The virtual choir trend was once a novelty, purely used for entertainment and pushing the limitations of technology in the arts. Now, in the state of the world that we find ourselves in, virtual choirs have become a necessity for music programs and choral groups everywhere. 

Virtual choirs became a “thing” back in 2009 when a young fan of Eric Whitacre recorded herself singing his song “Sleep,” and shared the video on YouTube. This inspired Whitacre to call upon more of his fans to record and upload videos of themselves singing. After that success, he recorded himself conducting a piece called “Lux Aurumque.” He asked his fans to record themselves singing along to that recording so he could edit them all together in one performance piece – thus, the first Virtual Choir was born!

Since its inception, the VC has grown to over 8,000 singers from 120 different countries and has been featured on major worldwide TV channels such as BBC and ABC. They appeared at the TED conference in 2013 and have inspired thousands of choral singers to follow suit, editing several recorded videos to create one giant virtual choir. 

While this seems like a fantastic idea in theory, especially given the global pandemic, there are some challenges and details that some organizations aren’t equipped to handle. The biggest obstacle is copyright; it’s a daunting issue for most lawyers to sort out, much less music educators! Many questions come with this new territory: what kind of licensing do we need? Is there a virtual choir license? How do I even get these licenses?

Don’t worry! We have you covered with some basic information and your next steps. Here’s what you need to consider before sharing your virtual magnum opus with the world:

First Steps:

Sheet Music Duplication

You will need to send copies of sheet music to your choir members so they are well prepared!  If you are not able to distribute purchased physical octavos to your singers, now is a good time to make sure you have the proper print licenses in place so you can create and make copies for each participant.  If you have physical copies but need to give your singers a digital version (via email or DropBox, etc…), you will need to seek permission from the publisher to create those digital copies.  Also, keep in mind that lyric sheets count as sheet music, too!  Those need to be licensed if you are going to create multiple copies.

Audio Duplication

Everyone singing from the same track is critical to a Virtual Choir video.  It’s the only way to guarantee that all of your singers will be synchronized visually in the end product.  However, any unlicensed duplication of copyrighted recordings or arrangements of songs can lead to a copyright breach. This includes any burned CD’s, illegally-downloaded MP3’s, and file sharing.  Even if you create your own accompaniment track and distribute those to your singers, you will need to get that track licensed by the publisher.  Make sure you are using the proper channels and have the correct mechanical licensing to share music with your group!

Internet Streaming Rights

Video streaming requires two different licenses:  Performance and Synchronization.  Luckily, large platforms such as YouTube are already licensed with ASCAP and BMI for the Performance Rights, which means you don’t need to obtain that license.  However, you will need to contact the music’s publisher to secure the Synchronization License. If you upload the same video to your own website or any unlicensed website, you will need to obtain both licenses to avoid breaching the Copyright Law.

Next Steps

This process may seem overwhelming, but that’s why we created Virtual Choir HQ:  to help you do what you want to do. We offer a Virtual Choir Bundled License that covers all the Synchronization, Mechanical, and Performance licensing needs in one bundled agreement. That way you can focus on the thing that matters most: enjoying, celebrating, and making music with your choir – virtually. 

What’s your favorite virtual choir video? Do you have a favorite piece that you’d like to adapt for a virtual choir performance? We want to hear from you! Comment below, and tell us your favorite virtual choir video!