also be a form of idolatry, if you do it for the wrong reasons! Romans 12 talks about our spiritual act of worship as “offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”. Surely we can do this at work? Not by worshipping secular work, but by worshiping God while doing secular work - by being righteous, by working hard and honestly, by proclaiming the gospel to colleagues, by living “such good lives amongst the pagans”.

  34. Sorry, I should have provided more context for that comment.

    I am preparing for Presbyterian candidacy. I had an interview with a panel of very reformed Presbyterian ministers who quizzed me on my understanding of the Westminster Confession of Faith - and in particular the clause on worship (which is almost definitionally limited to what you do at church on a Sunday). I raised Romans 12. And their very reformed response was "but there are some people who would consider sweeping the street to be worship"...

    I guess, due to my Presbyterian heritage when I am quizzed about reformers I think about Calvin and the guys who wrote the Westminster Confession rather than Luther.

    While Calvin and Luther both waxed lyrical about the benefits of work - Calvin more so than Luther - they both also worked primarily as ministers of the gospel.

    I wonder how much of their establishing a "protestant work ethic" was a cultural reaction.

    Both Calvin and Luther seem to affirm work as a means to create or restore order - and again, I'd argue that for the Christian this is most likely to be expressed through the ministry of the gospel - whether by preaching, or teaching, or hospitality, or acts of service - than through secular work (I'm not saying this has no value - just less).

    The parable of the talents would be another place that affirms my thinking.

    I think working hard, and doing well, in secular work is great, and brings God glory - just not as much as working the same amount in ministry.

    I'm yet to be convinced that a day spent diligently mowing lawns has the same value as a day spent preaching the gospel.

  35. So the one sentence summary... You can serve God by working in most vocations (there are some that I don't believe you can) but you serve him better in some sort of ministry.

    Otherwise, why bother with ministry?

  36. I didn't realise that my earlier post completely left out the sentence I intended to write about the panel being the people who interviewed me. Sorry again for the confusion - and sorry for taking this thread so far off topic.

  37. Wow. This has gone a long way.

    A few thoughts.

    In my congregational lyrics, I think that the best way for me to serve christ's church is to insist that they are used as is or not at all. The assumption through all of this is that you know better than the lyricist. Perhaps you are convinced that my words are wrong and yours are better, but I am not convinced of that. I'm convinced that mine are right and that if you change them, you will make them either heretical or tacky. I will not have either. If you think my lyric is tacky as it is, the answer is simple. Don't use it. If you think it's heretical, write to me and I will change it if you're right. But I don't think you'll be right, because I try very hard not to write heresy. I will not let you change my lyric because I won't have my words used to promote a false or distorted gospel. The very fact that you want to change my words, indicates fairly strongly that we are on about different things (and I think you are wrong.)

    Music is never as straight-forward as lyrics. With hymns, they were written to standard meters and have always been sung to multiple tunes. There is no problem (ethical or legal) with re-setting them. Old hymn tunes are public domain and you can do what you like with them - so, try mucking around with the time signature or whatever, it's fine.

    With modern songs, it is accepted that you can sing a song to a different accompaniment and it still be the same song. There are no issues with re-arranging. I think that 'fixing' the blessed be your name tune is questionable. I don't know.

  38. just a little thought. I love your songs Simone and I thank God that you use you gift in this way for the benefit of other Christians. You think deeply and long about your lyrics, which is great. Do you think all writers have the same mode of operandi in writing their songs as you? And take so much time and care which their words to be sung to Him? I'm just wondering ...

  39. I think the theology of work stuff is irrelevant. Perhaps Nathan's distinction between secular songs and songs used to glorify God would be better put- songs written to serve the church and others songs.

    Serving the church should be the priority with songs written to serve the church. So we go back to my previous comment - my songs will best serve the church in their unchanged form.

    I'm not sure about the creative commons thing. I don't know anything about computer programming. Who made open office? I imagine it took quite some time. Did they get paid for it? Who financed the whole thing?

    I think a creative commons approach to church music would make it more difficult for churches to find good songs. Commercial publishing saves churches so much time. Someone else is sifting through the rubbish I write. Believe me, you don't want to do that yourself! And it doesn't cost much. Really, it doesn't. You can buy an emu song for just a couple of dollars - then sing it every week!

  40. Hi rd.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    re. Do others put lots of thought into their lyrics...

