Since its inception in 2009, the New Noise Music Conference & Festival has been working hard to define the ever-changing state of the music industry. As such, it seems especially fitting that 2012’s New Noise is kicking off with an artist like Lindsey Stirling. The diminutive violinist may have caught her big break on television’s America’s Got Talent, but it was her self-run YouTube channel that ultimately helped propel her to the top. Thanks to more than 900,000 YouTube subscribers, Stirling has been able to self-release a debut album, as well as embark on a nationwide (and mostly sold-out) tour behind her unique brand of electronic violin music.
This Wednesday, November 7, Stirling brings her energy-filled show to SOhO Restaurant & Music Club for New Noise’s kickoff concert. Below, we chat with Stirling about her first band, her television stint, and her views on music and the Internet.
Can you tell me a bit about how you picked up the violin? Was it your first instrument? The violin was my first instrument. I wanted to try it just because my parents always played classical music. Neither of my parents are musicians themselves, but they love music — especially classical music — and would take me and my sisters to all these concerts in L.A. After hearing all that music, I started begging for lessons when I was about 6 years old.
Did you perform as a kid? I did little recitals as a kid — that was mandatory. I used to get really nervous, and my hands would shake even though there were only like 25 people in the room. Then in high school, I joined a rock band called Stomp on Melvin. That was the first time I stepped away from classical music and started getting hooked on the energy that comes with performing onstage. There were these rocking audiences that just wanted to have a good time, which was so different from the classical scene. That was kind of what sparked my interest.
How did the band transition into solo stuff? Well, the band had been done for a few years. Eventually, I put a video online on YouTube, and it got a lot of views. It also caught the attention of the America’s Got Talent producers, who reached out to me and encouraged me to audition for the show. That gave me the confidence, so I flew out to L.A. and waited in the lines and auditioned.
What did you take away from that experience? I learned that you can’t let the world tell you who you are. When you’re there, there’s camera crews following you around and reporters everywhere and everyone’s telling you you’re amazing. It puts you up on this crazy plane, but then it only took one word from the judges to send me right back down to one of the lowest points of self-esteem I’ve ever experienced. When I looked back on that roller-coaster ride, I realized that I didn’t want to go through that. I don’t think anyone deserves to go through life feeling great one moment and feeling lower than they could possibly imagine the next. … I learned to be myself and to not let other people’s opinions bring me up and down.
What happened after the show? Well, the first thing I did was drive down to Vegas. I made this little DVD promo and a résumé and went from agency to agency handing them out and trying to get gigs. I don’t think I got a single callback from anyone. [Laughs.] Then I started writing original music. I just thought, ‘Well, no one is saying yes; I’ve got to keep going.’ After that, I discovered the YouTube model, and that’s when things started to take off, probably eight months after America’s Got Talent was over.
Were there certain people you looked to for inspiration when you launched the YouTube channel? It’s a learn-as-you-go thing, but there are also a lot of formulas and strategies to follow. I looked at the people who were successful, and I learned a lot from YouTuber [and filmmaker] Devin Graham. We became really good friends through the YouTube community, and he kind of mentored me and taught me everything he knew. When we started doing projects together, we were both kind of small YouTubers, but together we rose up, and now we’re doing it full-time.
Do you remember a moment when you felt like things were starting to take off? Yes, it was when I released my dubstep violin song. I had already done some originals, and they had done well, but this video got a million views in less than two days. I was absolutely shocked. I was really nervous about releasing the song, and I was worried my subscribers wouldn’t like it, but it shot through the roof. That was the moment when I decided I was going to really go for it and give it everything I’ve got.
You got your start in classical music. Now you’re working on electronic dance stuff. What do you listen to? I love radio hit artists like Katy Perry and Rhianna; they’re catchy, and you can’t deny it. I love Nero and Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia. But I also love Earth, Wind & Fire and Passion Pit. I think “September” is one of my all-time favorite songs. I’ve got pretty eclectic taste.
Can you tell me a little about your fan base. They seem really involved. I love my fans. They’ve been so good to me. They’re also kind of my team because I don’t have a record label. I’ve been able to do this without a label, and it’s because of them. Instead of paying for publicity, they share my videos and Tweet them out. Instead of going to a label to get my CD heard, they’re buying it of their own accord and coming to the shows. Even when I make merchandise, I use a lot of the designs that they create. They’re my people. They’re my team.
A lot of musicians have said that the web is the reason they can’t make money anymore, but you lie on the other end of the spectrum. How do you respond to the argument that the Internet is making it possible for people to monetize music? I know that I owe all my success to the web. A lot of people would argue that I make so much money off YouTube, but not really. You can’t make that much money off of it, but it’s because of YouTube that my music sells and people show up to my shows. It’s my way of freely marketing myself. Then there’s Pandora. I’ve found so many fans through Pandora. I don’t really know if I make a dime off of it, but I don’t really care, because it gets me new fans. My ultimate goal is for people to hear my music and maybe, in some small way, feel touched by it. That’s why I work so hard. That’s why I do what I do. The more people who hear it and enjoy it, that’s what makes me happy.
Lindsey Stirling plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, November 7, with opener Von Grey. The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit newnoisesb.org for tickets and info.