Lindsey Stirling and the Power of YouTube

A couple of weeks ago my 19 year old son introduced me to the music of Lindsey Stirling. Actually, it was a very informal introduction. I heard her music playing from his bedroom, and kind of got hooked. Now I’m a fan. But apart from her phenomenal music, Lindsey Stirling is an entrepreneurial inspiration and a testament to the growing power of YouTube.

If you’re not familiar with Lindsey Stirling, she’s a violinist (but also a dancer, performance artist and composer) who tried her act on America’s Got Talent back in 2010. Remarkably – from the vantage point of today – she was ultimately panned by the judges on the show (more on that in a bit).

Lindsey left America’s Got Talent in the quarter final round that season, without a million dollar recording contract waiting in the wings. She could have sunk into the dustbin of obscurity – but that’s not nearly how her future played out.

But before we get deep into Lindsey’s story, check out her music here:

Lindsey plays the violin, but I’ll bet you’ve never seen anyone who plays it with such energy and enthusiasm. You can watch all of her videos on her own YouTube channel at LindseyStomp. There you can also become one of the more than 3 million subscribers to her channel.

The judges could have ended Lindsey Stirling’s career

So just what happened on America’s Got Talent back in 2010? If you’ve ever been fired from a job or passed over for a promotion, you can relate to what happened to Lindsey.

According to Wikipedia:

In 2010, at the age of 23, Stirling was a quarter-finalist on the fifth season of America’s Got Talent, where she was described as a “hip hop violinist”. Stirling’s performances were dubbed “electrifying” by the judges, and won the acclaim of the audience, but after she attempted to step up the dance level in her quarter-final performance, judge Peirs Morgan told her: “You’re not untalented, but you’re not good enough to get away with flying through the air and trying to play the violin at the same time.” Sharon Osbourne commented: “You need to be in a group. … What you’re doing is not enough to fill a theater in Vegas.” In her blog, Stirling confided: “I was devastated at the results … It was painful, and a bit humiliating; however, I had to relearn where it was that I drew my strength.” Stirling decided to continue to embrace her unique style of performance, promoting herself on the Internet. In a 2012 interview she remarked: “A lot of people have told me along the way that my style and the music I do … is unmarketable. But the only reason I’m successful is because I have stayed true to myself.”

Why Lindsey Stirling’s career didn’t end on America’s Got Talent

Very often the top tier “losers” on America’s Got Talent still come away with a recording contract, even if they don’t finish first. That was not the case with Lindsey Stirling. But it didn’t stop her.

Again, from Wikipedia:

Shortly after her performance on America’s Got Talent, cinematographer Devin Graham (DevinSuperTramp) contacted her in hopes of making a YouTube video together. They agreed to shoot a music video for her song, “Spontaneous Me”. It was filmed the week of May 9, 2011. The video boosted Stirling’s popularity, and she began making music videos for her YouTube channel regularly. Graham has filmed almost all of her videos, while Stirling often does backup camera work and assists with his music videos. Stirling’s YouTube channel, Lindseystomp, which she created in 2007 and which is named after her first band “Stomp on Melvin”, is the main repository for her music videos. During 2011, the channel rapidly gained popularity and has over 310 million total views and over 2.7 million subscribers, as of July 2013. Her music is featured on Pandora, Spotify, and Last.FM. Stirling also created a second YouTube channel, LindseyTime, in September 2012, in which she posts videos related to her life, vlogs, behind-the-scenes content, etc.

What we can learn from Lindsey Stirling

If you think that Lindsey’s experience is just a “nice story” you’re missing the big picture – and more important – a potential personal application for your own life.

Lindsey Stirling and the Power of YouTube
Lindsey Stirling and the Power of YouTube
Lindsey didn’t quit after the judges said – on national TV – that she wasn’t good enough to get away with flying through the air and trying to play the violin at the same time or that what she was doing wasn’t enough to fill a theater in Vegas. And if you’re a performer, those kinds of comments cut deep.

Instead, she circumvented “The System” and cut a new path. Here, I believe, are the take-aways of Lindsey’s story for each of us:

The “experts” were wrong – and she ignored them. Had Lindsey fully embraced the assessments of the judges, her story may have ended right back in 2010. She did the right thing – she ignored them, and went about her business. We need to do the same.

She took the entrepreneurial route. Lindsey didn’t get a recording contract out of her America’s Got Talent stint. After a short period of mourning, she picked herself up, and created her own path forward with YouTube.

She stair-stepped her way to where she should have been in the first place. By creating videos for YouTube, Lindsey kick started her career. From there, she began going on tour, which is the normal course for successful entertainers. Sure, she got some exposure on America’s Got Talent, but as everyone of us know, that kind of fame is short-lived. By going to YouTube, she kept herself in the public eye, and went on the concert circuit though the backdoor.

