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Even When I Can’t See It You’re Working: The Overlooked Authorship of “Way Maker” by Sinach

Guest blogger Anneli Loepp Thiessen is an active song leader, researcher, classical musician, and music educator. She is set to begin her PhD in Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Ottawa in September, 2020, where she received her Masters of Music in Piano Performance.

 

 

The Rise of “Way Maker”

On February 17, 2020, the massively popular megachurch and conference Passion released a YouTube video of their worship leaders singing the song “Way Maker.” In this video, white worship leaders move around a large stage, energetically leading thousands of worshippers in an impactful anthem. In their description of the video, Passion wrote: “Official Live video for “Way Maker” by Passion ft. Kristian Stanfill, Kari Jobe, & Cody Carnes.” If the 3 million people who’ve watched that video don’t know better they would likely assume it was written by the leaders of Passion. They might be surprised when they find out who really wrote it.

Over the past few months, “Way Maker” has become an anthem for white, North American evangelicals. In that time, the song has received many accolades: it reached #3 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart, it appeared twice in the top 10 of the Christian Airplay chart for two different recordings (one by the band Leeland and one by Michael W. Smith featuring Vanessa Campagna and Madelyn Berry, which has ranked at #1), and it peaked at #2 on Praise Charts list of songs most downloaded since COVID-19. The song is sung in contemporary worship services across the continent, with covers routinely emerging from mega-churches. In many ways, its success is comparable to other hit anthems that have taken the church by storm. And yet this one is different.

 

Representation

If you, like me, have paid even a small amount of attention to who is writing the evangelical church’s song, you will have noticed that it is mostly white men. My recent study of Christian Copyright Licensing International’s Top 25 charts from the past 30 years revealed that the majority of songs sung by the American evangelical church today are written by collaborations among men. Big names produce top songs, which are marketed by publishing companies to make a large impact. The Billboard Top Christian Songwriter charts reflect this: names of white men routinely make the list, with a small number of women and people of colour appearing alongside them. In a blog post for the Center for Congregational song, David Bjorlin argues that consumerism has marked congregational song: only two companies, Capitol and Bethel, are responsible for administering the majority of the CCLI Top 100 lists. Congregational song is curated to promote only certain voices.

Here’s where “Way Maker” stands out: rather than being composed by a group of white Americans, “Way Maker” was written by Nigerian female songwriter Osinachi Okoro, stage name Sinach. She is an award winning songwriter and vocalist, has recorded 9 albums, and serves as an international worship leader at her home church, Christ Embassy (Loveworld). She lives in Lagos, Nigeria, with her husband and child. In addition to “Way Maker,” she has written many other hit worship songs that are sung around the world.

 

Grassroots

 

Rather than rising to popularity through sponsored advertisements, “Way Maker” emerged in the most grassroots way a song can these days: a YouTube video. Sinach’s original YouTube video of “Way Maker” (video above) has over 150 million views, and in May 2020 she made history as the first African to top Billboard’s Christian Songwriter chart. It is also important to note that while white evangelicals are just adopting the song now, it has been loved by black churches for several years, as evidenced in a 2017 video of Benita Jones leading it (video below). Sinach’s ministry was meaningful long before the white North American church sang her songs, and her music is powerful with or without its affirmation.

 

The reception of “Way Maker” by American evangelicals is an outlier on all accounts. For a church that has thrived on predictably produced music, it is surprising that the song speaking to us the most during a global crisis is not from our most familiar sources, but from a Nigerian songwriter in a moving music video. In an interview with Medina Pullings on May 22, 2020, Sinach addressed her rise to the top of Billboard’s Christian Songwriter chart. She said: “I didn’t lobby for it, I didn’t promote it to be like that. It was the Lord that put it there. So He wants to make a statement, and let him make it.”

I draw your attention to the story of “Way Maker” because I believe it represents a significant moment in evangelical church history. For hundreds of years Europeans and Euro-Americans have been at work colonizing other parts of the world. We have forced or cajoled the world to adopt our religion, infrastructure, cultural traditions, and practices. Our way of relating to others has been informed by the idea that we have all of the answers, and it is our job to share them with the world.

Our worship has not been immune to this practice. North American worship language has been globally adopted: top worship hits from Euro-American songwriters have been translated into countless languages and are sung all over the world. We are so comfortable with our own voice that our worship rarely brings in music from other cultures. But now, we need language that is not our own. We need the voice of a woman in Nigeria who is able to talk about a miracle-working God in a way that we will not. The tables have turned: instead of offering our voice to the world, we are gratefully receiving.

