Visit almost any church or artist web site that produces their own original worship material, and you will read statements such as these:
- Our mission is to share these songs with churches everywhere
- We want to be a resource to help you to build God’s Kingdom
Usually, you will then find free chord charts, lyrics, accompaniment tracks, videos, etc as the resources being offered. However, you will almost never find free multitracks among these resources. When multitracks are offered, they are almost always offered through a cloud-based multitrack provider that will charge $20 to $40 for the tracks, maybe a little bit cheaper if you rent the tracks or just want to use them within an app. As a result, one of the most effective tools for helping get a song sung in churches is now behind a cost and technology barrier that means the song will not make it everywhere it could. Why is that? Why don’t more churches and artists directly offer multitracks, either for sale or freely?
(Please note: The term ‘free multitracks’ in this blog refers only to free tracks provided by the artists or churches who own the rights to distribution of the songs. If you offer multitracks (or any resources) for other people’s songs, you should obtain those rights as you would for any other use of copyrighted material).
The Role of the Middleman
One major reason more multitracks aren’t free is the middleman. A middleman is someone involved in the process of preparing and releasing music. It might be a record label, or it might be the multitrack web site or app provider. In most of these cases, these middlemen either believe that they must release music only through the standard distribution channels, or they make exclusivity a condition of using their service (a story I have heard more than once from people who had produced original worship music). A church or artist will want their materials to be available on most popular channels, and will therefore release their tracks in this way, and forego the opportunity to give their resources away or directly engage those using them.
Why would a multitrack distributor insist on exclusivity? There could be many reasons, such as competitive advantage, or because the cost associated with distributing multitracks makes it necessary to try and get the most revenue out of the product. In any case, this arrangement does not help the church with their original mission statement. It hinders it.
If we delve into the technology associated with using multitracks, it may be possible to dispel a few misconceptions about distributing them. Some of the reasoning probably goes like this:
- Apps are necessary for wide usage of multitracks, and the app platforms are controlled by the multitrack distributors that want to control my content. To counter this, let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say a new site called WorshipChords.com came on the scene, and they offered a killer app (better than the leading ones) to do everything you might want to do with chord charts in worship. But, they insisted that you only used their app and channel to distribute your chord charts. Would anyone sign up for this, even if the app had a huge user base and great capabilities? Probably not. Why should multitracks be different? They are becoming a very common resource type for the church. There are many multitrack app options at varying levels of sophistication, and most of them are open to using whatever content you want. It is really no longer necessary to exclusively distribute multitracks through a middleman to get tracks in the hands of users, even those who want ‘easy to use’ apps to implement them.
- Multitracks are difficult to prepare for distribution. There is definitely a process required to prepare multitracks. But it is not so different from the process of recording and distributing a record in the first place. Usually, all that is really required is to make the decision to offer multitracks while recording of the originals is underway. Most producers can create the required stems and a click and/or cue track as part of the recording process, with little extra effort. If just these stem wav files are offered (maybe along with timing information about the marker points), many multitrack users can make use of that and deploy the tracks into their church. If you want to provide an easy to use version, either negotiate to gain access to the previously mentioned platforms, or offer your tracks on crowd-sourced platforms such as Worshipsong or LoopCommunity that do not pose an exclusivity barrier. These platforms are staffed by people that will be more than willing to help you prepare your resources and get them distributed.
For better or worse, worship music is a business. If a business model is a part of a church or artist’s calculation, then multitracks can be a part of that business model. Getting a song in front of churches so that it is sung (and thus generating CCLI revenues) is a consideration. Multitrack sales are also a part. What reasoning goes into the business decision?
- I need promotion. This is probably one of the biggest reasons people do not buck the trend and directly offer multitracks. They fear that they will need the access on the popular platforms in order to have their music be used or discovered. There may be some expectation of promotion that comes with the platform. Here’s what to keep in mind – this is not really different from any music distribution activity you would do as an artist. Having your album on ITunes does not generate sales. You need to share it, and point people to it. Multitracks are the same. Multitrack platforms have thousands of tracks offered. The chances of discovery on them are low. On some smaller platforms, if your stuff is good enough, you may have a more focused promotional opportunity, but to a smaller set of users, such as being the featured free monthly track for an entire month. Many platform providers mentioned on this site will gladly help you in this promotion, for quality music. Now is your chance to get people in tune with your ministry, to keep them coming back for more. If your stuff is made accessible enough, people will do so, and will be grateful if it is freely given. This model is proven to work with sites such as NoiseTrade. Consider doing the same with your multitracks.
- What about the legalities? Multitracks are not legally different from any other recording or your song. You may want to assert that people using your tracks to record their own versions of your song is off limits, but this is straightforward and would be no different than an accompaniment track. And, when distributing your own multitracks, the added benefit is you can include vocals of the song, which will help people using it immensely.
- How Will I Make Money? On most multitrack platforms, even if you sell original tracks, you receive only a small percentage of the sale price. The most popular multitrack product options, such as app-only track versions or rentals, will generate even less. Directly offering your resources will net more revenue per track sale. If your goal is ‘rotation’ at bigger churches to get CCLI revenues, you will probably need a multipronged marketing strategy to achieve that anyway. Just getting onto a ‘big site’ will not do it.
The bottom line? There is no reason for a church not to be able to directly offer their original multitracks these days. It is no harder to offer these resources in a professional manner that it is to offer any of the resources first mentioned. And, whatever path is taken, a church or artist should never grant exclusive rights for multitrack distribution. Like any undertaking in the music industry, it just required a clear-eyed view of what makes an effective resource, and a little education and effort to provide it. As users of multitracks, we can help get them more freely available by using platforms that do not pose these barriers. Let’s look forward as a community to seeing how the next wave of great worship music can be unleashed to a much wider audience, freely, in the spirit in which it was made!