YouTube has power. Many of us are YouTube regulars – I know I am. But what we might miss is that YouTube doesn’t just entertain us, it’s also a valuable tool that we can use in a similar way to promote ourselves and our businesses. For the record, Lindsey Stirling’s YouTube channel has had well over 300 million views to date, and not only has it promoted her music, but she’s undoubtedly making money on the videos themselves. As a blogger familiar with Adsense, I think it’s a certainty that she’s making substantial ad revenue from her videos. Most of them have ads embedded.

Still more take-away from Lindsey Stirling

I’ve never been into hero worship, and certainly not celebrity worship. But there’s something very compelling about Lindsey Stirling’s story that shouldn’t be lost on us. Here’s what I get from Lindsey’s life, and I hope you’ll realize at least as much:

  • Find what it is you are naturally good at and do it! It may not be artistic talent, but it’s very likely something other than what you’re doing right now.
  • Do what you need to do to be the best you can be at it, and have confidence in yourself.
  • Consider expert opinions, but never allow them to stop you from going forward.
  • The world is now filled with new systems – the internet, YouTube and the social media among them – that are true resources for the “average guy”. Embrace them and use them to your advantage.
  • If no one will hire you, hire yourself. Also known as self-employment.
  • Some people thrive within systems – others are held back by them. If you’re in the second group, you may need to cut your own path.
  • Take action, and hit it hard when you do. Nothing good will happen until you do.

Are you familiar with Lindsey Stirling? Do you see anything in her course of action that you can use in your own life?

( Photo by Shutterfoo )

6 Responses to Lindsey Stirling and the Power of YouTube

  1. I found Lindsay Stirling quite by chance and love the music. As a photographer and former film cameraman I find the video work as good in its realm as Lindsay is in hers.

    I have to believe that she had a stake (seed money) to develop the product. Her music is hers! But the videography and location shooting had to cost a fair amount of money. That’s where most entrepreneurs fail. Great ideas but no money to execute. If, as an entrepreneur, I can solve that problem and package it, I can quit my “day job”.

    Thank you for writing a post about Ms. Stirling, a success bootstrapped from ‘failure’.

    Richard Isacoff

  2. Hi Richard – I agree on the money side, but I think that you can generally work something out by partnering with others. That’s actually what Lindsey did with Devin Graham. Perhaps he did so in exchange for a piece of the ad revenue from the videos. If so, he made quite a deal for himself while she was launching herself into stardom.

    BTW, I’ve been to the Bershire region of Western Massachusetts where you live and practice, and it’s an incredibly beautiful area!

  3. Kevin, Congratulations on being nominated for the Plutus Award.

    You are right-on with this one Brother. My daughter was turned on to Lindsey last year and even attended a private performance when she stopped by her school before a concert in St. Louis! Lindsey is a stand-up girl and a hard worker. She deserves every bit of fame she will get – by earning it!

    Good luck to you at FinCon13. I’ll see you there!

  4. Hi Steve – I’m really impressed at how she took matters into her own hands after the judges decided she wasn’t goog enough to be a standalone act. You have to wonder what they’re thinking now.

    Her entrepreneurial approach to promoting herself is really an inspiration to anyone who has their own business, or wants to. I love stories like hers!

  5. Kevin, loved the story but to be honest not into her music. Do you plan on sharing more success stories with us? I hope so as we all need to have hope in the midst of life’s challenges. I worry for my only child now 2 – will she have a future – will she be able to have kids when she marries and so on. I am teaching her to not to accept anything negative in her life and proud to say she is doing alot better than I was at her age due to ignorance. Now I pay attention to my “insides” and what life tries to tell me each day. Wish I knew this years ago, would have saved me a lot of wrong turns in life. Thanks for sharing this awesome story and I look forward to more 🙂

  6. Hi Angela – I’m not “in to” most of her music either, but it’s her life’s story that really impresses me – how she got shot down by the people who are “supposed to know”, then became a major commercial success through the backdoor, so to speak. I love those stories! I also love the whole YouTube thing, which to my thinking gives the little guy/girl the chance to compete with and bypass the studio conglomerates. Not that he did it that way, but Pharrell Williams “Happy” video on YouTube has drawn nearly half a BILLION hits. And with the various versions, it’s probably close to the billion hit mark. That’s the power of YouTube. I want to do something with that, but I’m not entire sure which way to go on it yet, but YouTube is in my near future!

    I do plan to bring more success stories in the future. The growth of my web income is allowing me to give up my side job, which will enable me to devote 100% of my time to my business, rather than the 50% I’ve been squeezing in recently.

    And for what it’s worth that “little voice” inside is telling us exactly what we need. I’m learning to trust it more all the time – along with healthy amounts of prayer.

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