 

A Beautiful Moment

We are witnessing a beautiful moment: the American evangelical church has received a song that it desperately needs, but I’m afraid the way we have received it has caused harm. I fear that most of our pastors, worship leaders and congregants assume that “Way Maker” was written by Euro-Americans. The vigour with which the song has been covered by big name artists like Passion has meant that the identity of the song’s original writer has been lost in translation.

By removing Sinach’s name and story from the song, we are claiming it as our own without crediting the vibrant context it comes from. Unfortunately, this is a common theme throughout history: white artists have long been covering songs written by black artists without giving them credit. This is a systemic problem that is much larger than just the worship music industry, although it is clearly evident here. This occurrence is not only a missed opportunity to embrace our global church, but it overlooks and disrespects the few, brave intercultural voices that have found their way into our worship. When we sing Sinach’s song without crediting her properly, we are bypassing the opportunity for our worship to dismantle oppression, and are perpetuating racism by erasing a black voice.

In light of the global dialogue around anti-racism that has developed since the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota police, many churches are engaging conversations on racial justice in a new way. Megachurches like Passion preached on the topic and posted for #blackouttuesday. But worship and justice are deeply intertwined, and good intentions are lost if our worship continues to drown out black voices. In the first week of June, a video emerged of black protesters singing “Way Maker” as they marched. Rather than ignoring the origins of this song, can we use it to amplify black voices? Can we hold it as an anthem for racial justice?

 

Embrace the Global Church

By experiencing “Way Maker” as a song written by a woman from Nigeria, we embrace the global church to which we belong. We acknowledge that we need voices that are not our own, and we celebrate that all are invited into the church’s song.

The widespread adoption of a worship anthem from another culture represents a rare moment for the evangelical church, and we have the opportunity to acknowledge it in the right way. This song is not ours to own, we are receiving it as a gift. So say thank-you. Subscribe to Sinach’s YouTube channel. Follow her on social media. Tell your church the story behind this song. Credit her as the songwriter in your covers. Watch her original music video – the one with 150 million views – I can assure you it’s worth it.  Sinach’s song has brought Christians from around the world together, we must credit her with leading the way and sharing her gift.

 

Guest Blogger – Anneli Loepp Thiessen

 

Guest blogger David Schaap is the president of Selah Publishing Co., Inc. based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

 

Questions about Streaming Copyright

There have been many questions on social media about copyright for streaming or posting on YouTube your church services and other church events where music is performed, and hopefully this will give you some answers with regards to what’s required and available.

I have been a publisher of congregational song with Selah Publishing Co. for over 30 years, and church musicians are now quite aware of the legal need to ask permission for reprinting copyrighted hymn tunes and texts in bulletins and service leaflets, which used not to be the case. But current circumstances have thrown many of us into a new world of podcasts/Facebook live/YouTube channels and church website videos that we haven’t had to deal with before.

You’re aware of the reprinting permission required by copyright law, but there are other separate forms of copyright held by composers, authors, or publishers. You might be familiar with mechanical rights, where you get permission to produce a CD for a certain fee per disk. That’s a separate right granted to copyright holders from reprint rights.

 

US Copyright Law UnPacked

The U.S. copyright law requires permission for “synchronization” to allow you to broadcast copyrighted music with video, whether it’s Facebook Live, posted on your website, or on a YouTube channel (or even if it appears in a commercial, public service announcement, or feature film). According to the law, you must request permission before broadcasting it in any form. You can do this by contacting each publisher and requesting a synchronization license. The law doesn’t specify a mandatory fee, so it’s up to the publisher to decide what they charge to cover the cost of issuing a license and making a small profit. Many publishers have a minimum fee; for example, Selah’s is a minimum of $15. This could clearly become a nightmare of administrative work, even though we all enjoy that aspect of our work so much.

Or, you can subscribe to a service that allows you to do synchronization. The most comprehensive is Christian Copyright Solutions (christiancopyrightsolutions.com) which works with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC to license their artists’ works for streaming. Nearly all (but not all) composers and authors and publishers are members of one of these agencies. The lowest fee is $500/year and goes up to $5,500/year. A disadvantage aside from the expense is that much of these fees don’t make it back to the composers because of their wide variety of clients.

