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.

  • Full Disclosure: I am the project leader of the OpenLP project.

    I was recently linked to your post, and just wanted to engage with you on a few things.

    Firstly, thanks for taking a look at OpenLP, and then actually blogging about it. As an open source project we don’t get a lot of press coverage, nor do we have the opportunity to advertise our project due to the fact that we don’t actually get any money for doing it.

    Secondly I was rather puzzled by your eventual outcome. Some of the issues you had with OpenLP was the motion backgrounds (which is not a strong feature at all – we have our reasons for not spending time on it in this version) and the fonts, and yet at the end of the day you used a plain look in an application that doesn’t even actually support motion backgrounds. Granted it seems like at the time you didn’t have much time to deal with why OpenLP wasn’t working well on your computer, but on the other hand you really should have thought of what you wanted to do much earlier.

    OpenLP runs well on all the Windows 7 computers that I know of (though I don’t use Windows myself), so I’m not really sure why you were having issues. I’d be happy to work with you and see what was going wrong and how we can fix it though.

    Lastly, you might be interested to know that we have a version of OpenLP. This allows you to put OpenLP on a flash drive and take your songs, settings, themes and everything else with you on the road, and all you have to do is plug your flash drive in to the computer at the church, and you’ll have everything at your disposal.

    • Thanks for the info! I’m sorry that I missed your comment & am just now getting around to responding. I’ll definitely take a look at I’m doing a retreat this weekend where I need to bring my own laptop & lyrics to the site. I’ll revisit this and share my experience.

    • Andrewcv

      I’ve recently started doing AV at our church and tried OpenSong but wasn’t able to get it working on my Mac at all. OpenLP works fine for what we’ve needed it to do so far. Would like to change the font size on the projector at some stage because some lyrics and Bible verses kinda extend off the screen. I’d also like to be able to download the Bible texts rather than need an internet connection for those times that I need to pull up a different scripture reference on the fly. It’s easy to use and figure out. Didn’t take ages to get functioning at all. A really good app.

  • Alan

    This is a wonderful article! Tell me, which program is right for a beginner to create a video like on Green Screen Stock?