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Distributing Legal Rehearsal CDs/Audio Files

Distributing Legal Rehearsal CDs/Audio Files

Often, to help our instrumentalists and vocalists learn new music, we distribute audio files or CDs to our musicians so that they can listen to the music and learn it more quickly. This practice in only legal if you have purchased the same quantity of the song as you wish to distribute OR acquired the appropriate license for each song (see previous post).

For instance, if you want your musicians to learn, Our God, as performed by Chris Tomlin, and want them to have a CD or audio file of that song, you have three choices to comply with the copyright law:

  1. You would need to purchase the same number of mp3s from iTunes or Amazon (or other source) for each person you wish to give the file. (usually $0.99 – $1.29 each)
  2. You would acquire a mechanical license and a master recording license, paying royalties for the quantities of songs you wish to distribute. (mechanical license – $0.091/song up to five minutes in length, then the master recording license, if issued, is $0.25 – $0.50 per song with a potential $25-40 minimum). This process is very time involved and will probably end up costing you more as well)
  3. You can acquire the CCLI Rehearse License. CCLI has a product which will make the process easier. For ministries that expect to distribute great quantities of music, you can save some money too. Let’s take a look:

The Church Rehearsal License

The CCLI Church Rehearse License allows worship leaders and church music directors to legally copy commercial audio recordings and/or share audio files via email, flash drives or on worship planning websites. The copies are intended for rehearsal purposes only, and are not intended to remain as permanent copies for personal collections. Pricing is based on the number of copies made and/or the number of songs shared.

 Frequently-Asked Questions:

Why do we need a rehearse license? Recording and distributing copies of a copyrighted song recording without permission is a violation of the Copyright Law, and penalties can be severe…up to $150,000 for each infringement. For individual churches, the process of trying to get permission to make rehearsal copies for each song could quickly turn into an administrative nightmare. The Church Rehearsal License provides permission in the simplest, most cost-effective way possible.

Does it cover burning CD copies from commercially-available CDs? Yes, provided that the recording is covered under the Church Rehearse License agreement.

Does it cover recording the songs ourselves and then burning to CDs? No. This activity would require a separate mechanical license agreement.

Does it cover digital downloads and then burning to CDs? Yes, as long as the recording is covered and the digital audio file was legally purchased.

Does it cover downloading songs from a free streaming website (YouTube, for example) and then burning to CDs or sharing? No. The source content must be legally purchased.

Does it cover loading the songs onto personal computers, iPhones, iPads or other mobile/listening devices? Yes, but only as temporary audio reference copies and only for rehearsal purposes. Copies are not intended for permanent personal collections.

Does it cover emailing an audio file to worship team members? Yes. Emailing is a distribution method that is allowed under the terms of the license agreement.

Does it cover recording our worship rehearsals? Yes, it does! You may now create your own personal recordings of songs for the purpose of using it for rehearsals! This is not a permission to create a studio commercial recording, but you can sit down with your instrument and create your own customized recording to help your team prepare for the worship service. Or perhaps you would like to record your worship team rehearsal! Your recordings may be shared with your team through a digital file or through a worship planning site.

Does it cover every version of a song? The Church Rehearse License will likely cover multiple versions of a song, but not necessarily every version. For specific songs and recordings, please check the Authorized Label List.

Can people keep the rehearsal CDs? Copies are not intended for permanent personal collections.

Our worship team uses web-based Worship Planning software, and we provide streaming access to an audio file of every song we’re doing each week. How does this fit within the scope of the license? For churches that store and stream a library of audio files on web-based worship planning software, you will base your copy estimates and your reporting on the “first listen” per song for each person. So even though all your musicians and vocalists may have access to your weekly set list and audio files, and some people may listen to a specific song multiple times, you only need to count the first time that each person listens to a song as an actual “copy.”


Be aware that the CCLI Rehearse License is not intended for your people to keep the copies beyond the short term use of learning the song. It is not intended to retain for personal collections.

Other ways of getting the song to musicians at no cost:

  1.  You can send your musicians a link to the song on Here you will find most current songs, many of them with lyrics displayed. As long as your musicians have internet access, then they can stream the song from their various connected devices. Here is a link to Revelation Song
  2. Send them a link to iTunes or Amazon and ask them to buy the mp3. Many of your musicians will not mind this minimal investment for their audio library. Hopefully, you have selected songs that they will want to listen to for some time to come. Here are links for Revelation Song to iTunes or AmazonMP3,
NOTE: Some people think online worship planning/sharing sites make it legal to share audio files. While they make the service available for sharing, they do not provide licensing for doing so. This is what PlanningCenterOnline says:

Planning Center does not include any form of copyright licensing and is not responsible for any misuse on your part. Sharing mp3s, charts or lyrics that you do not have the licenses for is illegal. If you own all the copyrights to a song, maybe for a song you have written, or you have obtained the licenses to distribute them electronically, you are free to do so.

