Thursday, July 9, 2009

songs are different

After last month's lengthy discussion about changing song lyrics I've been wondering (just a very little bit) if I'm a way-too-precious-selfish-and-greedy-control-freak for not letting people freely change the lyrics of my songs. Nathan argues that he's fine with people ripping off his sermons or bible studies to use however they want and that we should be the same with our songs.

This argument didn't sit right then and still doesn't now. I'm convinced that there is something different about a song. Last night I gave away a kids club that I spent weeks and weeks writing. I'm happy for people to use it however they want. Change bits. Whatever. I don't care. (Though my fonting and layout is nice). In terms of work hours, this kids club probably cost me about $4000. No single song has cost me that much. It's not a time thing. I don't think it's a selfishness thing either. But there is an all-or-nothingness about songs that there's not about other things.

What do you think?


  1. I think musicians are generally a little bit self indulgent and that's why they become musicians.

    So non-musicians will never understand the mentality.

    There's too much emotion involved in the process for you musos to ever see things rationally.

    You pour a little piece of yourself into a song in a way that you don't in the others and seem offended if we don't like that little bit of you. It's artistic "expression"... my inner pragmatist thinks you're being over protective - the same way a parent is when they don't let their kids have an adventure or play on the road - they protect them from being squished but also turn them into boring prigs.

  2. when I say "in the others" I mean in other areas...

    I really should have proof read that mental spillage... and I think you've only posted this because you're bored and looking for a fight...

  3. you're right in your last comment. See if I'm still bored tomorrow.

  4. I'd be interested to know why you think songs are different...

  5. Not sure. A few ideas.

    It's not just about the content but how the content is expressed. The particular words, the metaphors - these things matter, not just the big idea of what's said. In poetry and lyrics, a picture is being painted by the words. Changing a word or two is like putting a blotch of different coloured/textured paint onto a complete painting. You can't really do it without changing the original intent of the work.

    So how is this different to sermons or whatever? Not sure. I think wholesale ripping off of sermons is pretty poor. It's pretending to your congregation that something is your work when it's not. And using someone else's illustrations (changing a word here and there!) can be dodge too. Makes a sermon feel like a piece of patchwork rather than a coherent whole. (I heard a talk by someone obviously influenced by MD. At one point he started a go get a job rant - which (in the particular context) was unnecessary at best.)

    I had a chat with a friend last week who thinks as evangelicals we're way too utilitarian. If something isn't useful, it's not worth doing. A sermon is a thing made for a particular purpose. Maybe a song is different. Even a congregational song. It has a purpose (church use etc) but has an existence apart from that... A song, like a painting, just is.

    That's the best I can do right now. Any thoughts?

  6. Hello - long time lurker in London...via Craig and loads of other Syd Ang sites.

    I think that the mode is different. You are talking about what is essentially a delivered paper or essay (taking out of that the inspiration) versus a poem or something else creative. Good songs/hymns, some prayers last the test of time. Sermons that last the test of time, like Spurgeon, like Lewis, have a certain "creativity" about them. And they are once-in-a-lifetimers.
    Most sermons aren't "creative". The good ones are faithful digestion and exposition of the Word.
    This is a half-formed idea...sorry.

  7. Hi Erin. Thanks so much for coming out of the shadows, lovely to have you.

    Am thinking on what you said.


  8. Hi again

    One other thing - I also think this is such an of-our-time discussion. I've been reading (Salon perhaps or Esquire) that this current time of the Internet being free is an aberration that we'll look back fondly on in 20 years.

    The thing is that words/content are things that people take time to do. Songs take time to write. Sermons also take time to write but mostly the people who write/deliver sermons are being paid to write sermons as their job. So they receive their renumeration.

    People who write songs don't receive that. And I know that the argument went along the lines of "well it is just another gift...I don't get paid to wash up after church or put the books out". I don't know about you but I wouldn't want me who can wash up to write a song and expect the church to sing the same way that I wouldn't necessarily want the guy sitting next to me in the pew to be the one giving the sermon next week when my pastor, who has been trained to do that and is paid to do that job (or select the right person to do that job some weeks).

    Here's where I'm coming from. I'm a book editor in my past life - current life is a pastoral assistant at a church - and we used to pay authors a pittance - say £3k to write a 20k book that might take a month. The Internet is full of "content". The good stuff, overwhelmingly, someone is paid to put there. If they are not, it is just a matter of time before their blog receives a book deal :)

    I think the age of free content - whether on the Internet or somewhere else - is coming to a close. People need to be paid to write good content. It is a job. Sometimes a vocation but even those with a vocation deserve to be paid...

    I know there are lots of holes in there but I'm just about to rush out to help at our toddler group...look forward to defending my thoughts later :)

  9. I'm curious - without being rude - as to how old Erin is.

    I suspect this is a generation gap thing. And most "paid" writers online who are employed by traditional media are hardly likely to be the least biased voices in this debate.

    Much like artists/songwriters are unlikely to be the most unbiased voices in our particular area of discussion.

    I, this year, am a regular lay preacher - I don't get paid for my sermons. I put about 15 hours into each one. I'm happy for them, once I give them, to be used in whatever matter anybody feels is appropriate provided it's in service to God's Kingdom.

    I'm interested Simone - since you've brought this topic back up - in how much of your objection is based on copyright law and how much is based on gut feel...

    I don't think "free content" will die. I think there'd need to be a massive psychological shift in the next generations for that to happen. Commerce is moving to the micro - small sites selling niche products - or huge sites selling millions of small products. That's the way the web is working - and I suspect it'll be the same with content and advertising. Advertisers will be using Google AdWords over and above traditional media - and this will strip the big players of their power and place that power into the hands of the individual content generator... that's my two cents as an advertiser, Gen Yer, and consumer.

