‘Can’t we just stick the service online?’

UPDATE – 24th March 2020
Since the last update to this blog, CCLI have released a Streaming Licence. In light of this release and its implications, along with other clarifications that have come in recent days, I have rewritten the copyright section with the latest information.

UPDATE – 19th March 2020
PRS for Music have just released an update which gives helpful clarification for hosting on a third party website: “Those wishing to live-stream via platforms such as Facebook and YouTube should be covered by the existing licensing agreements in place with those platforms. Please ensure you follow the terms of use and copyright requirements of each respective platform.If a church wishes to host a live-stream on their own website then they can apply for a limited online music licence (LOML).”


Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV
23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching…

In a world trying its best to deal with Covid-19, when the current advice is to keep our distance from each other, how do we follow God’s word in Hebrews 10 when we are told to not give up meeting together? How do we keep encouraging one another – and all the more as we see the Day approaching?

This blog post will hopefully shed some light on two similar but slightly different issues facing churches up and down the country at the moment:

  • How do we serve members of a congregation who are unable to join a church service?
  • How do we serve a congregation when there is no church service?

I would like to make it clear that I am in no way claiming to be an expert in the ins and outs of these details, but I have been working in the audio industry as well as in church music ministry for a number of years, and I’ve also had the chance to do some reading up on all this recently and so want to pass on my thoughts and findings, in the hope that you may find this useful for serving your church congregation in these strange and ever-changing times!

If you still have a church service going ahead but want to serve members who are self-isolating or unable to join you, then a lot of people’s first thought is live streaming. On the surface, this seems like a simple solution and you may have members of your staff team and/or congregation asking why you aren’t already doing it… You just get a camera hooked up to the internet and stream it online right? Simple? Unfortunately not.

If you have had to cancel your church gatherings, then you may be considering how you can still serve and encourage your congregation remotely. Many are considering how to film some variation of a service and make this accessible to people online.

Whether you are thinking about live-streaming or filming content for people to access on demand, there are a few key issues that need to be carefully considered and dealt with.

I want to encourage you now, before we get into the details, to have at the forefront of your mind this question: what will best serve my church family? The answer to this question will be different for different churches depending on your technical equipment, expertise, and the needs and expectations of your church congregation. Just because a church down the road or somewhere else in the country is doing something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right option for your church with the resources and skills that you have/don’t have.

With all that in mind, I want to bring your attention to (what are in my opinion) the two main issues to consider: technical capabilities and copyright. Below I will then offer a few suggestions as to what I consider to be the most reasonable solutions and ways forward.

Technical Capabilities

Technology can do a lot these days relatively simply but mixing, recording and streaming live content still requires a certain level of skill and equipment to make it happen successfully.

Some churches will already have an ‘all singing and dancing’ streaming system set up, along with paid production staff to operate this. However, if you are not in such a fortunate position, there are few hurdles you need to consider how you will get over.

  1. However good the music is on a Sunday, playing for a recording is a completely different kettle of fish than playing at the front of church. Most churches won’t have musicians who are of a recording level. Perhaps this sounds harsh, but it is one thing leading a congregation on a Sunday, and another thing to translate this to a recording. You may say that this doesn’t matter, but if the music quality is so ropey that it distracts rather than encourages, is it worthwhile?
  2. The same is even more true for church sound engineers. Even if your sound team operates perfectly each week, do you have a sound engineer that knows how to create a good mix for a broadcast? This is an especially important question to ask if you are live streaming rather than recording for on demand as, depending on your set up, you are likely to be asking them to create a mix for the live room and for the recording at the same time. This is a very difficult task indeed.
  3. Once you’ve considered whether or not you have the right expertise, you need to also consider whether or not you have the right equipment to achieve what will be most helpful for your congregation. This blog is not the place to go into the details of how exactly to record or stream a service but bear in mind before you get started that it isn’t necessarily as simple as many may think. How will you capture the audio and video? How will you sync the audio and video? How will you go about encoding this data for your live stream? How will you host the live stream on your website? Or will you use a third-party website e.g. YouTube or Facebook live? These are questions you should know the answers to before you get started.

The next section on ‘Copyright Issues’ has been updated. All links and information are correct as of 24th March 2020.

Copyright Issues

If you manage to come up with a solution to address the technical issues, then there is still a matter of copyright to consider, to ensure that everything you are doing is legal and beyond reproach. This is a huge area and I want to reiterate that I am not claiming to be a copyright expert but want to share with you with the information that I have gathered together in the past few weeks alongside my previous experience.

Generally speaking, there are still three things to consider when obtaining permission for music under copyright: the audio, the synchronisation rights, and the rights to display song words.

CCLI’s New Streaming Licence
In response to customer demand, on Friday 20th March, CCLI released a new Streaming Licence. Some people have been in touch, confused as to why this is necessary. It seems this licence is to cover synchronisation rights and the displaying of song words. You may still need an additional licence to cover audio rights (see the audio section below). The new Streaming Licence provides you with the correct cover if you are putting video or other visuals (including song words) alongside your audio. If you are simply streaming audio without any visuals then this licence is not necessary (but I have not come across any churches that are wanting to stream audio alone).

