Eric Whitacre on the spot
Two years ago, Grammy award-winning conductor and composer, Eric Whitacre launched the virtual choir, a social media experiment that has become a global phenomenon with nearly 6,000 singers from 101 countries. He talks to Elen Lewis, editor of The Marketing Society about the importance of relinquishing control why you must never have a Plan B and how Britney Spears became his guilty pleasure.
What inspired you to launch The Virtual Choir?
It was literally one young woman, Britlin Losee, she posted this video of herself singing along and it struck me so deeply.
What advice would you offer others looking to use the web to spread mass creativity?
This is general advice but it's about the ability to adapt quickly and have a sense of fluidity about leadership. The rules are rewritten everyday. That being said, old-fashioned social skills still go a long way, like being relentlessly positive
What do you wish you had known before you launched The Virtual Choir?
I'm really glad I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The best part of experience was how naive and green I was.
What is your favourite piece of choral music and why?
Mozart's Requiem - it's the reason I'm in choral music. Until I was 18, I had never sung choral classical music. It was the first piece I sang and it changed my life.
What can business learn from The Virtual Choir?
I think more than anything it's about what actually motivates an individual. So much of the things we think motivate people like the promise of money, fame, success - that has not been my experience. Businesses would do well to remember that the way to reach people online is to help them become part of something larger than themselves.
A user-generated concept like The Virtual Choir also requires 'letting go' and relinquishing an element of control. How do you find the right balance between leading The Virtual Choir and enabling the community to take a collaborative leading role?
There are lots of parallels with business. The analogy I used is that you have to build a race track and let them race and in building that track you have to be so meticulous and think carefully about the deep structure. But once the race is going you've can add gentle changes, but you can't add another curve to the track.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Bubblegum pop. I'm a sucker for Britney and Katy Perry.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
When I was young, a teacher told me not to have to fall-back plan. If you don't have a plan B, you'll figure out a way to make Plan A work.
What would you say to your 17-year-old self?
Go and live in Paris for a year when you leave school...
Tell us a secret
I'm not a very good singer.
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