  10. I have no idea what's going to happen in the future so won't predict.

    What I know from history is that the best music comes from those who are paid to write it. (I'm thinking JS Bach here and others.) It takes alot of time. Give aways won't make better product.

    Nathan, the reason why you can do the regular lay preacher thing is because your time is not worth that much at the moment. Wait till you and Robyn have a tribe of kids. 15 hours per week unpaid will no longer be possible.

    And, yes, this is primarily gut. But I know you watch NCIS so have a lot of respect for what guts say.

    More later (maybe.)

  11. I don't really enjoy NCIS that much though - it's formulaic - and the "gut feel" is shaped by years of essentially acting the same script...

    I would like to hear non-muso/artsy people defend your position from a Biblical point of view.

    I don't see why utility is a bad thing for making decisions in the context of church - but then I'm big on the pragmatic. I would have thought that was being all things to all men...

    I think a better reason for not being paid for lay-preaching is that I don't think I should be paid for a hobby.

    I'm happy for really good people to be paid for their music - or paid to write music - and there are enough churches out there hiring music directors who should have time to write songs (ala Mark Peterson) that I have confidence good stuff will continue to be produced.

    I don't want to appear to be disparaging your songwriting efforts Simone - I really like your songs - I just don't see you trying to establish a full time gig as a songwriter... and again, I don't see how allowing people to change your art for the sake of the gospel prevents you producing it, or prevents the paid people producing good stuff.

  12. Hey Nathan...I'm 31. Left Sydney in 2004 for a job in London that has since turned into a life in London. The UK Esquire has a great article this month about free content. I think it is all tied into copyright, how people are paid for their time and so on...
    Not sure that I have that much more to add at the mo...

  13. I'm curious to see whether Nathan does indeed allow his kids to play on the road in the future.

  14. "allowing people to change your art for the sake of the gospel"

    Nathan, surely this is hypothetical? What song lyric is changed not out of personal theological taste but rather 'for the gospel'?

    I think there is something personal about songwriting that there isn't in programme and sermon writing. 'Expression' means you put something of yourself into, and ask others join you, not just to take from it.

    BTW Simone, we took delivery of the new kids CD the other day.. great stuff!

  15. Andrew - glad you like it!

    Do I know you? Your profile isn't viewable...

  16. "What song lyric is changed not out of personal theological taste but rather 'for the gospel"

    Any where words are changed from archaic forms into currently accepted language... just because old hymns are no longer legally bound by copyright doesn't void the spirit of the matter - I think it's logically inconsistent to suggest that it's ok if it's no longer copyright...

    Any "theological taste" is likely to be a "for the gospel" issue for the person running the church that's singing the song...

    Writing an extra verse or two for a song to fit a particular issue would be another example...

  17. Was chatting to a few youth group members the other day. They commented how on most of the songs they buy, if they don't like a particular bridge or section of a song, they but it before they put it on their mp3 players. And if they think the order of the verses should be different, they change it. They were also describing how a published secular song officially released only that day had already been circulated around the web in "re-mixed" versions by fans.

    So my thoughts? I think technology is changing how people interact with music. And I think that's allowing listeners to stand at times in the position of performers, with a measure of artistic license allowed them as to what the final production sounds like. And, especially in the wake of jazz and dj'ing, that can often be a wide degree of artistic license.

    And yet I still remember wanting to stand up and object in the midst of an international performance when someone's choir did an absolute botch job of performing a piece "my choir" had been intimately involved in developing. You can't help some people's artistic taste any more than you can help theological stubbornness.

  18. Seems to be a couple of issues here -

    1. Workers giving their time and efforts for ministry should be paid - if they choose to put that "back in the plate", or decline, that's their choice. If it is a gift, it should still be valued as if it were "paid", if not more. Unfortunately "free" work is often taken for granted.

    2. Leaders within the church should be able to "lead" without their hands tied... If a word/phrase/verse of a song is not helpful to their congregation, they should have the discretion to make it relevant by changing or omitting it. The lyricist may be a better writer, but hopefully the leader (even song leader) knows his or her congregation better and can best judge how to serve them. Yes, this opens the writer up to being misrepresented, but also gives much greater scope for their work communicating with, encouraging and teaching the body of Christ - and aren't they some of the reasons we sing together in our "worship"? Perhaps encouraging more spiritually mature and aware song leaders (rather than just good singers) would be a better path than copyright enforcement.

  19. 3. An aside related to 2 above about song leaders "leading" and the sentimentality post from a while back. Isn't it a bit postmodern and not particularly biblical to NOT lead people in an appropriate emotional and intellectual response? Paul doesn't have any problem with saying how he feels, and saying how his audience should feel too. If that makes people uncomfortable, it may be the appropriate emotion and therefore should not be limited or lumped into over-sentimental over-sharing from the song leader. People are very good at ignoring emotions they don't want to feel, particularly in Aussie culture.

    I can understand that a gushy intro to every song that doesn't say anything about the song or an appropriate response to it is distracting and unhelpful, but the converse is also true - a few words before/after can focus a congregations thinking and emotional response in an active and beneficial way and is not done enough and when it is done, is not done well. Work on encouraging and training mature and discerning song leaders, and allow them to lead.

  20. Wow - this thread has gotten away from me. Just noticed the comments. I might resurrect it in a couple of days further up the page.

    Welcome Mark and Russ.