Karen van der Stal – People behind the music // People of Stingray
Stingray’s Festival 4K channel in Europe looks and sounds as spectacular as it does thanks to Karen van der Stal. She takes great care in choosing exciting performances from festivals, orchestral concerts, DJ shows and circus acts. Moreover, she programs Channels and Vibes for the Stingray Music App. (These are two different kinds of playlists: Channels being longer and more often updated, and Vibes being shorter playlists following a given theme.)
Karen holds a master’s degree in Musicology from the University of Amsterdam. She has been playing the violin since she was 7 years old and has been part of a bluegrass band for the last two years. Karen worked for Stingray DJAZZ when it was still called DJAZZ.tv, a position that allowed her to travel to jazz festivals and interview musicians. She loves poring over her record collection and listening to countless albums, in order to find the perfect song for a given playlist.
How does working at Stingray, or more broadly, in the music industry, influence your personal relationship to music?
While I studied musicology, people used to say, ‘you’ll never listen to music in the same way because now you will have to analyze the music, and you will always keep analyzing it…’. For some reason, I don’t. I don’t think working in music ruins the pleasure of listening to music, I think it affords me the opportunity to learn about new music I would never listen to. So, in the end, it makes my love for music stronger.
What’s the first album, song or artist that you remember impressing you?
The Spice Girls. That’s the first band that I remember listening to. I remember being at the beach with a friend, and I think that she bought the CD then, and I later copied it to a cassette. I used to make my own mixtapes with my favorite songs! My parents were so disappointed because they liked jazz and classical music. My father was a big Beatles fan, and he tried to get me to listen to that music, but I was only interested in the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, oh, and all the boy bands.
What music do you enjoy listening to these days?
Bits and pieces of everything. I like music from almost any genre. I mainly listen to jazz and classical music. I also especially enjoy gypsy jazz and Latin jazz. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of bluegrass music because I play in a bluegrass band!
How long have you been part of the band?
I’ve been part of the band for two years now. We used to play Americana and folk, and whatever else we liked. Then, to my slight surprise, they decided to play traditional bluegrass, with the goal of exactly copying recordings from the 1940s. At the moment, we play small gigs, birthdays and such. But next spring, we want to seriously start performing.
Is there a musician that you particularly admire?
A violinist who died in the 1990s, Stephane Grappelli. He was in Django Reinhardt’s band. I think what I appreciate most about him is that he is so virtuosic and has perfect timing. When he plays, it seems so easy, while the opposite is true… I’ve tried many, many times to copy the solos that Stephane Grappelli used to play. I can practice for years and years, but I can’t seem to master them.
Which of Stingray’s Channels or Vibes are your personal favorites?
‘4 strings of cool’ – programmed by Humberto Mendez – this one has cool bass lines. There’s a lot of jazz in there, so I guess that’s why I like it… And I also really like the Montreux Jazz Vibe that I recently had the privilege of creating. I’ve been to the festival before and listening to it brings back good memories. There’s one we listened to a lot at the office when we were still working there. It was called ‘Upbeat morning tracks’, but we would listen to it all day long. When I put it on, I remember how we sat together at a big table, and we would always make a big pot of tea and share cookies!
Due to the pandemic, Karen, like most of her colleagues at the Amsterdam office, works from home. And she told me all about her snazzy set up which seems like the ideal office of a music-lover…
I moved houses quite recently, and I have a separate study/music room now! I have a keyboard next to my desk. I rarely play, but I'm obsessed with some classical pieces that I’m still trying to master. On the other side of the room, I set up my record player with a speaker set. I’ve been living in a small apartment, so my music stuff had been in storage for a long time. I really missed it! As I listen to music during work, I am simultaneously rediscovering my record collection.