The Ultimate Guide To Live Streaming Church Music Legally

With so many churches live streaming church music during their services, many might have overlooked the need for a special streaming license. The good news is it’s easy to obtain.

Even if your church already has a license for using and performing music during special events, streaming usually isn’t covered.

Most artists, labels and services kind of let things slide during the pandemic. However, now that things are getting closer to normal, it’s time to learn exactly what you need to use music during your live stream legally.

Copyrighted Content Requires A License

Many of the worship songs used during your services are actually copyrighted content. This can include more modern hymns, the latest Christian music and even covers of these songs. This is what makes live streaming church music such a tricky issue.

For churches that already upload videos to YouTube or their own website, you might already have a license to use those songs. Typically, these licenses give you access to a catalog of music. Or, certain hymnals provide licenses that allow you to perform content from the hymnal and post it online or sell tickets for a live performance.

What you might not realize is these licenses rarely cover streaming. This wasn’t such a big issue until the pandemic hit and thousands of churches started live streaming for the first time. That’s when churches who had never even thought about copyrights before had to navigate the unique requirements of live streaming copyrighted content.

Of course, it’s not just music. Sermons that aren’t completely original may also require a license to use. If you derive content from many Bible translations and other books, your church may be required to have a license to use the sermon for both live streaming and on-demand videos.

Usually, you’ll see a copyright mark on any material. In books, this is typically near the front on those pages with all the fine print. For music, assume it’s copyrighted unless it specifically says it’s public domain music (more on that later).

What Makes Live Streaming An Issue

Generally, your church can use hymns and even modern Christian music without any real issues as long as it’s just within your church. It’s still a good idea to get a license for music just to be safe. After all, you never know if a member might post a video of the choir singing. Or, if your church hosts a fundraising event, you’re already covered for live performances.

Since you’re just showing a video of your church, what’s the big deal? Think of as the difference between singing songs together as a family at a reunion and performing covers of your favorite songs on YouTube. The first has a drastically limited audience.

The latter has a potentially global audience. Plus, people watching may also be giving to your church. While you’re technically a nonprofit, the live stream is still helping support your church financially.

Plus, a live stream can’t be taken down. A video that violates copyrights can easily be taken offline. But, unless a live stream is interrupted during the stream, any violations are already done and there isn’t any way to fix it.

A Streaming License Is Different

The license you may already have in place for public performances doesn’t cover streaming. It’s also a common misconception that the religious exemption pertaining to copyrights applies to live streaming church music. However, it doesn’t. In fact, the exemption only applies if the performance is at your church and not broadcast online, over the radio or on TV. This also means if you’re hosting a large gathering that’s not a worship service, such as a community picnic, you’ll need a license.

Most church music licenses don’t cover streaming by default. This requires a separate license that gives your church permission to transmit copyrighted music on your website, social media, local TV, radio stations and more.

Naturally, you have to pay close attention to your license. For example, a basic streaming license may give you the rights to live stream church music just on your church website and social media. You may also be restricted to using performances only versus using pre-recorded backing tracks or copyrighted background recordings.

So, if you already have a church music license, you’ll need to purchase an additional live streaming license.

Understanding Types Of Licenses

Typically, church music licenses are broken down into three main types:

  • Standard use – Sharing and printing lyrics, recording audio/video of a live performance, creating custom arrangements, performing at church functions (other than worship services)
  • Reproduction – Normally used for sharing recordings, including those made for rehearsal purposes
  • Streaming – Live streaming, posting live recorded content, podcasts, etc.

Obviously, each license type and provider has their own fine print, so read carefully before buying anything so you know what’s covered. While you can purchase licenses just for a single song or set of songs, most churches find it easier and more cost effective to purchase a catalog license. Catalog licenses come in the three main types listed above, but give you access to tens and even hundreds of thousands of songs all for a single yearly fee.

Choosing A Licensing Provider

There are multiple licensing providers and catalogs to choose from. All of the following provide not only standard and reproduction, but live streaming licenses too:

  • Christian Copyright Solutions – CCS offers PERFORMmusic for onsite (offline) music needs and WORSHIPcast for live streaming and online music needs. The extensive catalog includes over 28 million Christian and secular selections, making it ideal for most churches. Fees are based on your average attendance and start at $240/year for onsite and $265 for online.
  • CCLI – CCLI is one of the more well known church music licensing services and offers offline, online and per song licenses. Licenses cover over half a million songs from 3,000 major publishers. Pricing starts (1-24 average member attendance) at $66/year for offline, $69/year for online, and $95/year for rehearsal licenses. Prices increase based on attendance.
  • One License – One License offers a variety of licensing options. A single yearly license provides access to all member publishers, which you can view on their website. Pricing starts (1-25 average member attendance) at $118/year with an additional $67 for streaming/podcasting. However, not all selections are available for streaming.

