Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 4.48.54 PM“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” -William Faulkner

Over the years, Faulkner’s quote has evolved into almost every facet of life. Nowadays, the saying is “kill your babies”. Obviously, it doesn’t mean to kill a baby. It’s putting to death something that is special to you. Are you willing to put to death something you have invested into even if it means you’ll be better off for doing so?

I thought of this as we made the decision to pull the plug on the Virtual Choir. Was it disappointing? Of course, but it was the right decision. Here’s some background with it.

In June, a number of us met to brainstorm about the Christmas services. At the meeting, one of my ideas was to do a virtual choir. I showed parts of Eric Whitacre’s TED talk, and everyone thought it was a great idea to pursue.

We mapped out a course of how we were going to pull this off, and it made sense to us. I was going to champion it, and Jordan Johnson was going to direct and edit the piece.

The tough thing with working on a Christmas piece in the summer is people think they have additional time to work on it. So, while we had deadlines we were hoping to meet with it, it didn’t seem like a deadline because it was still late summer. We had put in some margin for the project, but we were cutting into it right away.

Then, one of our key players with the project hurt his back. Ryan Shields was creating and composing the four parts for the song that would be sung for the virtual choir. He was out of commission for almost a month, while his back recuperated from surgery, which put us behind schedule. You don’t plan for things like that!

You would think we had plenty of time, but all of us have a number of other projects we are responsible for simultaneously. Jordan and I were also dealing with streaming video issues with the Online Campus. So, while I had originally hoped Jordan could start working on the Virtual Choir, he is helping me try to solve the problems we were having with our previous streaming video provider. Throughout September and October it was a big focus of our work.

We went public with the virtual choir on November 1. Not ideal with our original planning, but still giving us the month of November to get submissions and put something together for the Christmas Eve services. When we first started talking to people about it, the response was enthusiastic for it. It reflected what we thought, people will jump at the chance to be a part of it.

It didn’t happen.

I was puzzled initially because everyone I talked to was behind the idea. I personally invited people to be a part of it, and nearly everyone responded positively to my requests. Jordan and I made personal asks to around 100 people, and we promoted it heavily on Twitter and Facebook. We asked people to share with their networks, and people said they would. There was awareness with the virtual choir, but it wasn’t translating into submissions.

When we didn’t see submissions come in we made a more concerted effort to promote it at church. Lead Pastor Mark even made a big push for it during services. I had people come up to me at the church telling me how excited they were to be a part of it. Still, submissions did not come in.

The feedback I started to hear back from people was the difficulty with the song. The composition choice of the four parts was hard and unfamiliar. People would see and hear the part we wanted them to sing, and they backed away thinking they couldn’t do it. Some were use to singing melody, not harmony, and didn’t know the part we wanted them to sing.

This past Sunday, one of the things Micah Yost, Jordan and I talked about was implementing edits, to the site, so anyone knew they could sing the melody for the virtual choir.

Also, we made the process too hard to submit videos. I didn’t realize this till it was too late. While for someone like Jordan or me, the process of submitting videos on YouTube is intuitive. This isn’t the case for everyone, though. We needed to make it easier if we wanted to have an increase with submissions.

The difficulty of the song, plus the difficulty of submitting videos, made it difficult for us to get any traction with it. We ended up with around fifteen submissions.

Today, we made the decision to pull the plug on it. We “killed our baby”. While we had sunk a lot of time and resources into the project, we were going to have sink even more just to save the project. It wasn’t making sense to do that. Plus, we needed as much time as possible to program something to replace it in the Christmas Eve services. We would be in a worse position the longer we delayed.

I thought the virtual choir idea was a brilliant one, and I still do. However, it didn’t work this time around. Maybe we will revisit it in the future.

I learned some good lessons from this process and my mistakes.

Music is not my thing. While I have experience creating and producing a variety of animations and videos, when it comes to music I am out of my league. It made sense for me to be involved because it was my idea and my background with producing similar creative pieces. However, I may not have been the right person to spearhead the project. For instance, early on I could not speak to whether or not the music choice/arrangement was too difficult for the average person.

Simplify the process. I saw this issue too late in the process to fix. I read with mobile apps when you try and sign up a new customer, you lose 20% of prospective customers with each level of process you have them go through before they get value out of the product. We lost prospective people because our process was too difficult and layered.

Input from people outside the process. With a project like this, where we are relying on user-generated content, I should have asked for input from someone outside our team so they could address things we may have been blind to. Like the difficulty with the submission process.

Most baseball fans call tell you how many home runs Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron hit in their careers, or how many home runs Mark McGwire or Roger Maris hit in their record breaking seasons. What they can’t tell you is how many strikeouts they had, and no one cares to remember.

I will keep swinging away. With what I’ve learned on this project, I’m more apt to hit one out of the park next time.

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