    I know for sure that many do (emu people, sov. grace, townend etc. - I've heard them speak about the long months they spend on each song.) I think we need to assume the best of others. I think the HSong people do put thought into their lyrics - it's just that they are on about something different and so the end product looks different - but still I think that it is exactly what they wanted it to be.

    Of course there are badly written songs out there. If we suspect that a congregational songwriter has not put much thought into a particular lyric, then we should not sing it. It matters what words we sing in church. Why would we give church airtime to the words of someone who didn't take it seriously?

  41. The work stuff was largely a distraction - it now has its own home - if people are interested - on my blog.

    The music stuff - I'm still not convinced.

    I think you're putting songwriting/artistic expression on a pedestal that nothing else receives.

    Christian books for example - I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to a book that I don't completely agree with.

    Mark Driscoll is another example. I think he's mostly great. I can cope with listening to him with the understanding that I can't completely sign up for his doctrinal position on every issue.

    Why are song lyrics so sacred?

    "my songs will best serve the church in their unchanged form."

    Imagine the outcry if this was our approach to every use of our gifts. I don't get what makes song writing so special? Is it that you feel it's personal?

    I take your point on the hymns (when there was no set tune but a meter) - but I'm not sure I take your point when it comes to public domain argument because that makes it a question of law - and suggests that your only objection to people rejigging your songs is a legal objection rather than a creative/ethical objection.

  42. Out of interest - if someone was to suggest an improvement on one of your lyrics - not theological but just a better word - would you change it?

  43. Open Office is made by Sun Microsystems. The Open Source model generally works by making every component of the program open for people to take as they will - to hack the code, to use for free, and to make their own improvements available to the community at large (generally).

    Some Open Source companies make money by offering support, some by performing specific development tasks and extensions for companies that request them... there are a number of ways to make money from the platform.

    I believe Open Source, when applied to computer software, produces better products than proprietary software.

    Here's an article about how open source companies make money

    So, an example of how a gifted song writer could make money/produce quality songs under the Open Source business model would be to produce songs upon request (and upon payment) by a particular church for a particular sermon series that they're working on. Once it is used for that purpose it would then be added to the pool of songs for other churches to use.

  44. If I thought it needed it, yes. Though in practice this is tricky. Once a song has left home, it's hard to discipline it. In future recordings etc, I would change it if I deemed the change to be worth the fuss.

  45. Would a church have $3000+ dollars to commission a single song - that would maybe cover costs (and maybe not) of producing it. I can't see that happening.

  46. A church would perhaps come to you with a specific part of the project to be developed - and the costs would be significantly lower if all the people involved (including musos and producers) were operating in an "open source" manner.

    I haven't done a whole lot of research into the "resurgence" music ministry - or whatever Mars Hill/Acts 29's music thing is called - but this seems to be the model they've adopted.

  47. Nathan, I don't get it.

    To make a cd of 10 songs is alot of work for many people for many many weeks. I just don't understand how that could be done for free. What do you mean that a producer would operate in an 'open source' manner? Give up a month of his time for no cost? Not to mention all the others.

    I'm getting a bit frustrated here. Why should people (producers etc) have to lose all their free time just so your church doesn't need to cough up the $200 a year for music? You are sounding very cheap.

    Why do you think Mars hill doesn't pay their musos? I would be pretty surprised if all the musos on stage weren't hired ringers (this is normal US mega church practice).

  48. "I'm getting a bit frustrated here. Why should people (producers etc) have to lose all their free time just so your church doesn't need to cough up the $200 a year for music? You are sounding very cheap."

    I'm not sure where I suggested that - I simply gave an example for how "open source" might work in practice. But perhaps they'd want to exercise their gifts to build up the body of believers and not charge the church. I'm not convinced that paying produces better results. Unless you're paying a stipend in order to free the person to use their gifts full time...

    The other factor in open source is that people are committed to the movement and the concept because they want to see their ideas spread.

    I would have thought that a group of musically gifted people would rejoice in their work being used for God's glory.

    It's why if I ever write a book I'll put it online for free. It's why if my sermons create an audience I'll give them away for free.

    It's why I pay $12 a month to host my own blog without trying to raise money with ads.

    I still don't get why ten songs are of more value than ten any other type of ministry.

    I mean, I get that there's work involved, but I don't really see why using a gift that you have been endowed with (and in some cases enjoy) is such an issue.

