But not when it comes to music.
Churches that serve congregations in the thousands have (intentionally or not) stumbled into the role of music publishing.
Songs written and used in these churches are bouncing from phone to phone and person to person without the slightest influence of a traditional music publisher.
Large churches are writing, recording and releasing their own music to a group of people who are already invested in what the church’s mission. Sure, those songs gradually make their way to other churches, but for the most part, these tunes are having a life within a specific congregational context – although a very large one. But there’s good and bad:
Identity – a church releasing it’s own music can speak directly to the needs and direction of its congregation. Song collections can honor or remember a particular phase in a church’s life or even speak to the future prayers and hopes of a congregation.
Freedom – musicians can play to their full potential without someone telling them the song’s too long for radio airplay or pressure them to make an iTunes release deadline.
Excitement – congregants as well as musicians get the chance to be a part of a project specifically designed for the church itself. With the prominence of small studios and mastering houses, a project can be turned around pretty quickly (if musicians pull it off, that is!)
Vacuum – Sometimes artists don’t know what’s best for a song. The absence of unbiased perspective means mistakes get missed. (There’s a reason why albums have producers.)
Workflow – Especially in cases of volunteer worship teams and technicians, it’s hard to maintain a solid work schedule and steady musical output. Church projects are often held up by the both the schedules and different skill levels of the players.
Indigenous – Worship that reflects “us” is good, but some church projects run the risk of being a bit too self-focused. Many of the albums don’t provide resources for other churches because the team isn’t able to consider what other churches are able to play.
The publishing world is taking notice. We’re seeing a lot more records released as partnerships between churches and publishers and I think that’s a good thing. For too long, we’ve had folks with little to no worship leading experience picking what churches are supposed to play. Big churches and their musicians are funneling fresh, new unexpected music into the church landscape. Kinda’ indie.