Below I have broken down the information on copyright into the three areas.

  1. Audio
    1. Your current CCLI licences will not cover any songs under copyright on your live stream or on-demand recording. This means that if you are including music under copyright in your recorded service, depending on where you plan to stream your audio to, you may need to gain an additional licence. CCLI have updated the following page in recent days to give more clarity. (CCLI’s last update at the time of writing was 24.03.20)
    2. If you are hosting a live stream on your own website, to cover the audio rights you will need a Limited Online Music Licence (LOML).
      If you have further questions about the LOML, PRS for Music are very helpful and can be contacted on 020 3741 3888 or at applications@prsformusic.com
    3. If you are streaming to a third-party website, a LOML does not cover you and is therefore not necessary. Instead, if you plan to host your live stream in this way, you may need to contact the third-party directly to check their terms and conditions. According to the most recent information from PRS for Music, streaming audio to certain third-party websites (currently Facebook and YouTube) should be covered by the existing licensing agreements in place with those platforms, meaning you can go ahead without the need to contact them directly. However, I would always advise you to ensure you follow the terms of use and copyright requirements of each respective platform.

  2. Synchronisation Rights
    1. As already stated, the LOML licence is an ‘audio only’ licence and doesn’t cover synchronisation rights (i.e. streaming visuals alongside audio).
    2. Synchronisation rights are covered by the new CCLI Streaming Licence, therefore whether you are streaming to your own website, or to a third-party site, if you are putting audio and visual together, you should purchase a Streaming Licence from CCLI, unless you have permission from the publisher directly.

  3. The Rights to Display Song words / Lyrics
    1. Displaying lyrics on your stream or video recording for people to follow at home is not covered by your regular CCLI licence. Purchasing a Streaming Licence from CCLI, as described above, will cover the displaying of song words from 3,500+ rights holders and publishers.
    2. Alternatively, you could always inform people of the songs beforehand so that they can get hold of the words themselves if they wish to sing along at home.

In the current climate of Covid-19, certain songwriters and publishers (for example our friends at Sovereign Grace Music) have publicly given permission for their songs to be used in live-streaming without obtaining any additional licences. I can’t give specific advice as to what each individual songwriter/publisher has offered, so you would need to investigate this for yourself. However, the safest way to ensure you are covered (as well as the best way to support songwriters) is to purchase the required licences as outlined above.

Bob Kauflin has just written a very helpful blog post that gives more information, specifically relating to using Sovereign Grace songs. He also talks about using pre-recorded music (rather than your own live performance), and the particular issues that you might face should you choose to do this on your livestream / recording, and what you might do to get around this.

In an earlier version of this blog post, I also referenced a blog post by Anthony Lear from Church Tech UK which has since been updated and still provides useful information on this subject.

Suggestions / solutions

  • One solution that addresses a lot of the issues we have discussed is to not stream /record music at all. Rather than including songs in the stream, why not put together a playlist of songs that you would have chosen for your gathering and share this with your congregation? This can then be accessed legally through a platform like Spotify, YouTube or Apple Music. Your service can still include prayers, bible readings, notices and of course, the sermon.
  • If you want to include music, but are struggling with copyright issues, you could choose to use only songs that are in the public domain (i.e. songs written more than 70 years ago). 
  • If you are going to include music and have got around the copyright issues, I would suggest simplifying the musical arrangements, at least by using a smaller band, and choose to use the most skilled musicians you have available. Remember that you need to specifically seek permission of each musician playing before they are recorded for a live stream or on demand recording – you may wish to get this in writing.
  • It is harder and more pressurised to do a live stream rather than pre-recording something to release on a Sunday. Therefore, if your church gathering is cancelled, why not consider recording something in advance? This would give you the flexibility to get the set up just right for the recording without having to consider a live mix for a congregation in the room. 
  • If you are sticking with live streaming a service, the simplest solution (technically speaking) is to film directly using a smart phone. The audio is likely to sound less clear and could end up as a bit of a cacophony with a full band, but if it’s a simple music setup, this could lead to reasonable results that could serve your church. This won’t lead to a high-quality stream like we see from large churches in the US but could be useful in the short term. This website has some useful practical tips to help with this option.

If you have the technical capabilities within your team, a way of doing this that would give significantly better results would be to create a completely separate mix for broadcast.

Finally, if this all feels too much for you to tackle, or you know you won’t be able to get something up and running quickly, live streaming your own service is not the only way to serve you church family. There are many other resources out there that you can utilise to support your church family in the meantime.

  • Pool resources with other churches in your network – are there churches with more expertise in this area that you can partner with to serve your congregations together?
  • Find something that is already established online that you can point your church congregation to that will serve them whilst you can’t meet together in person.

So, ‘can’t we just stick the service online?’ Well yes, once you’ve considered how you will do it practically and legally. But there is a world of fantastic resources already out there so if they would serve your church congregation better than a live stream that you would struggle to pull together, then don’t sweat it. Thanks to modern technology, there are many ways we can encourage one another without meeting together (physically or virtually), and so whatever it is that will serve your church family, do that – and do it all the more as you see the Day approaching.

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