In four short years, the classical crossover sensation reached the top with the help of viral videos.
Music, Published on Fri Jun 13 2014
In four short years, classical crossover sensation Lindsey Stirling has gone from anonymity to star stature without the help of the usual star-making machinery.
There is no major label, prominent manager, radio station or concert promoter that can claim responsibility for the elfin dubstep violinist’s meteoric rise to fame. Even her 2010 appearance on America’s Got Talent, which averaged 7 million viewers a night and saw her reach the quarter-finals before getting turfed by judges Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne, had a negligible impact on her career.
So what is the primarily catalyst that has allowed the Santa Ana, Calif.-born Stirling, who appears at the Kool Haus on Saturday night, to independently release two best-selling albums (her latest, Shatter Me, entered The Billboard 200 retail chart at #2, debuting the same week on the Canadian album charts at #5), tour the world, collaborate with stars like John Legend and Christina Perri and snag Lady Gaga’s former manager?
Since the May 18, 2011, launch of the California native’s Lindseystomp YouTube channel and her first original song, “Spontaneous Me,” Stirling has amassed more than 600 million views and almost 5 million subscribers with a 64-video mixture of originals, cover songs (her rendition of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” has been seen more than 72 million times) and downright tomfoolery.
It’s certainly an unexpected windfall for the 27-year-old Stirling, who admits her career was in tatters, especially after America’s Got Talent, before YouTube kick-started it into overdrive.
“America’s Got Talent has this huge audience around the world, and when I was on the show, I thought it would change my life,” Stirling recounted Tuesday over the phone from a Louisville, Ky., tour stop.
“But after that, the world had completely forgotten that I had existed and I went back to square zero. I kept hustling for six months and doing things like getting really low-key gigs at college campuses, playing at noon in cafeterias.”
Fate intervened when filmmaker Devin Graham, known professionally as Devin Super Tramp, a YouTube viral video maker, reached out.
“He said, ‘Hey, I would love to make a music video for you — I think you’re really talented and I want to put it on my YouTube channel,’ ” Stirling remembers. “I didn’t quite understand what the incentive was for him and I didn’t really know what YouTube was and what it could do for people.
“But we did the video (“Spontaneous Me”) and I was amazed. As soon as he put it up on his channel, my music, which was just sitting around on iTunes, suddenly started to sell. People were requesting more of my songs and they were loving and sharing them.
“I was amazed that putting out that one video on a YouTube channel by some random guy would do more for me and sell more tracks than America’s Got Talent. It all just blew my mind.”
It helped that Graham and Stirling, who both studied filmmaking at Utah’s Brigham Young University, made world-class videos on shoestring budgets.
“For the first year, I didn’t have any money,” says Stirling. “So luckily, I went to BYU and made a lot of talented friends. I helped them on their projects; they helped me on mine.
“Also, I had the skills: I knew how to produce; I knew how to edit. All I needed was a cinematographer and pretty locations. If you notice, the first year of my videos are almost all shot outside, because I lived in Utah, which is beautiful. I’d go to these hiking trails that were 15 minutes from my house. And I’d go with Devin, who was my boyfriend for the first year, and he’d film all my videos for free. Then I’d direct, edit and produce them. So pretty much for the first year of my channel, my videos were all free.”
Stirling’s fan base grew like wildfire, charmed by her self-choreographed vignettes that showcased music incorporating elements of hip-hop, Skrillex-influenced EDM, dubstep and electronica, as well as her charismatic and photogenic personality, as her songs “Transcendence,” “Electric Daisy Violin,” “Shadows” and “Crystallize” began racking up impressive numbers.
Corporations began to take notice and offered to underwrite certain videos.
“Once we started to make a name for ourselves, people started to reach out and offer to fly me and Devin places,” Stirling explains. “They saw us as a team. A travel company paid all our expenses and paid us on top of it to make a video and go to Kenya. The same thing happened in New Zealand. That was the amazing thing — once we were creating such high-quality content, we were able to fund our travels.”
The couple has since split personally and professionally, but the Stirling juggernaut keeps rolling, with videos that alternate among her own originals, covers of pop hits and video game scores. The videos are often tagged at the end with personal endorsements for products provided by her sponsors.
Stirling, who first picked up the violin at age 5, says she has no issue with pushing brands.
“I don’t have a problem with it and my fans don’t have a problem with it, because they all know I’m an independent artist,” Stirling explains. “This is just my way or being able to do what I do, and my fans are very supportive of that. They know that’s the way a lot of YouTubers survive. As long as it doesn’t taint my art, or it isn’t some shameless promotion in the middle of a video, and as long as I can create my art the way I want and I’m not ashamed of the brands I’m promoting, I’m good.”
She may have a point: YouTube income has gifted her with artistic freedom and allowed her to bypass major labels.
“It’s kind of funny that when I was starting out and trying to make it, I went to all the labels and I was turned away,” Stirling recalls. “Nobody was interested. Now that I’m doing it and I’ve been able to prove that it works, they’re all knocking down my door.
“But I don’t need them anymore, I really don’t, because I’ve figured out how to do it by cutting out the middleman, and I love it. I love the fact that I have 100 per cent creative control. I love that I can self-fund everything. I don’t have anybody I’m indebted to. No one colours what I do. It’s awesome. I love it and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I stumbled upon YouTube because I didn’t know what else to do, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”