Payment for musicians in live-streamed liturgies

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Parish / Diocese: Diocese of Ilium

Payment for musicians in live-streamed liturgies

Post by Casimir »

Moderator's note: this has come from a non-member of the Forum, with a request for discussion. We are happy to provide the opportunity to give the issue an airing, as usual without any implication that the views of the Society are reflected in the post below or any of the replies.

Those who play, sing and direct in streamed liturgies

The copyright aspects of streaming music for liturgies should be fairly well known by now, although some do not yet seem to be aware of them.

For items that are not in the public domain (the author and/or composer is/are still alive or died less than 70 years ago), either
(a) you need a streaming licence or add-on licence from OneLicense and/or CCLI; or
(b) you need permission from the person(s) controlling the copyright, if they do not belong to either of the above licensing schemes.

What is more problematic is the question of those musicians who play and sing in streamed liturgies.

It’s the same as with a radio or TV broadcast. Even if the musicians are not paid, the streamer or streaming agency needs to have secured written permission from all musicians for their work to be streamed, even in the case of an act of worship. Generally this requirement is ignored. It seems that companies such as have generally not complied with it, in addition to mostly not complying with copyright licensing requirements either. (If pressed, these companies would say that they assume that clergy who entered into an arrangement with them had taken care of all these matters, but that might well not be considered reasonable in a court of law.)

In particular, there can often be a safeguarding issue when younger singers, altar servers and other young liturgical ministers are appearing on streamed services, mostly without their parents’ or guardians’ permission — but that would be the subject of a separate post, given that many more churches have been streaming during lockdown and these numbers look set to continue if not increase.

With musicians who are paid for their services, the problem is more complex. There is a traditional custom in some quarters that for video’d services such as weddings the usual fees are multiplied by 150% for an audio recording and 200% for a video recording, though many professionals or others deriving significant income from playing or singing in a church context have by no means always insisted on this custom — see below. The Musicians’ Union recommend an additional flat fee (currently £64.50) for organists at video’d weddings, rather than a multiple of whatever the fee is, but that only covers a recording made for “private purposes”.

There is no legal requirement for the custom. It is simply that some musicians feel that the additional work required in practice and rehearsal to ensure a high standard of performance “on tape”, the additional pressure of actually being recorded, plus the wider dissemination of their work, should all be appropriately remunerated. Others have said that musicians should be ensuring the highest possible standards anyway (!), and that wider dissemination need not be an issue if the recordist or streamer is not a commercial concern. Of course the instant worldwide availability of material on YouTube and similar channels has changed the face of what dissemination actually means. Even Uncle Reg with his smartphone (formerly his camcorder) can now reach a global audience.

Now that our churches have realised that streaming is a desirable service for the sick and housebound, and one that we should in fact have been doing all along, the issue is starting to arise where some musicians, already well paid, are asking that they be recompensed even more for what might be considered a pastoral service that is within the remit of what they are being paid to do. What is in play here is the whole question of balancing the ministerial aspect of the musician’s work with the need to earn a living and to ensure justice in rewarding the labourer for his/her hire.

A related question is what the viewers are doing. A streamed act of worship is not the same as a concert, and remuneration need not necessarily be on a par. The number of people looking for spiritual resources online has ballooned during the pandemic, and many churches have realised that streamed services are a very useful tool for evangelisation as well as being a pastoral service. The risk is that some musicians may try to exploit this endeavour on the part of churches.

A further complication is those musicians who, while of professional or semi-professional standard, may choose to donate their services voluntarily without much or any financial reward, as a contribution to the life of the local church. Some of them may take a dim view if they learn that some of their colleagues appear to be holding churches to ransom (at a time when revenues from churchgoers are already seriously diminished) instead of remembering that they are ministers of music.

A significant number of musicians have in fact been part of streamed services for a decade or more (without any extra remuneration). Since many people will not immediately return to church on grounds of age or health, these services will be a staple part of what churches do for a considerable time to come, if not indeed permanently.

Music is an integral part of liturgy, and our musicians are first and foremost ministers and not technicians providing a service; and it is not easy to determine what the best course of action is when it comes to streaming and remuneration. Perhaps some of those reading these lines will have views on this.
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