Planning Center and Legal Downloads

Darin asks:

“Hey Reid,
I hope your doing great. I have a NP / Planning Center question I was hoping you could help me with. Do you have your Planning Center preferences set to allow downloads or playback from the Planning Center player only. Our musicians really like Planning Center but….they don’t like the fact that they can’t put the songs on their ipods/cd’s. They have to practice the songs at a computer. I would greatly appreciate your insights on the subject.


Well Darin, I’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news is what you’re already experiencing – the curse of legal downloads and file sharing.

It is actually illegal to share copyrighted files (like MP3’s via email), but it IS legal to stream the content, such as the playback only option from Planning Center.

There are, however, two exceptions:

1 – If you are given direct permission by the copyright owner to distribute a certain quantity of songs, like a song you or a colleague has written and permission has been granted. An example for us is anything that Todd Fields has written, he has given us permission to distribute to North Point Ministries players.

NOTE: That only applies to the 3 NPM campuses. Everyone else needs to pay for them so Todd can feed his family, and give them clothing and shelter.

2 – If you have signed up as an Organizational Member of North Point Music you may distribute that material according to your user license.

OK – so other than that, what are our options? Well, there are two legal options:

1 – iTunes:

I got this idea from the Willow Creek guys (see – we don’t just think of everything ourselves!). They presented the brilliant idea of giving their musicians iTunes Gift Cards.

They started giving $25 Gift Cards – not as a thank you, but to purchase songs from iTunes over the coming months as needed. These are for songs that will be performed in church that the musicians need to learn.

Plus, after a short time, individual musician’s libraries would grow to the point that most (if not all) of that week’s songs were already part of their library (which obviously includes their iPods and/or their burning it to a CD for the car, etc…)

Remember – The initial startup can be high and a bit hard to swallow, but think of how long those cards will last:

I thought about it, and there’s probably only 20-30 songs that you are CURRENTLY performing at church on a regular basis – but they already know those. So let’s deal with the NEW songs (since that’s the root of this problem).

We add a new song an average of once a month. Plus we do a special song (opener of closer) about twice a month. That’s a total of about 36 “new” tunes a year – or $36 per musician.

I’d say that’s a good deal.

For most churches that’s a financial commitment of under $1000.00 per year. If that’s too high, you may choose to cast vision to your musicians and ask them to commit to buying their own songs, which averages to less than $1.00 per week.

Either way, they then own the songs and have the rights to transfer it to an iPod and/or burn it to a CD for their own personal, private use.

Plus, I wouldn’t trust a musician without iTunes capability. I mean the software is a FREE download for both Windows and Mac!

2 – Distribute CD’s:

This is how we used to do it, but it’s a total logistical hassle, requires significant pre-planning, and strains flexibility.

It’s the old – and still valid – method of choosing a month’s worth of content, burning it to a master CD, duplicating the master for the number of musicians you have, ensuring the labels have all the required copyright mumbo-jumbo about the disc being illegal at the end of one month, buying CD sleeves, packing envelopes, addressing them, postage, and mailing them. Oh, and having the man-power to perform all those tasks.

Plus, you still need to report all those songs to their respective copyright collecting agencies (ASCAP, BMI, etc.) and pay the copyright fees.

And the musician is only allowed to listen to the song using the physical CD, and only for one month. It’s actually illegal for them to import the CD and keep the file beyond the one month limit.

And then what happens if you add a song the musicians need to hear after the CD has been mailed? Huh??

See? Like I said: It’s a total logistical hassle, requires significant pre-planning, and strains flexibility. But it’s legal.



Um, I’ll take the iTunes Gift Cards, thank you very much.

And remember – they’re not “gifts” or “payment” – it’s a tool that assists the musician – or Front Of House mixer – to do the job you’re asking them to do.


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