FORBES magazine
Return to Lindsey Stirling 8/29/2012 @ 11:12AM

The Dancing Violinist - How Lindsey Stirling Is Conquering YouTube One Video At A Time

Lindsey Stirling plays violin while dancing in outlandish costumes on YouTube. And it’s great. The internet has given creative types new ways to take charge of their art and work.

When Lindsey Stirling performed on America’s Got Talent, Piers Morgan told her she sounded like “drowned rats being strangled.”

I’ve listened to well over a dozen of Stirling’s songs and not one of them sounds rodent-like, let along like the rather redundant sound of drowned rats being strangled.

Turns out, network television and traditional music studios were a bad fit for Stirling, whose unique musical performances never really took off until she took them to the internet.

“Before I learned of the world of YouTube, I tried the traditional, non-social media route,” Lindsey tells me. “I feel like I tried everything. I submitted videos and applications to talent agencies and TV shows, I drove to Vegas and visited agents, I was on America’s Got Talent, I played for free at venues in attempts to be “found” and yet all the experts in the entertainment industry told me that what I did was not marketable and that I had to join a group or do more traditional music.”

Stumbling on YouTube as a venue for her work was an accident, Lindsey says. She knew nothing about the online streaming video site until May, 2011 when cinematographer / director Devin Graham contacted her after seeing a video of one of Stirling’s America’s Got Talent performances.

Graham suggested a trade. He’d film a music video for Stirling free of charge. The only thing she had to do was allow him to put it on his YouTube channel.

“We filmed the video and through it up on his YouTube channel which had an audience of 25,000 subscribers,” Stirling says. “The result was amazing. I sold more songs on iTunes that month than I had the previous five months combined.”

Unlike the short spike of attention she received after America’s Got Talent, the new YouTube audience stuck around and began to grow.

Better still, Lindsey has found that a musical career built around social media and the internet, rather than through major record labels, has given her a tremendous amount of creative freedom.

“The beautiful thing about social media is that no one has to give you the green light signal in order for you to do what you want to do,” she tells me. ”No ‘industry professional’ has to approve that what you are doing will be successful.”

The music and music videos Lindsey makes are hardly traditional themselves.

What first drew me to Lindsey’s work was her cover of the Skyrim theme song.

Skyrim, the fifth of Bethesda’s epic open-world role-playing-games, already has a lovely score, but Stirling’s version is much more dramatic. And the video is epic.

Mexican gymnast Elsa Garcia Rodriguez Blancas used the arrangement for her Olympics routine, quite possibly marking the first time a video game soundtrack has been used in the Olympic games.

Zelda is one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, so Lindsey had plenty to work with.

Each video takes months of preparation, Lindsey tells me. She used to sew all her own costumes but as her videos have grown more complex and her workload has increased, she’s found help with that. Still, she scouts her own locations, helps choreographs her dance routines, and obviously spends a good deal of time on the music itself.

Even the sets and props are a labor of love.

“For example in Phantom of the Opera, I was going to thrift stores all over the place to find candle holders,” she says. “Also, I couldn’t find any fake snow because it was out of season so when it snows in the rock venue just know that I spent several hours cutting up tissue paper for that. For ‘Celtic Carol’ I was buying and borrowing Christmas decorations.”

Geek videos and pointy ears may not have taken Lindsey far a decade ago, but they’ve inspired a 34 city live tour starting this September, and growing critical acclaim. She’s also signed on with MWG Entertainment to help spread her social media influence further.

Sounding Off

Her most popular video to date, Crystalize, has seen just under 25 million views. It’s a lovely dub-step / violin hybrid shot in a beautiful man-made ice castle in Colorado.