Free Open Source Lyric Projection Software – Review

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I recently had an opportunity to be a guest worship leader for an XLT (adoration service) at an area church.  It was a situation where there was about a day’s notice and there wasn’t much time to coordinate music so I needed to take care of planning and making sure that I had lyrics.  I don’t myself own MediaShout, ProPresenter or EasyWorship which are the industry standards.  Planning Center has an option for projections too, but it’s part of their subscription.  I’m not sure that it’s available independently and I’ve never used it.  I have the most experience with MediaShout, but it’s pricey and it takes up a lot of memory on a computer.  You pretty much want a dedicated computer in your AV area for it.  I’ve heard people say that some of these are more PC friendly and others better for Mac.  I don’t have the luxury of working with any Mac’s so my experience is limited to PC’s.

I did some online searches for Open Source programs.  When software is Open Source, it means that it’s free and legal to download.  Many programmers even encourage you to distribute it (as long as you’re not charging a fee) and to make improvements.  I found two lyric presentation programs: OpenLP and OpenSong.

At first glance, I downloaded OpenLP.  It looked like it had the most options that I was looking for including the ability to import songs from CCLI and to have video loops running behind your lyrics.  That’s a pretty cool trend these days.  I’ll say one thing about backgrounds here.  Many that come with the software are pretty cheesy and distracting from the text.  I personally don’t like having a big picture of a cross or bible in clear focus behind the lyrics.  I prefer something blurred or more textural with some simple color.  That’s really all you need.  A little motion is nice, but a fast moving loop can distract from the text.

After about an hour or so of playing around with OpenLP I decided to try OpenSong.  It just wasn’t working very well on my laptop.  Maybe it was my computer, but it seemed buggy.  I couldn’t get a good preview of the presentation to show up and I couldn’t really figure out the video loops.  It didn’t seem like I could change the size of the text or what text showed on which slide very easily.   It’s possible that I needed more time to work with it, but I didn’t have more time.  I had a gig the next night and needed to get about 15 songs setup and ready to go.

OpenSong was easier.  I still had to do some reading online to figure out what I was doing.  I didn’t really get the CCLI import thing to work out, but that was okay.  I just copied and pasted the text from CCLI into a new song in OpenSong.  Setting up sequences was really simple.  Before each verse or chorus you type [V1] or [C] or [B] for bridge.  Then under sequence, you just type it in like, “V1 C V2 C B C”.  When you go into your “Set” which is their term for your lineup, the sequence is there.  Another trick I learned was to insert two of these characters, like this “||” at the end of a line and it broke the text into a new slide so that there wasn’t a bunch of words all scrunched up on the same slide.  You have a lot of flexibility as far as fonts and font sizes that you can use.  I didn’t do this, but it looks like you can download a bible and reference scripture and it will include just the text you specify into your presentation.  It appears that you can insert a video or music to play, but again I didn’t try that out.

I ended up just using a black background with white text.  It did the job just fine.  Yes, you have the ability to do a setup for your entire “set” or you can do different backgrounds for each song.  I prefer one background for the whole service, but that’s my personal preference.  If you do an online search for “video background OpenSong” there appears to be a trick for using VLC as a video wallpaper on your computer and then setting your OpenSong background to RGB 0,0,1 and supposedly the video will show up as a background.  I haven’t been able to get it to work on my laptop, but it may depend on the video card that you have.  Mine may not be all that great.  I’m on Windows 7 and that might effect it as well.  Regardless, for being free and needing to get a service setup quickly, OpenSong did the trick.

I would highly recommend OpenSong for worship leaders to have on hand for those times when you’re in a pinch or you need to be mobile.  Maybe you’re a volunteer who leads music for youth group meetings that aren’t in a sanctuary.  This would be perfect for that situation.  The price is right and it worked.  In my opinion, it’s better than using PowerPoint because you can go back and add or remove songs for a future service and not have to do a bunch of copying and pasting of slides.  If you’re a new church or just starting out with a praise and worship service and you don’t have several hundred dollars to invest in projection software, definitely give OpenSong a try.  If top notch projections with lots of bells and whistles are important to you, than I’d encourage you to invest in something like MediaShout, EasyWorship or ProPresenter.

According to their website, OpenLP is about to release a new version, so I’ll be on the lookout for that.

As a final note, I realize that the environment is very important to a worship service, but don’t get too caught up in looking cool and having too much going on in your projections.  I think there’s a fine line.  Projections themselves are better than hymnals or printing worship aids.  In the long run, it’s cheaper than buying expensive books and using a lot of printer ink.  It’s more flexible because you’re not confined to only the songs listed in your book and it frees up your congregation to use their hands while they pray.  They can clap or open their hands out in praise much easier if they’re not holding a book.  It’s been my experience that people sing louder, are more engaged, and participate more when their heads aren’t looking down into a book.  That’s the most important thing we are trying to accomplish, getting the congregation to participate fully!  So, get a license from CCLI so that you’re legit and find a program that works for you.

What’s been your experience with lyric projection software?  Are there any you like more than others?  Let’s chat about it.