How Do I Get New Song MP3s to My Band Members Legally?

ipod-nano-newTim wrote me to ask a question every one who works with music in the church has probably asked at least once, if not a hundred times.

I was wondering how you handled the distribution of burned CDs in your music ministry. Is there anyway to do this legally? I would love to download and distribute songs on mixed CDs for two main reasons:

1) To help my musicians be familiar with new songs before rehearsal
2) To encourage Christians I am counseling to listen to songs that admonish/encourage/help them worship God in the specific area of their spiritual life that they are struggling in.

I sent Tim’s question out to some of the guys who help me serve Sovereign Grace churches in the areas of music and worship. Here are the responses I received, with my comments in brackets.

  • You can gift a song to multiple people on iTunes. (Enter in their email addresses, separated by commas). We frequently do this for new songs.
  • We put all of our chord charts on Planning Center, and also include web links to iTunes, AmazonMP3, and YouTube, and Grooveshark where team members can listen or purchase themselves. Grooveshark is free. [another option for free listening is]
  • As our team has grown, it’s not uncommon for one group of musicians to learn a new song and teach it to the church, only for a new group of musicians to have to learn it again the following week when we repeat the song. In-house recordings enables them to get a feel for the previous week’s arrangement ahead of time, which usually sounds a good bit different than the CD arrangement…I’m hoping that’s legal! [This is an example of the well-researched, high legal standards we set in our churches]
  • This process is what we’ve done as well. If it’s illegal, i’ve been ignorant and it’s been nice. [I’m withholding names here for obvious reasons]
  • [Finally, someone actually checked] It’s legal. Here’s the rights you have for CCLI songs. The terms (1.1.e and 1.2.b) gives you the right to record the songs in your service, and you can make duplications not to exceed 15% of your church attendance. So for most worship teams it’s totally legal, as long as you’re working with CCLI songs and you’re not making zillions of copies. Except in the case of church plants where the worship team is like half the congregation.
  • Our tech team records every service to MP3, and then posts it to Planning Center. If we ever want the recording of an individual song, we can use a computer program [Garageband, ProTools, Logic] to cut the MP3 down to just that song.

While it’s often helpful to learn to play songs as they’re played on albums, there are other options. If your musicians are competent enough, you might try learning a song without listening to the original, just using a chord chart. Maybe you’ll come up with something that’s more in line with your context and the skills of your musicians.

Ripping off songs for the team to learn is probably an easy way to get music out, but it’s still illegal in most cases (unless permission is granted by the publisher) and robs songwriters and artists of their due compensation. Of course, there are other options.

Write your own songs.
Come up with your own arrangements.
Ask permission from the publisher.
Any of the solutions mentioned above
Use songs covered under the Creative Commons License
Appeal that you’re obeying a “higher law” [not a response I’d recommend in view of Rom. 13:1]

Since the time I was a full time worship pastor, technology has made it much easier to enable others to hear songs while being respectful of copyright laws. While we lead people in proclaiming the glories of the Savior in song each week, let’s not intentionally and repeatedly rob others to do it.

A few years ago I did another post on downloading, which you can access here.

26 Responses to How Do I Get New Song MP3s to My Band Members Legally?

  1. David Paul Regier October 19, 2010 at 1:11 PM #

    Well, thanks for the heap of burning coals of condemnation on our heads ;)

    I’ve long been a fan of just using the chord chart (even amended) to come up with our church’s unique arrangement. Since it will never sound just like the record, it might as well sound like us.

    Did I just say “record”?

  2. Jason October 19, 2010 at 1:12 PM #

    I recommended, makes life much easier.

  3. Vance October 19, 2010 at 3:01 PM #

    I do like using just the chord chart to teach a song, since we always put our own stamp on it anyway.

    However, I do frequently want the musicians to listen to it beforehand. In PlanningCenterOnline, there is a setting that allows your users to listen to the mp3 you have uploaded without actually letting them download it. Go to Site Settings – PCO Settings – MP3 Settings to turn this on. I think that’s the most convenient way to handle it!

  4. James Sergent October 19, 2010 at 7:48 PM #

    I’ve always burned CDs and distributed to my team members. Had not thought about it before as to being illegal.

    I appreciate your suggestions, but not everyone on my music team has good access to stream audio from online. They do not all use iTunes. We do not use Planning Center or any similar website. Plus, the recording capabilities at our church are not great that we can record the band with much quality. So, this is not a good option for me either.

    Do you have any other advice?

  5. Ken Boer October 19, 2010 at 8:27 PM #

    Vance, unfortunately you’d need to have streaming rights to stream a song to others on Planning Center (even though you’ve purchased it, you don’t have the right to stream it legally).

  6. Kieren October 20, 2010 at 12:47 AM #

    Something I’ve found quite useful when getting new songs out is youtube. Assuming the song is on there, you can send a link in an email and worship team members can listen for themselves. As far as I know this is legal, or at least it’s more legal. The only way of it being illegal is if youtube itself is illegal (which I’ve wondered)

  7. Ryan Egan October 20, 2010 at 7:10 AM #

    Thanks for this excellent discussion. I’ve been wondering about these things for a while now as well. I’m all for making your own arrangements of the songs as well but I had no idea it was legal under CCLI to record them and distribute them!

  8. Ken Boer October 20, 2010 at 10:03 AM #

    James, you could record your band with a simple recorder like this one: . It lets you record directly to MP3. We’ve also sometimes purchased multiple copies from Amazon MP3 to cover the physical copies we’ve made if we want to hand out the original recording.

  9. Matt Blick October 20, 2010 at 11:12 AM #

    As far as I understand it Bob any Church producing their own sheets for songs, be they chord charts lead sheets or merely the changes scribbled on a scrap of paper, and then uses that on a sunday or posts it online is infringing copyright if there is already a similar version that is already published.