    But that's not really my issue - my issue is why it matters if a church wants to use some music (not necessarily your music) but wants to change a word or two along the way.

    I don't get the "it's mine so don't touch it" thing.

    "Why do you think Mars hill doesn't pay their musos? I would be pretty surprised if all the musos on stage weren't hired ringers (this is normal US mega church practice)."

    They've recently launched an online music ministry resource that in the first instance seems open source - I'm not sure if that's the long term model though.

  49. "Why should people (producers etc) have to lose all their free time just so your church doesn't need to cough up the $200 a year for music?"

    Why should anybody give anything to the church ever?

  50. Hey Nathan - stop hassling Simone. If you don't like the way it is - then write your own stuff and give it away for free. If I didn't get paid for writing music I'd still be teaching bored high school kids how to clap in time. Copyright to my mind is an inherently good thing. It protects people from having their intellectual property stolen. And the composer's legal moral rights protect not just the exact notes and lyrics, but the intent of the work. If you just want sing public domain music - then go ahead. If you don't want to get paid as a Presbyterian minister - then go ahead. But we make it fairly clear upfront about the legal obligations of using our stuff. In case you didn't hear Simone before: if you don't like our songs, don't use them. But also beware that most modernised hymn lyrics are also copyright, as are most modern Bible translations. If you don't like any of them, translate your own.

    And BTW - the I/We thing - the normal biblical pattern for songs and poetry is in first person singular - even those that are sung corporately. When our intention is to write a song that addresses specific corporate themes then of course we will use 'we'. But it has been common practice in both the Bible and Christian tradition to use the corporate 'I' in prayers, creeds and songs. Besides it sounds totally dumn to sing: 'When we survey the wondrous cross'.

    I think this discussion is wasting valuable cyber space - and now I am annoyed I have spent 15 mins writing this when I could making sales on CDs.

  51. I think you'll find Mars Hill's bands are members of the church - at least that's the impression I get while cruising through their website.

  52. Philip - and I assume the P is for Percival - I hope that is satirical.

    I'm not sure that something she's bragged about in a recent post (the comment count) can be considered "hassling"...

    "If you don't like the way it is - then write your own stuff and give it away for free."

    If I did this - and it was more popular (very hypothetically) than your stuff - would you embrace the new landscape or complain about some amateur encroaching on your territory?

    "Copyright to my mind is an inherently good thing. It protects people from having their intellectual property stolen"

    I agree - but would you ever sacrifice this right for the sake of the kingdom?

  53. For the record - I'd never change someone's lyrics and not acknowledge their work - and my adaptation.

    I do have copyright standards after all.

  54. I would be delighted if your wrote better stuff than us - which wouldn't be that hard - and gave it away. I assume that you, like I, have to eat - and if you have a job that frees you to do that then that is great. A number of the Emu writers are in that situation - but there stuff is still copyright for all those other reasons Simone has outlined. But you are unlikely to become more popular without a bit of marketing, and that takes time and/or money.

    And we forgo the copyright and income all the time - particularly for Christians in less wealthy countries.

  55. I'm not specifically addressing my concerns with regards to you guys or anyone in the emu fold but I think it's an interestingintersection of ministry and secular thinking. Surely a fundamental part of sacrificial service is sacrificing one's rights. Particularly if the sacrifice enables the cause of the gospel. So if a church loved Jesus, affirmed my words but wanted to change them, or indeed pen an extra verse then personally, I would give them freedom to do that

  56. Thanks Simone for your answer. Good to know and hear from an expert, like yourself.

    Please keep going with what you are doing, how you are doing it, and most importantly, why you are doing it. Your music and lyrics are both inspiring and something that churches should pay for - even in the minute sums that they do.

  57. Have only just jumped in on this, a little belatedly - so sorry to backtrack to an earlier and tangential issue: The reformers always get misrepresented (or half represented) in debates on work. Here's a couple of quotes from Calvin and Luther:

    Luther: "The Gospel treats of the office of the ministry, how it is constituted, what it accomplishes and how it is misused. It is indeed very necessary to know these things, for the office of preaching is second to none" (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol 3, p. 373)

    Calvin: "God often commended the dignity of ministry by all possible marks of approval in order that it might be held among us in highest honour and esteem, even as the most excellent of all things ... The purport of these and like passages is that the mode of governing and keeping the church through ministers (a mode established by the Lord forever) may not be ill esteemed among us and through contempt fall out of use" (Institutes (Battles translation), p 1055-56)

    It's just simplistic, and wrong, to say that the reformers taught that all kinds of work were of exactly the same value. They didn't. The ministry of preaching the word of God was for them was "second to none" and "the most excellent of all things".

