FARGO — Steve Stine once had an impossible schedule.
Countless guitar lessons, part-time teaching jobs and playing in a half-dozen rock bands were all part of the mix for the husband and father for years on end.
“I just never said no to anything, ever,” Stine said, describing a lifestyle that couldn’t last.
Today, he’s found a better life balance, and his impact and exposure are broader than ever.
Stine, 49, has become one of the most influential online music instructors, working from a small studio in his home in Kindred, N.D., 30 miles southwest of Fargo.
Known for his friendly, upbeat and understandable approach, Stine has amassed about 750,000 subscribers through multiple YouTube channels as the face of GuitarZoom, a guitar lesson website for which he creates beginner level to master class guitar courses. He also has endorsements with major music equipment manufacturers.
His video, “Learn to solo in five minutes,” has more than 7.3 million views.
He even became a mentor, unknowingly, to one of the hottest stars in music today. Turns out, Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes learned to play guitar by watching Stine’s online tutorials. A YouTube biography on Mendes points out that connection.
“You just never know who out there is watching your videos and learning,” Stine said.
Brian Hollenbeck, bass player for Minneapolis band Hairball, has worked with Stine on a number of projects. Stine is well-known throughout the music industry, he said, even though he’s based in a small North Dakota town.
“All of his success truly couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Hollenbeck said.
Teaching is 'my calling'
Stine was born in Grand Forks and grew up in a mobile home park near West Acres mall in Fargo.
He was a fan of rock and heavy metal music early on, first picking up a guitar at age 9 and aspiring to play the Ted Nugent and Aerosmith songs he’d seen on TV. But as he tried to learn from a book, he couldn’t make the connection and gave up.
On his 13th birthday, his parents got him an electric guitar and paid for a few lessons, which again, didn’t stick. With no YouTube back then, Stine set out to learn by ear, relying on vinyl from his favorite record store.
He would learn the whole first side of an Ozzy Osbourne or Def Leppard album, so he didn’t have to keep picking up the record player needle, he said.
By age 17, he was giving group and private lessons in the basement studio of the old Schmitt Music building downtown — later, mentoring as many as 100 students each week.
While many artists teach private lessons to supplement their income, it was the other way around for Stine. “That was my calling,” he said.
He went on to study at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he learned music technique and theory. Later, he taught at the former Red River Valley Academy in Moorhead, Elevate Rock School in Fargo and at North Dakota State University.
He also played in up to six bands at one point, including Dozer and Methuselah, and in his church band.
Karl Kreutz, who played with Stine in Dozer, said his friend’s drive is unmatched. “When you ask him to do something, not only will he show up, he’ll do way better than expected,” Kreutz said.
No online obsession
When Stine had a spare moment in his crazy schedule, he would do a guitar video and post it online.
Dan Denley, owner of GuitarZoom, saw one of those videos and gave Stine a call. Denley offered an opportunity, but something had to give.
Denley wanted Stine as his front man for GuitarZoom, but Stine would have to end his other obligations to avoid burnout. The thought was terrifying at first, but the two reached an agreement and Stine quit all of his jobs and lessons.
He felt euphoria about having more time for himself, wife Jessica, and daughters Lanee and Imogen, now 19 and 11. Ever since, he’s become very good at saying no.
A typical day now involves both rudimentary and creative guitar practice, answering emails and social media accounts and creating taped or live video content for YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms.
He records the videos and sends them off to other GuitarZoom employees who edit and post them. The small team, scattered across the globe in Croatia, Bulgaria, Italy, Venezuela and the Philippines, meets weekly online.
Stine doesn’t obsess about how many subscribers he has. It’s too easy to get sucked into that, he said. Reading the comments posted to his videos would feed anyone’s ego.
“Your videos are helping me understand the guitar in ways I never did in 10 years of playing,” writes one viewer.
“You lighten up the dark hole in my head,” and “It’s like someone just taught me how to fly,” wrote others.
The key, he said, is not to force people to learn things a certain way, but to help them love playing the guitar.
“You can't just be this boss, this machine that oversees what they're doing and smack their fingers with a ruler... that doesn't exist anymore,” Stine said.
Stine’s forte is rock and metal, with an element of modern blues, but he said he appreciates all kinds of music. “Good playing is good playing, regardless of the style,” Stine said.
Though his focus is GuitarZoom, he’s open to unique projects that don’t take him away from home for long periods of time. He recently played as a guest during Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome’s Christmas show.
He’s in rehearsal stages with Minneapolis heavy metal singer-songwriter Lance King, with plans to play at upcoming music festivals and international shows.
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, he’ll travel to the largest music product trade show in the world, the National Association of Music Merchants, in Anaheim, Calif., to perform, do equipment demos and connect with other musicians and his online followers.
Stine considers it all a humbling experience.
“When you go places and people know you wherever you go, it reminds you of how thankful you should be to be in this situation,” he said.
While he’s making more money now than he ever has, the flexibility and time for family are even more valuable. He’s been to virtually all of his youngest daughter’s dance recitals, he said.
Stine said he wakes up every day feeling thankful.
“I couldn’t have it better, to be honest,” he said.