An unfortunate ‘just say no’ policy to Christian music rewrites
By Peter Elliott | Everyday Christian Editor
Posted 10:11 am on November 17, 2009
As I prepare for my second Christian CD, I continue to uncover issues which I had never experienced in secular music.
According to copyright law, a compulsory license permits me to record any other artist’s music for a maximum set rate not to exceed copyright law limits. Well-known artists usually negotiate a better rate than the maximum compulsory rate. Most songwriters will take less rather than lose the opportunity of possibly having other artists to license their songs.
Or so you would think.
Licensing is the publishing side of the music industry. Most artists retain publishing rights because even after their songs drop off the charts, those artists receive checks for years from sheet music, licensing for television, performances, movies, radio and cover versions of the song by other artists.
Years ago Paul McCartney educated Michael Jackson to the investment potential of purchasing publishing rights. Ironically, Jackson proceeded to outbid Paul for the publishing rights to the entire Beatles library, causing a rift in their friendship. The current estimated value of the Beatles collection is $500 million. The deepest injury inflicted is that each time Paul McCartney played a song he had written, payment was made to Michael Jackson.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. A compulsory license is only available so long as the original lyrics remain the same. If an artist changes the lyrics, they must get the permission of the original copyright owner(s) before obtaining a compulsory license.
Weird Al Yankovic had problems for years getting permission from some artists for his parody style of recording. I somewhat understand an artist being reluctant to have their lyrics changed to comedy and perhaps public ridicule.
Here’s where the dilemma plays in for Christian artists seeking to establish themselves.
Prior to the release of each CD, I chased several artists to re-record one of their originals. The first was “Heaven And Hell” by Black Sabbath. I changed just enough of the lyrics to pervert the original lyrics of Ronnie James Dio to reflect Christianity. Ignorant at the time to the fact I needed permission, we went into the manufacturing process. Not only did he refuse to release the song, the refusal was presented to me through his attorney.
I never anticipated I would be refused the rights. I figured they would consider it as found money on a song originally released in 1980. We were forced to pull the song, causing an error placing the songs out of order on the CD.
For my upcoming 2010 release, I sought a song from the ’60s band Blind Faith – which featured a young Steve Winwood on vocals -- called “Can’t Find My Way Home.” This time, I didn’t bother to spend the studio time to record the new version in anticipation of a negative response. Winwood was at least nice enough to have his management company send the, “Thank you, but no thank you” e-mail.
They are not required by law to offer a reason of refusal. I have never received a reason for rejection other than “no” from either artist.
The Blind Faith song was originally released in 1969. Winwood never requested to listen to my arrangement, nor did he request lyric sheets. I stated my intent was to change as few of the original lyrics to shape a Christian message, so it had nothing to do with the quality of my version.
A parody of “Heaven and Hell” was released in 2006 by the actor Jack Black. The opening line, “Sing me a song you’re a singer, pass me the bong, you’re the bringer of reefer.” Perhaps some artists just don’t want to taint the original. Go figure,
I am, however, open to further suggestions.
Please provide your opinion or recommend a song to tweak. I’d love to take your suggestion and try and include it on my upcoming CD.
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