How open source songs might work

Debate rages at Simone’s blog. Well not really. I just keep writing long comments one after the other as new ideas strike me. This has kept my hippocampuses firing all day.

Simone doesn’t seem to think an Open Source model would produce quality songs.

Every open source product in existence would seem to disagree – but she’s also not sure how it would all work.

I had the following thought.

Open Source companies make money by offering support, some by performing specific development tasks and extensions for companies that request them.¬†Here’s an article about¬†how open source companies make money.

Basically it moves from a model where a product is provided to a model based on service.

I believe Open Source, when applied to computer software, produces better products than proprietary software.

So, an example of how a gifted song writer could make money/produce quality songs under the Open Source business model would be to produce songs upon request (and upon payment) by a particular church for a particular sermon series that they’re working on. Once it is used for that purpose it would then be added to the pool of songs for other churches to use.

Any other ideas?


Andrew says:

So you’re basically suggesting that song-writers work purely on commission and not on royalties? I suspect publishers would continue to make money though, of which the song-writer would wrongly miss out on.

Nathan says:

Not purely – but primarily, or on a retainer/stipend.

I think, given that I believe in “open source”, that this is a better model of doing things.

There are plenty of other ways to make money – and how would publishers make money if you moved to a purely online business model? Or indeed “independently” produced CDs?

There are plenty of ways to recognise (and pay for) the workers in open source. You shift from being paid for your product to being paid for services. The model I suggested on writing for comission is not a finite example – you could also introduce workshops and training, produce “song writing manuals” etc – the whole point of Open Source is that allows more quality products to be developed faster to fill identified needs. I’m sure there are plenty of theological gaps out there waiting to be addressed in song. Another option would be having song writers paid for, or employed, by a denomination or church – rather than “freelancing” – but I’m not suggesting we do away with royalties anyway – I’m a firm believer that making your music more available leads to more sales (look at the MySpace generation of bands).

queenstuss says:

That idea is so 17th century.

Give me another two or three years and I can give you a bit more of historical view of who got paid to write music for church, but I think that’s how a lot of composers, up until about the time of Mozart, I think, made money, being commissioned to write masses. Others, like Bach, were employed by a church and churned new music out pretty much every week. (But he was also awesome. I don’t think many composers then or now could write a whole service worth of material every week.)

Later, a lot of preachers would write their own hymns to go with their sermons. Music came from various sources.

Nathan says:

Yeah, I know. It’s not new. Hence my SDG comment in the earlier open source post.

Andrew is a very professional muso though – so his thoughts interest me too – I don’t want to see writers getting ripped off or being forced to go cap in hand to the church for a handout… but I think the arts market might be shifting. And I think this is why QUT changed the name of their arts degree to “creative industries” – the landscape has changed and most artists I talk to make their money out of commissions that follow public exhibitions.

queenstuss says:

I think that’s my point in saying that’s what happened in the past. The Arts (the whole world in general, actually) changes. We don’t sing madrigals anymore.
The arts market is a tough one, however. I changed degrees after my first year at uni because I could see I wasn’t a good enough musician to actually be one professionally: it’s a tough market. It’s not easy to make money out of any of the arts unless you are both brilliant and very fortunate.

Andrew says:

I think most of the ‘prominent’ congregational song-writers are already in paid ministry positions, from people like Tim Hughes who is on staff at HTB to the guys at EMU who work for various churches or colleges. And HTB and EMU both run training courses.
I think the major difference between song-writing and software development is the level of inherent creativity. OS software works because a community of developers are all seeking to create the best software – that is, one that is the most powerful and functional, whereas songwriting is inherently more personal and indeed, subjective. When developing software, another user might come along and and add a new feature, but I doubt Keith Getty would really appreciate someone coming along and changing, adding to ‘In Christ Alone’. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your OS approach though?
I think there is collaboration between songwriters – the Getty/Townend partnership is one of the most successful. Most songwriters would bounce ideas of other trusted colleagues.
In the end, though, songs that don’t get published and distributed don’t really get widely used. Websites for free distribution of congregational music, like the one started by my friend,, while very popular, and a great resource hasn’t really changed the way christian music publishing works. Even there, sharesong writers can still earn royalties if their songs are used by churches.
CCLI basically ensures that the most frequently used songs pay the writer accordingly. I’m not sure dropping royalties would do anything except save churches the cost of the licence fee each year.