On Friday, I mentioned that Harry Connick Jr. doesn’t allow the publishing of his music. He might be so paranoid about his music getting out that he won’t even let his band members have it. HCj invented a computer music system that displays his original arrangements on LCD screens. Instead of flipping through reams of charts, they just call up a song and the charts show up individually on each musician’s screen. (They can probably print the charts too; I was just kidding.)
I imagine the convenience of having every song at his disposal allows for on-the-fly set changes. Plus, he won’t waste money on buying bulbs for music stand lights. Those things are expensive and burn out quickly!
I have mixed feelings about copyright law. In some ways, I think the laws are so strict we could be prosecuted for just about anything. I do think, however, that artists should be compensated for their art. I’d like to create some someday I could get paid for.
Blanket License to Do Little
On the other hand, I have a really hard time with copyright law as it pertains to church use. You’d be surprised at what church musicians are not allowed to do. Most churches purchase an annual blanket license that allows us to use just about any worship song and project the lyrics for congregational use. But that’s where our license ends.
We are not allowed to make copies of music charts. We’re supposed to buy published copies for each musician and only use those. Could you imagine having six books of music on a music stand and having to flip through them between songs? Transitions would certainly be rough. The drummer would click in the next song—he’s ready since he doesn’t usually use music—and the rest of us would be fumbling through stacks of books. We’d need to offer topics for worshipers to discuss between songs, like the Trinity or predestination.
Further, audio can in no way be duplicated. I’m supposed to buy CDs for every musician so they can learn the song. We rarely play songs in their original keys, which is why I use software to transpose them down to the key we’ll use. Oh, that’s also illegal, since we’re not supposed to modify the arrangement.
Turning Over Money Changers’ Tables
The reason I hate this is because this is worship music. These are songs that are meant to help God’s people engage in worship together. As a Christian, my art should be a gift to the Church, the universal Body of Christ, and not something to exploit for my own financial gain. (Of course, I do make a living as a church musician. Hmm.)
(A word of note: some worship songwriters do post their songs online, like Paul Baloche.)
Just like “The Real Book” that’s been copied and passed around and thus illegal, church musicians break all these laws all the time. I doubt there is a single church that doesn’t have a photocopied chord chart onstage somewhere. This is my civil disobedience, for I will continue to break these laws, because I want to help God’s people worship with our limited budget and the mostly amateur musicians we have. To help with this, I actually “invented” a system sort of like HCj’s.
On the Same Page
Well, someone else did. They call it Same Page and it’s very expensive. I came up with something else that suits us better anyway.
We simply use PowerPoint to create chord charts. Each screen contains a verse or chorus with lyrics, chords (including capo options), instrumental and vocal cues, and any musical directions (like “get louder” or “add an extra bar”). My tech guys came up with a cool way to plug them all into one computer, using low-profile music stands with flat-panel LCD monitors attached. We advance the slide using either a handheld clicker or a foot pedal. I usually control the slides, except when I’m playing electric guitar, because I’ve confused the USB pedal with my distortion pedal in rehearsal. Not good. Now, my musicians show up and play what’s on the screen. It’s that easy.
Thank you, HCj, for the idea. But no thank you for not giving me access to your charts. Now, to learn how to play “Come By Me.”
What do you think about music copyright? Will you report me for a finder’s fee?