    From a legal pov putting chord charts on Planning center if you do not own the copyright is file sharing just the same as if you put an mp3 on limewire.

    There is only one legal solution – buy an mp3 and the sheet music for every single song you play for single person in your team.

    For the record I think the present copyright system is totally corrupt and weighted towards corporations and not artists and writers.

    I could say more but I’d probably get in trouble.

    Here’s some suggestions

    quadruple your worship budget
    cut your worship team down to 4 people
    write all your own songs like sovereign grace
    send the writer of every song you play a cheque for $10. (That will definately be more than they recieve in royalties).

  10. Aaron October 20, 2010 at 11:37 AM #

    Guys, the absolute easiest way. . . is to just use Youtube. It’s hard to find a song that hasn’t been recorded and uploaded by someone on that site. All the Passion/Hillsong/Integrity songs will be on there. And for lesser known songs, often churches have uploaded a service where they led the song.

    So, it’s really easy to just skirt the dowload question and give them links for their own observation, . . .since like most of you have said, we’re going to “re-arrange” it anyway to some degree.

  11. Alistair Hamill October 20, 2010 at 2:02 PM #

    As I come from Ireland, I’m not sure if you guys have access to Spotify in N America. If you do, you can stream music from it, including an impressive range of Christian & worship music.

  12. Andrew Gosden October 20, 2010 at 3:20 PM #

    In the UK you can use Spotify ( which has many Christian songs (e.g. last Christmas I used it to listen to the new Chris Tomlin album, and it was up there pretty much when it came out). You can create and share playlists with the whole music team – even the whole church, or indeed the whole world. It’s free (as long as you don’t mind putting up with a few ads) or ad-free for £5 per month, and completely and utterly legal.

  13. D October 20, 2010 at 4:09 PM #

    Can you check the Planning Center link? This is very, very helpful. Thanks.

  14. Bob Kauflin October 20, 2010 at 5:18 PM #

    D, thanks. The Planning Center link should work now.

  15. Matt Foreman October 20, 2010 at 10:06 PM #

    Coming from a smaller church, I’ve always encouraged worship teams NOT to try to sound like the CD. Usually what’s recorded on CD’s is a performance (special music quality) version of a song. Doing that version for corporate worship can unwittingly create a performance mentality in the service. Since you want the focus in corporate worship to be on the congregation singing, I think a simpler instrumentation and arrangement (without sacrificing quality and skill) is usually better in corporate worship.

  16. Cheyne Stilwell October 20, 2010 at 11:48 PM #

    I greatly appreciate you posting this, Bob. I’ve been researching this area to learn what our church is legally allowed to do because one of the staff recently posted a link to the Web site that contained songs not written by the worship leader.

    I’m clear on what’s legal around MP3s and CDs, but I’m curious about the whole YouTube thing – is it OK to refer people to a video link when the possibility exists that the video was posted without the copyright owner’s permission, but we have no way of confirming? How does that not constitute me condoning sinful activity and/or giving the appearance of evil?

    It’s definitely the easiest way to get the word out about a song, but is it right?

  17. Cheyne Stilwell October 20, 2010 at 11:51 PM #

    NOTE: To clarify about the link we posted, we quickly pulled that link off the website when we learned CCLI doesn’t cover making worship recordings available for public download on the website.

  18. Nathan October 21, 2010 at 10:48 AM #

    Might I recommend

    A site dedicated to worship team planning AND has thousands of worship songs streaming *legally*.

  19. Aaron October 21, 2010 at 11:58 AM #


    I understand the hesitancy to use un-approved youtube clips. I think there is “due diligence” you can do to see if the record company or artist posted the video themselves. If not, there may be some copyright violation there. YouTube’s rules simply state that you have to declare that you don’t have the rights to the song in question if you make your own video. So, if the poster has done that, then in the eyes of YouTube, it is ok.

    The difference here is, . . . .as long as we are not the ones crafting an illegal video, we’re not responsible for enforcing YouTube’s rules. We can do due diligence and research to see if the video is legal, but YouTube removes videos when requested by the artist/company. . . and it is their responsibility to do so.

    I don’t think that we would be giving the “appearance of evil” (I’ve heard better translations of that verse, btw), especially if we’re warning our teams to proceed with caution. We are not stealing any copyrighted work, and I’ve linked to things on YouTube that have been pulled down, thus seeing the process “work”. Is it perfect, no. But, I think it’s more legal than many other ways of going about this. I wonder how many of these free radio sites are any more legal than YouTube.


  20. Matthew Thompson November 1, 2010 at 7:49 AM #

    We often use youtube links to the songs we will be playing. 90% of the time the song and version that we want to use is there. It works well for us and could for you too. It’s has it’s drawbacks but still it’s legal and the team can do it their own homes.

    ~Matthew T

  21. Martha November 12, 2010 at 10:17 PM #

    This was very helpful, especially the link to Planning Center. I didn’t know anything like that existed. Thanks!

  22. Mark November 19, 2010 at 12:29 PM #

    This question is not exactly what your post is about here, but I am curious: Is it legal to post a recording of your church doing a song copyrighted by someone else online if it’s not downloadable? For example, as a sample of your music on your website, or as a video on YouTube.

  23. Nathan June 17, 2013 at 11:46 AM #

    Mark – there’s no such thing as “viewable/listenable but not downloadable.” On the internet, streaming is downloading is copying; if your browser doesn’t get a complete copy of the bits, you can’t see it, and if it does, you can keep it.

    Whether you *know how* to save what you’ve downloaded is the only question.

    So I’m not a lawyer, but posting anything online and saying it’s “not downloadable” is not a technically sound statement. It’s downloadable.


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