Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Virtual Choir

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I am very pleased to introduce Eric Whitacre who is here to talk to us about the Virtual Choir Kickstarter Project.  Thank you for joining us today Eric.  

Thank you for having me, it’s an honor.

The Virtual Choir is definitely a product of the internet age, would you care to describe the whole concept and what this particular Kickstarter is all about?

For those of you who don’t know about the Virtual Choir, the concept is pretty simple. Singers from around the world upload their videos. They’re singing alone in their living rooms, their dorm rooms, their garages; we cut all the videos together and start them at the same time to create a Virtual Choir. Somehow it all comes together and we’re making music as one choir.
We have invested a huge amount of money so far in creating the Virtual Choirs and it has been a pleasure to do so.   We have also had help from some wonderful like minded parties to whom we shall for ever be grateful (DCINY, Decca and JW Pepper to name but three).   This time, we are looking to singers and supporters to, quite literally, Kickstart Virtual Choir 4 and help to make it possible.

This is your fourth Virtual Choir performance, what made you decide to try to fund it with Kickstarter this time around?  Why not just keep doing what you were doing?  

Believe it or not, VC3 alone cost us way more than $100,000 dollars to make. Although participation is free and uploading isn't costly, creating the content management system and taking each and every audio and video file, topping and tailing them, editing them and getting them all into sync is a massively time consuming process and takes very many man hours.  Sizing the video images and getting them in sync with each other and then with the audio is a long process. Only then do we begin to start to make the final film, and the creative team of video production engineers have to wrestle with the huge amount of media that is available through the thousands of videos, and start to make something beautiful using multiple tools including 3D imaging and animation.   

The “Multi-video” performance videos are becoming more and more popular on youtube, were you the one who started all that or did you just seize on a new idea and run with it?  

The idea all began with a single video from Britlin Losee. She uploaded a beautiful video of herself singing the soprano part to my piece, Sleep, and it sparked this idea in me: ‘what if we could get 50 people from around the world to do the same thing’. So I uploaded a video of me conducting and people started sending in their submissions. It worked. The original Virtual Choir had 185 singers from 12 different countries and it went viral. Since then the phenomenon has continued and exploded. The most recent VC3 had 3746 videos from 73 different countries.

You mention you have audio engineers “clean up” the audio from the submissions; do they perform any pitch correction? (I.e. Autotune?)   I ask because I like singing I just don’t sing very well without someone standing next to me to key my pitch off of.  

There is no autotune! The audio engineers are using noise reduction to reduce the distraction of traffic, doorbells, dogs, and other people nearby. The beauty of the Virtual Choir is that there are so many people singing together, so if you can’t reach a particular note or need to take a breath, you know someone, somewhere in the world will cover you.

The Virtual Choir format makes everyone a soloist, yet they all get to work together as part of a true choral arrangement.  Are there any actual solo parts in your pieces?  
Virtual Choir 1, ‘Lux Aurumque’ had a solo soprano line. We held auditions, and the final solo was performed by the incredibly talented Melody Myers from Tennessee.

You mention that VC4 will be part of the Coronation Concerts in July, that leaves you only five months to collect videos, sort, and edit the final performance.  Is that enough time?   I’ve done editing and that seems like an awful lot of work in a very short amount of time!

We are incredibly honored that Virtual Choir 4 will be part of the Coronation Concerts in Buckingham Palace in July 2013. Five months is enough time, but you’re right – it’s an awful lot of work! Luckily we have a great team behind the project who work together to produce the beautiful end result.

Have you already picked out your piece for this year’s performance?  

This time we will be singing Bliss from my musical, Paradise Lost.  I am going to write a bespoke arrangement for the Virtual Choir which will start with a fluid, ethereal a cappella sequence, which will move into the more club/EDM track that is Bliss.  As well as being displayed at Buckingham Palace and posting the finished film online we will be making it available to the crowd for a re-mix project over the summer.

I know you haven’t started accepting performances yet, but how will folks be able to join in once you do?  What are your minimum “quality levels” you’re looking for?  Will I need to buy a new camera?
The best places to sign up are the Fanzone mailing list and the Virtual Choir facebook page, to ensure you are among the first to receive updates when we let you know where to get your sheet music, when online tutorials are, and how to submit your video. Everyone is welcome to join; there are no auditions, so providing you can sing the piece and record your audio and video, you’re in.

It is great to see you’ve reached your $100,000 goal! How soon after you receive funding do you think you’ll start production or have you already started?  

Thank you! I am truly grateful to everyone who has chosen to support the Virtual Choir; it means so much to me and to all of the global Virtual Choir community. Once the Kickstarter campaign has finished, we will begin to develop the infrastructure to receive singers’ videos. Then there will be an acquisition stage, before we start on production. We know we’re working towards a July deadline, so it won’t be long.

A key part of successful Kickstarter is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How did you engage your backers?
The Virtual Choir community is a fun, loving group, made up of every sort of personality and bound together by their love for singing and choral music. They are a hugely supportive and interactive community, so no query or concern goes unanswered. We encouraged all our backers to join the VC community and get involved in VC4 when we open for submissions later in the year.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  Did you use Kicktraq to track your progress?  
The Virtual Choirs have been featured on ABC & NBC in the US as well as on multiple radio stations; national radio and television across Europe, Asia and Australia, and we premiered VC2 at the revered TED conference. This time around, we’ve been featured in The Huffington Post and on BBC World News (television) in an interview about business and finance in the arts.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
Interact and engage with your backers, and keep the community regularly updated.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Thank you so much.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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