 

CCLI & ONELICENSE

Many of you already have licenses with CCLI or OneLicense.net or both, and know that they cover what you are using in worship. Both agencies fortunately offer a reasonably priced podcast/streaming license which you can easily add to your subscription. Or sign up now for your new foray into music videos!

The OneLicense.net Podcast/Streaming license covers your Facebook Live broadcasts, archived Facebook videos from previous services, your YouTube channel, and broadcasting video on your church’s website. This covers copyrighted hymn text and tunes from their member publishers AND the performance of any of the member publisher’s organ/choral/instrumental copyrights. If you use them for permission to reprint copyrighted hymns or service music or other congregational music in service leaflets you can add the Podcast/Streaming license with a simple email or phone call to them. The fees begin at $67/year and go up to $655/year (for those churches with weekly attendance up to 30,000). You would need to do this as an add-on if you were providing a PDF of your bulletin with the copyrighted hymn texts or tunes, or if you are scrolling the lyrics during the video.

If you never reprint copyrighted congregational hymns for use, OneLicense has a new “Limited Podcast/Streaming License.” The title is misleading: it’s not limited in what you can use from their member publishers, it’s limited to only licensing for Facebook Live, YouTube channel, and website videos. And that license is the same price as the add-on, $67/year up to $655 a year.

OneLicense has also said they can make arrangements with churches if you would never stream a service and now are for the time being, but you’re not printing any bulletins or providing a PDF with copyrighted hymns at the moment, they can toggle you back and forth between one or the other option. And if you stop streaming at some point mid-license, they can remove that and prorate the fee.

Publishers from OneLicense.net covered under both congregational reprints AND Podcast/Streaming include Augsburg Fortress, Church Publishing, Celebration, Concordia Publishing, ECS Publishing, Fred Bock (including Hinshaw), GIA (including Iona Community, Taizé, RSCM), Hope Publishing, Kjos, MorningStar, OCP, Oxford University Press, Paraclete Press, Selah Publishing, and hundreds more. So if you would be performing copyrighted hymns, choral music, organ or keyboard music, or instrumental music from one of these publishers, you would be covered with this Podcast/Streaming license.

CCLI has a similar arrangement at similar costs you can add if you already use their services. There are many publishers that are members of both (including Selah), but the majority of what they represent tends towards the more evangelical/Pentecostal repertoire, just as OneLicense tends toward the more liturgical traditions. They cover Word/Hillsong/Keith Getty and many more of the Praise & Worship resources out there, from over 3,000 artists and labels.

A caveat: to keep your videos online or available through YouTube or Facebook or on your website, you need to pay for the annual license, and if you don’t renew, you must take them down.

 

Reporting

A really important part of this licensing is reporting your usage. You do not just sign up and are then fine forever, you have to tell the licensing agencies what you are using. This provides income to the composers, authors, and publishers, and is the fair and right thing to do. You should also indicate on your website or in posts that you are legally presenting the music under the license, and include your unique license number in the form they require under the license indicating those who created the work, the copyright notice, and the legal permission (i.e. Music by COMPOSER NAME, © 2020 PUBLISHER NAME, used with permission under CCLI/OneLicense.net XX-XXXX).

Note, these licenses DO NOT cover the broadcast of pre-recorded music by other artists. You can’t take your favorite organ music or choral music CD and play a track for a prelude on your Facebook Live broadcast with any blanket license: this can only be arranged by contacting directly the copyright holder of the recording (usually a label).

Sure, this is an additional cost for the church, but I don’t think we are going back to normal worship right away, nor that this might not happen again in the future. And it’s a small price compared to even what my church has been putting out for tripods, Bluetooth lavalier microphones, camera memory cards, lighting stands, routers, and cable to make live-streaming viable.

If you’re streaming or posting copyrighted music online, subscribe to a service, report the music you’re using on a regular basis, and indicate online that you’re doing it legally. We need to do what’s right and just in our work, and these agencies help you do just that.

David Schaap

 

Here’s the next question that I sometimes get from you church musicians and pastors out there. This one is about copyright. I’m sure many of you will relate to the question posed.

 

 

 

The Question

Dear Brian,

I am looking for an answer to why I might need both a CCLI license and One license? I have tried asking representatives from each organization what they cover, and both have been very vague in what all is covered and how I can discover that, but both have been pretty insistent that they cover more and are the license I need. The church is looking at tightening the budget and is questioning my paying for both. Any insight is appreciated.

Thank you!

