Band Nerd to Rock Star
Lindsey Stirling (BS ’15), a violinist, dancer, performance artist, singer and composer, began posting videos of herself in 2007. Forbes listed her as the world’s fourth highest earning YouTube star of 2015. She has put out two albums and has a book deal as well as a profitable touring career. Her video, “Crystallize,” topped 43 million views and her album, “Shatter Me,” won the 2015 Billboard Music Award for top dance/electronic album.
And it all happened because her mother scrimped and saved.
Growing up in Los Angeles, she was surrounded with music. Her parents took her to concerts and any free entertainment they could find in the area. She began begging for lessons, not realizing it was a sacrifice. Her mother rented a violin and searched until she found a teacher willing to give her a 15-minute half lesson each week. That was all she could afford.
Stirling may not have known about the sacrifices then, but she says, “With all the understanding a six-year-old can have, I knew we weren’t rich. We didn’t go to Macdonald’s like the other kids. Later I learned this was because my mother was scrimping just to get the violin money. We just got basics at the store—she wouldn’t even buy sour cream, because she thought it was a luxury”
She loved playing the violin, but there were times when she would have preferred being with friends, but she sensed that if she did not practice, she would lose her lessons. She played band in elementary, junior high, and high school where she also picked up the flute.
“I was a band nerd and an orch dork,” she says. “I had wonderful school experiences because of music. I was happy and my music friends were happy. We enjoyed what we were doing, and if we were considered nerds, well, nerds run the world now and determine a lot of today’s culture.”
Joining a rock band in high school, Stirling thought it would be great to tour, perform, and be in shows. She never considered the possibility of soloing and performing her own music. It just evolved naturally. She did not even study music in college, because she did not want it to seem as if it were work.
“I wanted it to remain my passion. I experimented, developed my own style, and made it fun,” she says. “But while I’m in a career that doesn’t use my actual degree, it has made me the person I am. What I learned at BYU helps me motivate people and influences my decisions to create uplifting content. I learned about film at BYU and still edit my own videos, help direct, and understand lighting. Both of my parents have degrees and I believe in finishing what I start. I put myself through college. I really wanted a degree and was so close for a long time and am glad to be a graduate.”
Her music was originally done for love, and it may stay that way, but YouTube changed everything for her.
“I posted my first video in 2007. Even though it went viral and my friends freaked out because it got hundreds of thousands of views and was put on Yahoo, one video doesn’t give you a fan base. Then I was a quarter-finalist and called a ‘hip hop violinist’ on America’s Got Talent. Some people think that was my big break, but that attention disappeared when I was kicked off. That is when I began to realize YouTube was where I could actually build a fan base that liked what I do. I had been told that my style and music I do was unmarketable, but I’m successful because I have stayed true to myself.”
She received invaluable assistance from Devin Graham, whom she credits for her launch in YouTube heaven. “He used to film all my videos. Devin is an LDS YouTuber who went to BYU, and he taught me how to gain a following. It’s almost as if you have your own TV show with regular content and you provide a place where people can return, subscribe and be notified when you post. I began to perform covers of popular songs but was thrilled when my own name became searchable and I could feature original music. I learned how valuable it is to collaborate with other YouTubers.”
Above all, Stirling says she has much for which to be grateful, explaining that while many artists say their success was handed to them, she had to work hard—for which she is grateful. “I slept in airports and rental cars and was lonely and wasn’t making money. Now I have my own tour bus and travel with my best friends, my crew, and my band. I get to plan amazing videos. The Lord pushes you are far as He can but won’t push you beyond your capabilities, and even when it was so tough, I always had a sense that something good was waiting on the other side.”