    Luther's teaching on the priesthood of all believers wasn't that all kinds of WORK suddenly became spiritual. It was that all Christians could now do the SPECIFIC PRIESTLY work of prayer, teaching and holiness. His commentary on 1 Peter 2 is where he talks about that.

  58. Still I continue this...

    "So if a church loved Jesus, affirmed my words but wanted to change them, or indeed pen an extra verse then personally, I would give them freedom to do that."

    What if (in your opinion) the church didn't love Jesus? Would that be okay? Your 'if' makes quite alot of difference. It shows that you do want to protect your work in some way.

  59. Then it wouldn't be ok. That's why I said "if a church loved Jesus".

    It doesn't make any difference to what I've been proposing all along.

    I don't think I've got a monopoly on correct doctrine. I disagree with too many people I respect on too many issues to think that.

    If someone wanted to add a bit about baptism being for adults at the end of one of my songs to sing in a faithful Baptist church - then I'd be all for that.

    I have three final clarifications to make, and then I think I'm done spamming your comments... unless your responses are interesting.

    1. I make a distinction between vocational song writing (and recording and selling of CDs) and hobby song writing. I think artistic products are worth paying for. But we expect all kinds of service from people for nothing - do you pay the guy who mows the lawn at church if he's a professional lawn mower by trade? I don't think relaxing copyright when it comes to the use of your music in the context of church is the same as not being paid for your music.

    2. The Open Source thing is business 2.0 - you oldies are going to have to get used to it. There are plenty of ways to recognise (and pay for) the workers in open source. You shift from being paid for your product to being paid for services. The model I suggested on writing for comission is not a finite example - you could also introduce workshops and training, produce "song writing manuals" etc - the whole point of Open Source is that allows more quality products to be developed faster to fill identified needs. I'm sure there are plenty of theological gaps out there waiting to be addressed in song. Another option would be having song writers paid for, or employed, by a denomination or church - rather than "freelancing" - but I'm not suggesting we do away with royalties anyway - I'm a firm believer that making your music more available leads to more sales (look at the MySpace generation of bands).

    3. My thinking is that we should be doing whatever we can to encourage anybody gifted in theologically sound songwriting to be expressing themselves - not keeping it in the hands of the few. Personally I think the open source methodology is the best way to do this - and that reality will bite for those working in a proprietary manner - the same way it is biting Microsoft (and will no doubt eventually either lead to a shift in their practices or the end of the road).

  60. If ever I'm able to sit at the piano for long enough to write some music, I would copyright it. I'd prefer it didn't get butchered by someone else, or that someone else might steal my work to make money for themselves. I wouldn't want to be misquoted, or have my work used to extend a heresy.
    But, I'd quite happily let my church, and maybe others, use it for free.
    If ever I get to sit still long enough to write my book, I will copyright it, and have it properly published, because I will have put a lot of work into it. But, I won't mind people borrowing it to read, rather than buying copies so I get royalties.

    Nathan, you said you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater with Christian books, but do you change bits in them or remove the bits you don't like before recommending them to others? You might caution the reader, but you don't change the book at all.

  61. No, that's presumptive - I'd scribble the offensive or unhelpful bits out. One of my previous house mates did that with the Purpose Driven Life - I thought it was a great idea. But you do end up getting a copy of the book that looks like a CIA file.

    Adapting with accreditation seems like fair game to me. I'm happy for people to make changes to my stuff as long as they acknowledge that it was originally mine.

  62. Would there be much left to read of Purpose Driven Life?

    Adapting with accreditation is mostly okay. Sometimes context might say no.

  63. The thrust of Simone's post is that it's mostly not ok.

  64. Actually, thinking about that a bit more, I've changed my mind. It's not mostly okay.

  65. Simone - if you haven't given up on this thread by now(!) - the thing with the Redman lyric is a guess from me: every official version has 'offering', as the melody demands. My complaint is that I think he's using a semi-common phrase 'in the offering' which doesn't exist. The correct phrase is 'in the offing', derives from a nautical term for the bit of ocean just on the horizon...if something was in the offing (a storm, another ship, etc), then it was coming up.

