Q&A with Jennifer Stirling: Transcriber and Assistant to Sister Lindsey, Trumpeter, and ‘Jen’ of all Trades
When you see your favorite artist perform in concert or hear their hit song on the radio, you know that you can likely search Musicnotes.com and find the sheet music. But, what occurs behind the scenes, from composition to digital sheet music distribution, is an intricate process in its own right. Retailers like Musicnotes work with artists/managers, songwriters, and publishers to ensure that you receive licensed, official content that not only offers authentic transcriptions, but also allows creators to continue making a living off music.
One such personal relationship that we at Musicnotes are proud of is with Lindsey Stirling and her transcriber/assistant/sister, Jennifer Stirling. Jennifer’s own musical accomplishments and talents lend her unique perspective in helping to manage her sister’s artistic pursuits and she just happens to be an all-around cool person to chat with (did we mention she’s also a super mom & fights fires in her spare time?).
Musicnotes: Did you grow up in a musical household? How did you and Lindsey becoming interested in music? Did one encourage the other?
JS: Our parents were both very passionate about music. Neither of them played any instruments or sang. But Dad never missed an opportunity to blast classical music from our old record player (we didn’t get a CD player until 1996). Our favorites were Borodin “PolovtsianDances” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Lindsey, Brooke, and I spent many afternoons dancing or running in circles around the couch to the music. We would pretend to be Nephites running away from the Lamanites. (Tribes from The Book of Mormon. From a young age we learned all the stories and read picture books about them.)
Our mom loved the arts in general, but she always felt unfulfilled in her hopes to become a dancer. And so she resolved to make those opportunities available to us. The moment I or my sisters expressed any interest in music at all, she encouraged it. If we wanted to learn an instrument, she found a way to get us lessons. It was very obvious to all of us that our parents couldn’t afford such things, and so we genuinely… even as children… understood and appreciated the sacrifice we knew they were making. I think that’s why we were all so willing to practice. (Well…Brooke and I were. Mom actually had to force Lindsey to practice. Naturally, Lindsey was more interested in fun and play, and I think that that’s evident in the music she now creates, which is so much fun to listen to.)
We inherently knew that if there was anything we wanted to do, and we were willing to work hard for it, our parents were willing to do whatever it took to help us achieve those goals. We frequently made lofty goals, knowing that they would be difficult to achieve. But we were taught to do hard things. And we never felt alone. We had the two best parents in the world, we knew that they would love us whether we succeeded or not, and despite the sibling-rivalry and typical sister-to-sister feuds, we supported and secretly loved each other too.
Musicnotes: We love that you and Lindsey are a dynamic duo bringing the love of violin to pop music fans. What is the process like for you from Lindsey’s writing of a song to transcribing it to publishing it on Lindsey’s website and Musicnotes.com?
JS: When Lindsey first started putting music up on YouTube, I convinced her to create a blog/cheap website (because that’s what we could afford) and we took orders for autographed posters and sheet music. I felt very passionate about providing sheet music for Lindsey’s songs because, as a young trumpet player, I remember searching for quality music outside the classical realm…for something fun…pop music and such. But most of what I could find was watered-down, and the notes and rhythms were simplified from the original versions I’d heard on the radio. It was downright frustrating. I’d think to myself, “I totally could have saved $10 and just figured the song out myself.” So in creating Lindsey’s sheet music, my goal was to #1: Transcribe the solos in such a way that even a person who had never heard a Lindsey Stirling song could perform the music accurately, i.e., have enough information (accidentals, dynamics, rhythms, notes) to perform the piece exactly like Lindsey does, which would result in #2: Provide the kind of sheet music I had always looked for, but could never find.
Before working for Lindsey, I attended Arizona State University, majored in Trumpet Performance, and learned how to use Sibelius. It was a one-semester class, and an elective at that, but I have used more from what I learned in that class than from any other, ever. In late 2010, I convinced Lindsey to let me transcribe two songs for her: “Round Table Rival” and “Pump It,” and we offered them as digital downloads. Lindsey started sending me her completed singles before their release: “Transcendence,” “Song of the Caged Bird,” “Spontaneous Me,” “Electric Daisy,” “Shadows….” This gave me time to transcribe them before the release date so that we could release the mp3 (single) and .pdf (sheet music) at the same time. (This is much harder to do now, due to the fact that we must first get permission from the producers to sell the sheets, and this is often a longer legal process). The solo sheet music sold pretty well, until “Crystallize” came out. Then they sold like hot cakes.
As Lindsey’s music gained popularity, we decided that we wanted to increase the value of the sheet music. We contacted a YouTube pianist, David Russell, a talented young musician who we discovered due to his amazing “Lindsey Stirling covers.” He agreed to compose solos and accompaniments for us at a price we could afford. He had never done accompaniments before, so he and I worked on those together and pumped out some pretty amazing arrangements. David is still composing for us.
