An unfortunate ’just say no’ policy to Christian music rewrites

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.

Be First to Comment

  1. Brad Real said:

    Abbie, Some suggestions I would have would be “Dream On” by Aerosmith. “Sympathy For the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. “Into the Great Wide Open” by Tom Petty. Brad

    November 17, 2009
    Reply
  2. BJ_singa_Song said:

    Hi Abbie, Here’s my take on this issue. Things that are not of Christ is of the world, and the world is currently being controlled by Satan. Satan is called the “ruler of the world” (John 12:31), “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Since Satan has the dominion over the non-belivers and they are blinded by him, whatever positively reinforces Christianity he wants to stop, especially if we’re using tools that he uses to draw people away from Christ. So… secular artists would say ‘no’ because of many reasons, but the spiritual side of that would be what I mentioned above. I would suggest “Tears In Heaven” by Clapton, “Taylor” by Jack Johnson, and “Walk a mile in his shoes” by Everlast.

    November 18, 2009
    Reply
  3. awerling said:

    The reason I, for one, would not allow a self-identified “Christian artist” to rerecord one of my songs is that usually those who have an evangelical agenda completely misunderstand the artistic intent of a song’s lyrics and oversimplify in their “rewriting.” I have no sympathy for the predicament described in this blog entry. Write your own songs and actually add something of value to the artistic and religious communities. Peace and all good to you!

    November 18, 2009
    Reply
  4. ajstancato said:

    I respect the post from Awerling. My reason for attempting to include a remake is to draw an audience that relates to that song or secular Music. Hopefully they will listen to their lyrics and it will open a door to finding Christ.

    November 19, 2009
    Reply
  5. HarveyBrooks said:

    How about writing your own songs instead of “perverting” songs written by other people?

    November 19, 2009
    Reply

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