Meet Most Inspiring Fan Outreach Nominee: Eric Whitacre

Posted June 18

The O Music Awards are now nearly 24 hours away and we’re primed to close some categories come midnight tonight — including our Most Inspiring Fan Outreach category. While you vote, vote, vote into the night, take a moment now to meet one of our nominees, Eric Whitacre, whose “Virtual Choir” project is a testament to the power of the Web to bring musicians together.

Grammy Award-winning conductor and composer Eric Whitacre is the creator of the “Virtual Choir,” a massive undertaking wherein Whitacre weaves together YouTube videos featuring individual singers into a hundred-plus-person choir. Previous projects have netted the musician thousands of submissions and millions of views, and his most recent undertaking – “Bliss,” slated to drop this summer – scored him $100,000 in production money on Kickstarter. Teamwork never sounded so sweet.

Check out our Q&A with Whitacre below and, should you be so inclined, click vote here.

Well, first of all, congratulations on your nomination.

Thanks, I’m really honored! Thank you.

So what did you think when you heard that you were nominated for this award?

First, I thought it was really cool to have my name next to the other three — who I’m a huge fan of. And I think it’s incredibly cool that everything that we’re doing was somehow on MTV’s radar, because somehow we’re just a little left of center from the pop world.

I don’t know, it seems like you have a pretty big following and reach with the ‘Virtual Choir.’

Yeah, which is great. But it was fun to see our names up there associated with MTV. That was cool from a classical music geek. I think we were pretty happy about that.

Can you tell me about how this idea came about and where it came from?

Well, Britlin Losee, this 17-year-old girl, posted a fan video to me. The idea was very simple. I just thought: I wonder if I could get a few people like Britlin to do exactly what she had done, basically sing their own parts — and if we could get them singing in the same tempo and the same key and we line them all up together, then it would make a little choir.

It was just that simple –- a little experiment just to see if it would work. And then we tried it and it just exploded. It was beyond my wildest dreams. And it’s grown ever since.

Was this before or after Kutiman, the Israeli composer who created a similar project called “ThruYou”, came on the scene?

Interesting question, I think I first saw his video nearly four years ago –- 2009. I don’t remember seeing Kutiman’s stuff and thinking I should do something like that. What I do remember seeing right around that time was YouTube was doing “YouTube Symphony Orchestra”. And what they were doing was they had this composer Tan Dun, who’s a film composer but also classical composer. He was conducting and all of these instrumentalists were submitting these videos, but all they were were audition videos and whoever was chosen got flown out and they turned into a real orchestra in New York.

And I remember watching that and thinking: ‘It’s strange. They have all these videos of people playing at the same time, why aren’t they just using those as the orchestra? Instead of flying those people to a real place and making a traditional orchestra?’ It didn’t make any sense to me.

So you turned to Kickstarter for the most recent one. Why did you decide to crowdfund?

We had been approached by lots and lots of people to do something commercial — it just never seemed like a good fit. All of the people that were coming to us — some of them were our friends, musicians — but for what we trying to do, to commercialize it just didn’t resonate. And the more we talked about it, the more we realized that the best, most aesthetic way to do what we were doing was to extend the crowdsourced part of it into the financing itself — so that every single bit of it is ultimately created by the fans.

And you got a pretty crazy response from the campaign, right?

Yeah! It worked! We raised about $125,000. Still, I’m pinching myself! Kickstarter in general just amazes me. That so many people gave of themselves like that and that we met our goal, it was astonishing. It’s one of those things that even five years ago, I never possibly could have imagined would have existed.

What’s the most surprising contribution that you’ve received from fans?

For me it’s always the individual stories. Just this morning, we just finished our “Virtual Choir Four” campaign, and we more than doubled our numbers. So we have something like around 8,500 videos submitted — that’s from 100 different countries. One just came through this morning from Cuba, and because the Internet is so bad there the singer could only upload it through his cellphone. So he had to take this video file and send it one [part] at a time. So he sent us 24 video files and we spliced them together and made this single video. So now we have a singer from Cuba.

So something like that — this guy took I don’t know how many hours it must have taken to learn the music, record it and upload it one file at a time just to be a part of another 8,000 singers. It’s humbling to me. It actually makes my heart race when I say that out loud.

Can you tell me a little bit about the latest project? What can we expect?

For this one, musically we’re going in a different direction. I wrote this musical called Paradise Lost that’s going to open here in London next year. It’s a musical, but it’s also got electronic music — really EDM dance music. Dubstep. Drum ‘n’ Bass and all of this within the context of a musical. I took a piece from that called ‘Bliss’ and we’ve crowdsourced all the vocals and now I’m working with a producer and together we’re making this — it’s not a pop track, but it’s definitely different from the tracks we’ve done before. So it’s all these voices plus electronica.

When does it premiere?

On July 11 we premiere it for the Queen at Buckingham Palace. As soon as that’s finished we’ll put it all on the website — all the electronica, all the vocal parts — and invite DJs around the world to remix it. So it’s alive — it’s always changing.