When Musicnotes.com approached us about offering Lindsey’s music on their website, we were hesitant at first, but we were impressed by their willingness to work with us, their commitment to protecting authors and their works, and their overall professionalism. We agreed to do business with them, and they are currently the only music distributor other than ourselves authorized to sell or distribute Lindsey’s original sheet music. They are a pleasure to work with and we are proud to have Lindsey’s sheet music sold through them.
Musicnotes: We know you’re an accomplished trumpet player. Have you composed as well? Can you describe your experience in playing with the Millennial Choirs & Orchestras (MCO)?
JS: I have! Not to the extent that Lindsey has, but I have one arrangement for 6 trumpets published through Hickman Music Editions. I was a student of David Hickman (ASU) and he started a publishing company the year that I composed “Fanfare of the Bells.” A group of students made a recording of it several years later. Additionally, it has been performed several times for the International Trumpet Guild Conference, which is held every summer and features some of the world’s greatest trumpet artists. Apart from that, I enjoy co-authoring the piano accompaniments to Lindsey’s solos. David does most of the ground-work, but I do quite a bit of tweaking and editing to make the accompaniment really shine.
As for Millennial Choirs and Orchestras, I’m a volunteer musician for the organization and I do concerts with them every May and December. I’m currently principal trumpet and am preparing to record another Christmas album with them this summer. I performed on their “O Holy Night” and “To Be American” albums. MCO is the biggest choral organization in the world with groups in Arizona, California, Utah, Idaho, and Texas. If you are musically inclined and looking for an outlet, it’s a fabulous group to become involved with.
Musicnotes: Did you always want to be involved in the music business? Is there anything that you’ve found surprising about the business side of things?
JS: I absolutely love working for Lindsey. When I majored in music I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to use it. Getting a job with an orchestra is EXTREMELY competitive these days, and I wasn’t passionate enough about classical music to make it my only focus. I enjoyed teaching private trumpet lessons from home and I occasionally get paid to do solo or group performances during holiday time. One thing I’ve learned is that my plans never quite turn out as planned, and, in hindsight, thats ultimately been a very good thing. I’m very happy with the life experiences and career paths that I have had as a result.
Growing up, I never saw myself working for a pop artist, and firefighting over the summer wasn’t part of my life-plan either… it just kinda fell into my lap and it felt right, so I did it! As for the business side of things, watching Lindsey grow, learning how all the new members of her team work together to get things done, and being a moving part of that constantly evolving machine in an industry that is constantly changing has been a consistent learning process. Marketing strategies change, policies must be adjusted, priorities evaluated. Sheet music isn’t typically management’s top priority; it isn’t the biggest money-maker and it can be complicated to grant all the right shares to the right people (producers, co-authors, etc.). But it’s important enough to Lindsey and I that management helps us with the legal side so that we can keep it coming.
Musicnotes: What does a typical workday look like for you (you know, aside from your other endeavors like fighting fires and whatnot)?
JS: My typical day starts at 5:45 AM. I do family scriptures/prayer with my kids and then we read books together. Then we all practice our instruments (my son Jaron sings and Stephen plays Ukulele), we go on a short morning run together, and then stuff-down some breakfast before I drive them to school. After that, every day is a little different, but my work for Lindsey ranges from social media, customer service/fan emails, getting her physical fan mail from the post office, updating website material, removing copyrighted material online, transcribing/transposing sheet music, and managing a rental property. Once my kids get home I’m busy taking them to lessons, sports practices, making meals, homework…all that good stuff. Once the kids are in bed I either work some more or get a little housework done. If my husband is at work (he is a firefighter in California), we FaceTime. I try to be in bed by 10-11 PM. I’m grateful to have a job that is so flexible. As of late, I have been going to my parents’ house several days a week to help our dad, who has been fighting cancer. If I had an 8-5 job there’s no way I would be able to do that.
Musicnotes: Who are your favorite artists (other than Lindsey, of course) to listen to? Is there an artist that you’d like to help Lindsey follow the career path of, or someone you look up to in the industry?
My favorite go-to is Thomas Bergersen/Two Steps From Hell. His music provided significant hope and healing for me during the year of my divorce and continues to be the music I turn to when I need a lift. I love the way it makes me feel; it makes my whole body “glow.” I especially love “Remember Me” and “Starchild.” I enjoy a wide variety of music, from Empire of the Sun to Michael Jackson to Broadway musicals and yes…even the Backstreet Boys. But my ultimate favorite will always be Lindsey Stirling. She’s not just an amazing artist, but an amazing person, my little sister, and my lifelong partner in crime who has not only made her own dreams a reality, but mine as well.
We’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Jennifer for being so great to work with and for taking time out of her very busy schedule to answer our questions. It just goes to show that a family who makes music together can accomplish amazing things!