    So, the issue is, I think he's used the wrong word, and that he intended to convey what 'in the offing' perfectly conveys. He just got it wrong because he doesn't really know the phrase.

    And as a pedant, it drives me nuts. I've changed it, I confess, and made a point of saying 'it's because the words we sing matter'. I don't think I'm doing Redman a disservice by misrepresenting his lyric, though it does ruin the singability. It's a moot point anyway; I'm going to have to concede!

    As for the bad song - not only was the author of the lyric in our church, but the senior minister was pushing for the song to match the 40 Days we had to live with it for a short period. But the musos were close to revolting over it...and it seems it scarred me so much that I've deleted all copies of it from my computer, so I can't share it with you ;-)

  66. From the perspective of how the 'system' currently works, then it seems to me that ethically, as well as legally, it would be wrong to change a lyric without permission.

    I just think the paradigm is wrong.

    If I wrote a song I can't imagine that my words would perfectly fit every culture that it would be played in, or every sub-culture, or every situation, or even every church within a largely homogeneous culture. It's as if there is such a thing as the 'perfect lyric' or perfect song which captures the same thing for everyone and suits all situations. I don't think that exists. And it's just possible that the 'contextualisation', if you will, of the song will give greater value than is lost in the reduction of artistic quality(assuming said artistic quality is lost).

    Secondly, and partly as a result of that, I can't think of a reason that I would, in wanting to serve the Jesus' church, not allow others to change portions of a song, with acknowledgements. So far no-one's reasoning has given me any reason at all why this is not a generous gospel action (and this is without Nathan's proposed changes to the business model).

  67. I know our church sings a particular song with one verse removed and a new one in place of it because the theology of the other verse is very dodgy.

    Of course it would be downright wrong for someone to try to make money off changing someone else's song. That's not the issue.

    There are also a LOT of old hymns that are commonly sung to newer tunes these days. I don't think that's wrong. If I wrote a song and in a hundred and fifty years' time the tune I set it to sounds old and boring and someone decided to set it to a new tune, then fine. It's not going to make any difference to me when I'm dead and buried. Not to mention that with a lot of those old hymns, the songwriters didn't even write the tunes; they were set to pub tunes or folk melodies etc that were already well-known by people.

    Of course songwriters have the right to copyright and make money from their work. I just don't think it's worth putting up a fuss if a single church decides that a particular line isn't very good and so they replace it. Are you losing any money from that? Is it getting such wide circulation/has it not been attributed so that people think you wrote that line? Probably not.

  68. Nathan, you're loving this, aren't you?

    Heh, I liked Philip's first comment:)

    come on peeps, where's the love?

  69. Yes. I was planning not to comment on this post again but you called me out...

    Re Philp's commment - So did I. I love it when people whose work I respect so "respectfully" disagree with me. Especially where he called this conversation a waste of cyberspace.

    Where's the love? Like Kutz - I can't see how pushing for the elevation of my rights in keeping my song's words so tightly controlled - is the "loving option". Unless I genuinely believe that everybody who disagrees with me doctrinally is a heretic.

  70. tom-ay-toe, tom-ar-toe.

    let's be friends. if you were all here I'd pull you all in close for a nice group hug.

  71. I can' kind of see both sides..

    The church I grew up in used to change a word in Graham Kendrick's song from 'Knowing You, Jesus, there is no greater thing' - I suppose they thought 'thing' was just not a very nice word, and so it became 'there is no greater name', which really doesn't make gramatical sense, and destroys the meaning and poetry of the lyric. If I was Kendrick, I would be annoyed at that.

    Some editions of 'In Christ alone' have 'no fear in death' while others have 'no fear of death' - which is the correct one, and how did the other come about? Is one more correct?