The good thing is you’re able to search for songs on all three providers before you purchase anything. Plus, all three are upfront with licensing details so you know exactly what is and isn’t covered. If you have any questions, contact the licensing provider to make sure you’re covered before you do anything.

Performance Vs Backing Tracks

It’s important to note that when live streaming church music there is a difference between a live performance and using backing tracks. Streaming licenses don’t always cover backing tracks. For instance, with CCLI, the basic streaming license doesn’t cover backing tracks, but the Streaming Plus license does.

In addition to backing tracks, you also need to be careful when simply playing songs in the background versus using a live choir. If your choir or church family actually performed the songs and you’re playing their recording, you’re fine. Otherwise, you need to ensure your license covers the original recordings in addition to performances.

You can get around the backing track issue by having a live band play the music for your members and choir. This is the easiest approach to ensure you’re still live streaming the music legally. You’ll likely want to invest in the right audio equipment to make sure everything sounds perfect, especially during the live stream.

Ensure Your Music Is Included In Your License(s)

While different catalogs offer different selections, you don’t want to have to buy licenses from multiple providers. Ideally, you should pick a provider that offers the majority of what your church would want to use. Always make use of the catalog search features from your provider to ensure your music is covered in the license.

You also need to check that individual songs don’t have any restrictions. For example, two contemporary Christian songs might be included in the same catalog, but come from two different publishers. Publisher A might allow an offline performance at a local park, but not allow streaming. Publisher B might not have any restrictions at all.

It can be tricky, but over time, you’ll be able to create lists of available music for church staff and your choir director to choose from. Consider creating a database listing all the songs you use. Then, you’re able to simply pick songs from your list versus needing to search each song individually every time on the provider’s catalog. You can also color code it based on any restrictions.

Ask Members To Not Post Their Own Videos

Your church can post videos online, live stream on your church website and use streaming services like Facebook Live and YouTube Live. This is because your church owns the license.

Church members aren’t covered by your license. This means if they’re live streaming a service or special event on Facebook themselves, the member could be violating copyrights. YouTube actually breaks down licensing, especially when it comes to live performances. However, it’s best to ask members to only film services and events for their own personal uses versus posting online.

Benefits Of Public Domain And Royalty Free Music

If your church is on a tight budget and spending hundreds every year on music licensing sounds impossible, don’t worry. There is an alternative. While you won’t find the newest or most modern music, you’ll find plenty of hymns and some appropriate secular music as well. As a general guide, most music created before 1924 is public domain, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.

Some public domain music does require you to provide attribution and some doesn’t allow for commercial use. Lifewire provides a breakdown of six great public domain sites, including one with choral selections. Once you know a song’s available for public domain, you can create your own arrangements and use them freely.

Another option you might consider is royalty free. Despite the name, these songs aren’t free, though sometimes artists will offer certain songs for free. You get to use original creations with little to no restrictions as long as you have a license. Licenses for royalty-free music are usually much cheaper and give you more freedoms. ProChurchTools has an older list of options. While the sites still exist, pricing has increased slightly since.

Creating Your Own Music

If you want to get really creative, create your own church music. This is much more time consuming, but creating completely original music ensures you’re free to use it however you wish. Just make sure you’re not just creating new arrangements of an existing song, such as a slower version of a popular Christian anthem.

This approach does work well if you want background music while live streaming. If you have musically gifted members or staff, they may even be able to create original choral music. You could combine this approach and public domain to help save your church money.

Reasons Why Social Media Might Remove Your Videos

Even with proper licensing, some social media platforms may still remove your videos due to copyright infringement. This doesn’t mean your church did anything wrong. Sadly, social media doesn’t always ensure videos are posted legally before removing them. Before live streaming church music again or posting a video of your service or an event, contact the platform and let them know you do have the proper license.

If the platform still disagrees with you, start live streaming elsewhere, including on your own church website. See our list of sermon streaming companies to help you get started. You can also check out our live streaming guide for even more solutions.

Avoid Using Music Streaming Services

One thing to always remember is to avoid using music streaming services. Just because you can share Spotify playlists with the world doesn’t mean you can play them during your church’s live stream. Plus, you’d need to create lists that only include songs you have a license to use. Music streaming services are for personal use, though businesses can purchase special licenses to play music in their business, but not online.

More On Church Streaming

Live streaming church music is a great way to make the worship experience even better for those who can’t attend in person. Find out how our church website design services can help you create the perfect platform for marketing and showing your live stream and videos.

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