The CCLI license covers the distribution of lyrics, charts & self-recorded (your band) audio for most worship songs.

One way to obtain licenses for the original audio files is to link directly to the song on a music store like iTunes or AmazonMP3, and let your users download the songs for themselves.

What are some ways that you legally share audio files with your people? Please share your ideas.

About The Author

Kenny Lamm

Worship Consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A frequent worship clinician and guest worship leader. Extensive work in worship renewal in several Asian countries.


  1. Timothy Barton

    You give a link to a YouTube song, but there’s no indication that it is an authorized upload. It looks like it was uploaded without permission from the author.

    • Tony Pero

      YouTube has a contract with all major music publishers and record companies to allow songs to be used on their site. These companies control whether or not a song can legally be used on a website, not the author of a song, unless it is an indie artist/songwriter.

      The companies collect money from YouTube using what is called “sync licensing”, and then distribute that to the artists based on whatever is stipulated in their contract with the artist.

    • Kenny Lamm

      Thanks for the heads up. I will update this.

  2. Patty J. Loftin

    Would this cover making a listening/teaching CD from a collection of anthems?

    • Kenny Lamm

      Yes–as long as the publishers are covered under this license. Just as in the case with the CCLI license, most publishers are included, but some do not choose to participate. Here’s the list of covered labels.

  3. Aaron Misenheimer


    Regarding the question Audrey had, I’ve had some success with publishers granting permission for me to make rehearsal CDs gratis as long as 1) the number created is under 50 2) I am playing one part at a time on piano 3) I reclaim and destroy the CDs after we have completed the cantata. This has worked pretty well on the few occasions I’ve done it. However with several publishers producing part CDs now with their cantatas the chances of them continuing to allow this practice may change. I think it helps if you have a larger choir and can say that you’ve bought 40 or 50+ copies of the anthem, or that you use that particular publisher’s music often and would like to continue if they’ll grant you this favor occasionally. Although I have not done this, I imagine getting to know the copyright managers at the publishing houses would probably help as well. If they know you’re trying to do something legitimate they’re probably more likely to help you.

    • Kenny Lamm

      Thanks, Aaron. This is great information.

  4. Audrey

    Thanks for the quick reply! Have a blessed day – hope the conference goes well this weekend!!!

    • Kenny Lamm

      Also realize that this can all be done via the CCLI Rehearsal License described in this article as long as the record label is covered. This may well be your best solution financially if the publisher does not offer discounted CDs. For instance, if you are producing 50 CDs with 10 songs for your choir, and this was the only project you will do all year, the license to do this would be $250, or $5 per CD for copyright permission. You would have CD production costs on top of that, which are minimal if done in house.

  5. Audrey

    Kenny, this sounds great, but my question is this . . . our choir uses books and CD’s from music companies like Word Music and Brentwood-Benson. Would those listening CD’s be covered under this license? If you don’t know, is there a website or contact info that would help me find the answer to this? It is soooo expensive to purchase listening CD’s for my choir, but unfortunately most of them do not officially read music and it helps tremendously for them to be able to hear it at times other than choir practice!

    Thanks for everything you do! This is a ministry that has been much needed for a long time! Your e-mails are always encouraging and helpful!!!

    Blessings ~ Audrey 🙂

    • Kenny Lamm

      Distributing CDs to choir members certainly helps the group learn their music. Unfortunately, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner and the recording publisher (if they are not one and the same) to duplicate a recording for any purpose. Many publishers now produce part CDs at a reduced price for this very purpose. Some have quantity discounts available for the listening CDs for distribution purposes. If neither option is available, call the publisher first and ask if they have any easy options to license duplication of that CD. If not, you will have to obtain the licenses for each song separately, which will probably cost more than just buying the CDs (and with great labor). Perhaps your choir members would be willing to purchase their own CDs or pay a portion of the costs to save your budget.

  6. bryan foster

    in preparation for cantata’s i utilize part-specific CD’s to aid in my choir’s practices and make copies for them to use for thier personal practice time. do i need the CCLI recording license for this purpose?

    • Kenny Lamm

      If you are referring to the part CDs produced by music publishers, they can be covered if the record label is covered by the license. Labels that are covered can be found here. If you are recording your on part CDs, you will need separate mechanical licenses for each song.


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