    In the past I made a concious decision to sing 'forver you'll love me' instead of 'forever I'll love you' in Shout to the Lord, but really ended up just being smug and prideful about how much more theologically correct I was than everyone else who was singing.
    I also had a song I'd written, which, at the first airing, I realised had a massive typo - I'd typed in 'glory' instead of 'mercy' and even though I changed the score, the change never got around to the powerpoint so the congregation always ended up singing 'How wonderful is the 'glory' that to sinful men is shown'. Oh dear. Actually, that has nothing really to do with the conversation, except maybe to highlight that most people will sing whatever is put on the screen, with little theological thought - yet that is where they get most of their theology from!
    I can't remember the sermon from three weeks ago (unless I look at my notebook) but I can remember stacks of songs that teach great truths about God. If there is a biblical mandate to correct our brothers and sisters in love, then would changing song lyrics come under this?
    The other thing that I wonder, is how much this point is actually rather hypothetical. I tend to think that in circles where people do think seriously about the theology of songs, then there will not really be much that needs changing, so to speak.
    I do think that sometimes, the desire to change a lyric is the result of a lack of understanding of what the lyricist was trying to convey, as in the Kendrick example.
    Also, I really doubt that are that many songs that are good except or one or two words that suddenly turn the song heretical. Getty, Emu, Sovereign Grace are not really going to suddenly throw in a piece of herecy in the middle of an otherwise wonderfully biblical song.
    I suspect that most of the issues are with songs that are borne more out of personal praise (perhaps a more 'pentecostal' approach?) rather than careful, biblical crafting.

    Perhaps the desire to change things to perfectly fit our theological bias is pride on our part too? (Like with Shout to the Lord)

    As for suggesting that 'Blessed Be' needs to be in a minor key.. I totally reject that idea, for two reasons. Firstly, it doesn't have to be minor to be sad - the first phrases of 'Dove sono', the countess' aria in the Marriage of Figaro are utterly heartbreaking, and major. And secondly, the major key underlines the joy that we have even in suffering. To my mind, the major key doesn't evoke happiness, but contentment.

    sorry about the long post..

  72. According to Getty's website I've just discovered the line is 'no fear IN death', in case anyone was wondering.

  73. A further thought (and only because I just almost caught myself doing it)... is it a breach of copyright for me to steal the words of a song, without attribution, in a sermon?

  74. Sorry I missed the party...

    As I understand the origins of copyright, (and patents & intellectual property generally), it was not a "natural right" but a granted "privilege" provided by governments to allow content producers a limited monopoly on creative works so they could make a buck. This was to encourage more creation for the benefit of enriching the public domain. Note that copyright founders really belived that creative works ultimately "belonged" to the public domain - the question became "how long" a lease do creators get.

    In much of the creative industries, the limited nature seems to have been lost (with ever increasing terms - death, death+50y, death+99y) and extending to almost any possible variation (which if present pre-1900 would have prevented many "classics" ever being produced), which seems to stifle, rather than enrich, the public domain.

    With these changes, the power in the industry is in the hands of the distributors and promoters, not creators.

    Into this world comes the church music providers. They have to exist amongst it all and have developed the CCLI model, which as has been said, is very reasonable compared to the rest of the industry.

    But is there something better?

    The open source/creative commons approach is one way to go. I like the concept, but there will be problems - like how do you protect against your work being hijacked by the mob. The open source way generally is there are moderators that "approve" content into the main stream - checking for consistency, legal threats from other copyright etc. Creative disputes are generally handled with respect to a charter/list of goals by the development team - if there are differences then it can even spark a new project based on the previous, or completely new. The content is "free" after all.

    But yes there are financial considerations - who pays for the time of the producers and distributors? In the open source world many aren't paid in $. Many are, generally by large corporates who have a vested interest in using/supporting the software. Others have developed business models based on a subscription to access to the content repository and support/development community. Sure customers can share the content outside this environment, but the third parties don't get the added benefits. In a way it's not that far off the CCLI model, just with the ability to build on others' work.

    Regarding "content fidelity", I can understand the desire to keep a hold on "my work" so that it not used contrary to its intended purpose, and so I as the creator gets proper recognition and reward (or at least don't get slandered by being mis-represented). This is particularly pertinent when it's regarding something that matters - ie salvation.

    However I do think it completely draconian and unrealistic to not be able to alter a word to be able to communicate more effectively to a particular group of people who would otherwise not understand a word or phrase or be distracted from the message in the rest of the song. Not to use a song that is easily learnt/played/sung and makes the right point when I don't have hours to search for another song that meets the rest of the criteria seems completely unreasonable.

    Of course I haven't had the experience of writing lyrics that have had the point lost by an unthinking change Simone, so I can't identify - maybe if I had it would be different, but I don't think so.

    Even saying that, I think that creative commons and existing copyright can co-exist, even for the same song. Content creators get the choice - possibly something that CCLI and/or EMU should investigate for the future.