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Lindsey Stirling's sterling YouTube career

From CNET Magazine: The violinist, dancer and composer is blurring the line between internet and mainstream fame, one video at a time.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
Rick Kern, WireImage

Nine years ago, Lindsey Stirling -- violinist, dancer, composer and singer -- tried everything she could think of to get on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." After jumping through "all these loops and holes" on the internet, she managed to track down the email of one of the show's producers.

But how do you adequately describe a violin act playing your own dubstep composition (electronic music built around a heavy bass and drum beat) -- with dancing? Which is why the show's producer suggested Stirling make a YouTube video and send the link.

Although she never did get on the show, that video went viral -- launching her career on an unexpected path that includes getting voted off "America's Got Talent" in 2010. Stirling parlayed that stint on the show into a major internet presence. Her viral smash video "Crystallize," released in 2012, has racked up nearly 140 million views, and her lindseystomp YouTube channel has nearly 8.5 million subscribers. Popularity has its rewards. She took in $6 million in the year ending June 2015, making her the fourth highest-paid YouTuber, according to Forbes.

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Not content with being one of YouTube's biggest stars, Lindsey Stirling has written a best-selling memoir, produces albums and maintains a busy concert schedule.

© Andrew Zaeh | ZAEH, LLC

Stirling's empire isn't confined to YouTube. Her 2014 sophomore album "Shatter Me" hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on both the Billboard classical and dance/electronic charts. Her memoir, ""="">The Only Pirate at the Party," chronicling her unconventional career and her struggles with anorexia, became a New York Times best seller. She also has a busy tour schedule of live performances.

Stirling spoke with CNET about balancing her talents, connecting with internet fans while in her pajamas and knowing when to unplug.

What first drew you to YouTube?
YouTube was a bit of an accident. Back in 2007, I wanted to be on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." I finally was in contact with one of her producers, who was like, "Why don't you put this thing you do on YouTube and send us a video link so we can see it?" My first YouTube video was of me dancing around my living room playing "Pump It" by the Black Eyed Peas. It was before I even knew what YouTube was, but it went viral for the time.

What inspires you when you write music? What's the process like for you?
Music writing is the hardest part of the process for me, ironically. I also don't always see the greatness when I write it. For example, my biggest track is called "Crystallize" and it's the one that changed my life. I hated it at first and almost didn't release it because I thought it was so boring. I think sometimes we just put on these blinders and we make these beliefs about ourselves so we can't even see the greatness if it's right in front of us.

In some ways, you're a traditional artist, but you also operate without a label and rely on the internet for support and promotion. How do you balance those different aspects of your career?

For a while there was this stigma about YouTube, with the YouTubers over in this corner and the traditional, real-world artists that are legitimate in this corner. I now think it's becoming homogeneous. More traditional artists are trying to play the YouTube game as much as possible, and the YouTubers are doing the big TV shows, doing tours.

© Andrew Zaeh | ZAEH, LLC

It didn't used to be like that. I remember when I first started on YouTube, I was like, "I want to tour, I want to do shows, I want to have albums." That was always the endgame for me, but rather than going through the traditional route, I quickly went from "I want a label" to "Heck no! I would never sign with anybody!" I love being independent.

Your social media reach is massive. How do you talk to more than a million people?

I don't think about it that way. The other day, I was just in my room in my pajamas talking -- it's a very casual relationship that I have with my fans. I think because it feels that way to me, it feels that way to them, and I think that's why people feel like they know YouTubers. When you give them that real side of yourself, you really feel their dedication to you because they're not just fans. They're more casual than that. They were invited into your bedroom.

How do you unplug from the internet?

It's hard to unplug when it's your job. When I went home for Christmas, I actually left my laptop in LA for the first time ever since I've been doing what I've been doing. I left all my stuff, all my editing software, everything, and I went home for two solid weeks, which was huge for me. And I really tried to leave my phone in my bedroom. My mom even said, "It's so nice to have you here."


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Michael Muller

I've made more of a point in this last year that when I go home, I really unplug, and I think it's partially because sometimes life hits you certain ways and it makes you realize what's really important. My family is going through some health issues. My dad is going through cancer right now, and it's made me realize that nothing else matters. That's really what's allowed me to unplug. It's kind of a wake-up call.

Where do you want to be 10 years from now?

I would love to have a Vegas show. Hopefully, I want to have a family someday. I don't want to miss out on that. I want to be a mom, and being able to have a Vegas show would allow me to have a family and have a bit more of a stable life than constantly touring the world.

This story appears in the fall 2016 edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.