Your friendly church musician

 

The Answer

Dear friendly church musician,

Thanks for reaching out. Your question is not uncommon. The world of music copyright can often be confusing, vague, and frustrating. Depending on what your church sings (and how they sing), the answer to your question will be different. From my understanding and experience, CCLI and OneLicense do not have very much overlap of what songs they cover. However, 99% of what most churches typically use on a Sunday morning will be covered by one or the other.

Here are some questions you’ll need to answer before knowing what is the best way forward:

  1. Do you print music or words in a bulletin, project them onto a screen, and/or stream online? If yes, keep going. If no (like “we only sing music from our hymnals in the pews”), then you most likely do not need either license.
  2. Was the music OR words you use in your bulletins/screens/recordings generally written after the 1920s? If no, you’re using all “public domain” music and you don’t need a license. If yes, you’re using music that is most likely copyrighted and you’ll need a license to print/project/record it.
  3. What music do you typically print, project, or record? This is where it gets dicey about which license you need.
    • If you use CCLI top 100 music (and things that generally sound like those songs from companies like Capital, Integrity, Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation, etc…), you’ll need a CCLI license. For a list of publishers covered by CCLI, click here.
    • If you use music that is more “hymn-like” or is specifically Roman Catholic (and things that generally sound like those songs from publishers like Hope, GIA, OCP, etc…), you’ll most likely need a OneLicense. For a list of publishers covered by OneLicense, click here.
    • If you use both types of music, unfortunately you’ll most likely need both licenses.
    • **There are tons of different kinds of music and sources** So if you use music from other places around the world or from individual artists who aren’t widely published, things begin to get a bit more nebulous and often needs to be taken on a case-by-base basis. The larger exceptions to this are if you use music published by Taize or the Iona Community, both of which are administered by GIA Publications in the U.S. and would be covered via the OneLicense.
  4. If your music usage is not a clear-cut as the questions above, you’ll need to look at the individual songs and copyright holders to see which license(s) you’ll need. After sharing what you typically sing/do on a Sunday service, I can pretty quickly advise you on how to move forward.
  5. Finally, thank you for caring enough about the artists and companies that make this music available to do the right thing. Paying license fees and reporting your usage is how the artists ultimately get paid for their work. Your effort is appreciated and needed.

For more information on basic copyright information for churches, here are a few good articles:

 

Good luck!

Brian

 

***DISCLAIMER – This article is offered as a (hopefully) helpful resource for those seeking to navigate the legalities of church music copyright. The advice offered here is not legal advice and the author nor The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada cannot be held legally responsible for any decisions any individual or church makes concerning copyright law.***

 

 

Blogger David Bjorlin is a worship pastor at Resurrection Covenant Church (Chicago), a lecturer in worship at North Park Theological Seminary (Chicago), and a published hymnwriter.

 

 

 

What Is Water?

In David Foster Wallace’s now famous commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, he began, after the briefest of introductions, with what he termed a “didactic little parable-ish stor[y]”:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

The moral of the story isn’t anything we don’t already know: many of our most basic realities are so pervasive that it is nearly impossible for us to distance ourselves from them long enough to objectively evaluate them. Like the fish, these realities are the very waters we swim in, and we rarely notice how they fundamentally shape the environments we inhabit, the choices we make, and the lives that we live.

While there are countless realities that influence us, I would argue that perhaps the most all-encompassing and least-recognized force in our lives is consumerism. Here are a few gruesome statistics to illustrate my point: U.S. citizens make up 4% of the world’s population and consumes 25% of the world’s resources, waste almost 40% of the food we buy, and live in houses that are almost twice as large as they were in the 1950s—while 1 in 10 people still rent storage units for all the things they own.

Perhaps at this point you’re checking to see that you are indeed reading a blog dedicated to congregational song, but because these are the waters we swim in, I believe consumerism influences every aspect of our life—-including the church’s song. While there are surely countless ways consumerism impacts congregational song, I would like to explore just a couple of them over my next two blog posts. Today, I will examine the near-monopoly on the CCLI Top 100 list and how this too often leads to a homogenous song. My next post will look at the concept of planned obsolescence and how it relates to the life-cycle and production of the modern praise song.

 

Monopolies and the CCLI Top 100 

As many readers of this blog no doubt know, Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) is the largest copyright licensing company for (mostly) contemporary praise and worship music. This is how it works: churches buy licenses to use songs covered under CCLI and report the songs they have used over a six-month reporting period. Then, CCLI distributes royalties to the songs’ copyright holders based on the reporting percentages. One of the famous features of CCLI is the Top 100 list of the most-reported songs, serving as a gauge for the most popular CCLI songs sung by congregations who use the licensing service. Because it purports to be a repository of the most frequently sung songs at any given moment, the Top 100 list is often used by worship leaders to find new material for their congregation. In addition, many liturgical theologians have used the list as a starting point to study the sung theology of certain segments of the church.

