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String theory: Lindsey Stirling goes from YouTube sensation to touring musician

Violinist and dancer Lindsey Stirling quickly rose to fame after starting her own YouTube channel in 2007. She brings her Music Box Tour to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday. Kate sZatmari photo

Violinist and dancer Lindsey Stirling quickly rose to fame after starting her own YouTube channel in 2007. She brings her Music Box Tour to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday.
Kate sZatmari photo

Is there a split between becoming famous through YouTube and becoming famous the traditional way (gigs, festivals, talk shows)? The rise and success of violinist, dancer, and electronic music maven Lindsey Stirling may be confusing to some, but the proof is not in the pudding but in the Santa Barbara Bowl this week where she is headlining.

Here’s the potted version of Ms. Stirling’s rise to fame. A violinist with no outlet for her art turns to YouTube and starts her own channel in 2007. Raised Mormon, she attends Brigham Young University in Utah to pursue film, does the missionary thing in New York City, continues to play violin in small bands and refuses to just stand there playing. Instead she dances and plays at the same time.

Lindsey Stirling performs Aug. 7 at Outside Lands Music Festival at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Rich Fury/Associated Press photo

Lindsey Stirling performs Aug. 7 at Outside Lands Music Festival at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
Rich Fury/Associated Press photo

“My overall goal was to perform live. That was what I wanted to do,” says Ms. Stirling. “So when I started out it was discouraging, like, wow, I have five fans in every corner of the world in the beginning. I could play anywhere in the world and five people might show up to hear me. I had no hub. But then it turned into the most amazing thing, from ‘I can’t perform anywhere’ to ‘Wow, actually, I can perform everywhere!'”

If there’s a Svengali in this, it’s a YouTuber called devinsupertramp (real name Devin Graham and no relation to the band Supertramp) who introduces her to social networking and promotion in the video age.

“He taught a YouTube workshop to a group of BYU students and my mind was blown,” Ms. Stirling says. “I went home and found all these people with millions of followers who care and they do it all themselves. I had never felt so motivated. I was called to it.”

The secret was collaboration, finding other YouTubers and working together and sharing fans. “That’s how this community works . . . When one of us rises we all do well.”

So the violinist reached out to electronic dance music producers and soon they were collaborating, melding two disparate genres together. This landed her on “America’s Got Talent” in 2010, dressed in full geek mode: tube socks, black plastic framed glasses, a mess of hair. She got shot down by the judges. “I had never been critiqued before,” she says. “I had never performed in front of hundreds of people before.” She was learning by doing.

Yes, she was voted off, but that actually helped her when she started making videos and dropping new tracks on YouTube. A few months after her big screen debut, she had an e.p. out. And then she started covering popular songs and collaborating with artists like a cappella group Pentatonix, classic cover band The Piano Guys, and guitarist Tyler Ward. All YouTubers, all very popular.

“I became a techie,” Ms. Stirling says, after studying and figuring out just how social networking music stars work.

Now she’s actually on tour and living the life of the traveling musician.

“This last year I’ve experienced extreme homesickness,” she says. “But I’ve had some of the most amazing moments of my life . . . The more you go through, they teach you limits and what you can do to push yourself.”

Lindsey Stirling
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N Milpas St.
Cost: $40-$50
Information: (805) 962-7411, www.sbbowl.com

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