Clear statements against the use of prerecorded music have been made by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians ("On the Use of Pre-Recorded Music in the Liturgy") and Paul S. Jones (Singing and Making Music). Both emphasize two arguments:
- Authentic worship requires active participation
- Recordings are static and inflexible
Authentic worship through participation
The first argument, that recorded music implies inauthentic worship, rests on the idea that both musicians and congregation should be participants in worship. The NAPM writes:
The liturgy is a complex of signs expressed by living human beings. Music, being preeminent among those signs, ought to be 'live.' [...] [Recorded music] should, as a general norm, never be used within the liturgy to replace the congregation, the choir, the organist, or the instrumentalist.
Paul Jones sees recordings as a sort of "worship by proxy":
Playing a recording does not truthfully represent the real people in the church who should be offering the music. It imports commercial players from a static moment in time, from a recording studio that is likely many miles away. It is like hiring an agency to worship in our stead.
Recordings are static
The second major issue seen with prerecorded music in the worship service is its rigidity. Jones argues that recordings lack the "flexibility, subtlety, and choice" that makes music "organic" as opposed to a "single performance trapped in time." The NAPM's statement develops the argument further:
Just as the homilist must hear the Word of God and proclaim it with a knowledge and understanding of the community, so too is the musician to lead the assembly's song with a sensitivity both to the text and to the particular assembly that is singing. Different times and seasons affect the way that a particular piece of music is to be sung. Tempo and volume or accompaniment may vary according to the size of the assembly. The different thoughts and moods expressed in a hymn call for different ways of accompanying and leading the congregation from verse to verse. Pre-recorded music cannot take any of these factors into account.
Develop instead of replace
To those who argue that prerecorded accompaniments are necessary to supplement the live musicians or mask their deficiencies, Jones argues that the worship of God requires that "if we can do better, we should," and therefore calls for an emphasis on development of musicians:
Use your musicians and provide training and encouragement to those who need it. Do not mask the lack of tone or diction in your choir with backup vocals on an accompaniment CD. Build up the choir instead. If you do not know how, consult with someone who does. Any choir can improve.
Advocates of live music in worship services argue that authentic worship requires active participation, and that it is hindered by the rigidity of recordings. Development of musicians, rather than replacement of them, is part of understanding the role of music in the worship service:
Because the liturgy is an encounter between the God of Life and the human beings created in God's image, its modes of expression ought to be authentic expressions of living persons. (NAPM)
- National Association of Pastoral Musicians, "On the Use of Pre-Recorded Music in the Liturgy" (July 12, 1991). Published in Pastoral Music, October–November 1996, 51
- Paul S. Jones, Singing and Making Music (2006), 51–55.