I believe consumerism influences every aspect of our life—-including the church’s song.

Recently, I saw the list in a different light when a colleague told me that a huge percentage of songs on the CCLI Top 100 were administered* by two companies. Thinking that he was perhaps exaggerating, I decided to take a look at the numbers myself this past May. Of the 100 songs on the CCLI list, eighty-one are administered,* at least partially, by just two companies: Capitol Records (71) and/or Bethel (14).[1] Further, only ten songs are not administered by Capitol, Bethel, or Essential Music (a subsidiary of Sony). Obviously, my colleague was not exaggerating; there is something resembling a monopoly in contemporary praise and worship music.

 

Why Does This Matter?

Why does this matter? Surely, bigger companies can produce a high-quality product and streamline distribution in ways that help the average worship leader access and use resources. Yet, I believe there are a few implications on congregational song that should at least give worship leaders and planners pause in using the list uncritically. At the most basic level, monopolies are usually not in the interest of the general public because it eliminates competition and allows a company to set artificially high prices while also reducing the quality of the product. While larger than the scope of a blog post, it is worth asking whether price or quality of congregational song is impacted by this sort of monopoly.

However, to my mind the larger issue with this pseudo-monopoly is the fairly homogenous group of songs—ethnically and theologically—that end up comprising the list. Ethnically, much of the music that falls outside of white evangelical traditions is not covered by CCLI, and therefore not even eligible for the list. For example, besides the rare artist signed to major Christian record labels (e.g., Israel Houghton’s long-time relationship with Integrity), most black Gospel music is not covered by CCLI (which in turn has led to systemic inequities in distributing royalties, as many churches continue to use these gospel songs assuming they are covered by CCLI). This creates a fairly white list that perpetuates songwriting and marketing strategies that will continue to target white audiences, which is further exacerbated by a lack of competition created by a monopoly. Especially for those worship leaders seeking to better represent the diversity of the global church in their local contexts, the CCLI Top 100 is of limited value.

Ethnically, much of the music that falls outside of white evangelical traditions is not covered by CCLI, and therefore not even eligible for the list…This creates a fairly white list that perpetuates songwriting and marketing strategies that will continue to target white audiences.

Further, songs on the CCLI Top 100 are largely written by, and marketed to, (white) charismatic-leaning evangelical traditions with a more conservative theological worldview. Obviously, that isn’t to discount these songs completely. There is a place for many different expressions of style and even theology in our churches. Yet, for those congregations who wish to expand liturgical and theological mindsets beyond charismatic worship expressions, male God-language (e.g., King, Lord, Father) or substitutionary atonement theologies alone, the list again is of limited use. Further, for a monopoly, there is little incentive to widen the theological net, particularly if, like Bethel, you are tied to a specific conservative charismatic expression of faith.

 

Breaking Up The Monopoly

While this may come across as an attack on CCLI, this is not my intent. The church and school where I work are both CCLI copyright holders, and I do use the Top 100 list on occasion. However, as someone who is interested in the diversification of congregational song, I do not believe it is in the best interest of the vast majority of churches for two companies to hold so much sway over a particular segment of congregational song. As someone who does not even pretend to be business savvy, I do not have any advice on how the CCLI Top 100 monopoly can be broken up, but I do have a few suggestions for those who plan and lead congregational song:

  1. Do not assume CCLI covers all the songs you sing in worship! Know who holds copyright on the songs you sing, and make sure they are being paid fairly for the use of their song.
  2. Explore other music licensing companies. For example, One License covers larger swaths of Taizé, Iona, and other global musical offerings (in addition to traditional hymnody).
  3. Analyze the diversity—ethnic, national, theological, style—of your canon of song to see if it represents the diversity you espouse as a church.
  4. Look for local songwriters in your congregation (and beyond) who you can support and who can write songs contextualized for your community.

In this way, we can help assure that the songs we sing are not what a company or market forces make us sing, but are chosen to best represent the community we are and would like to be.

 

[1] Several songs were co-administered by Capitol and Bethel.

*The original post used the word “owned” instead of “administered,” which has since been corrected for accuracy.