To their professors at Columbia University, Adam and Ryan Met of AJR must have looked like studious pupils, cranking away at their laptops during class. Little did they know that the two brothers weren’t taking notes or catching up on additional reading. Instead, they were furiously sharing YouTube links to their 2013 video, “I’m Ready,” to celebrities. And to the potential dismay of teachers everywhere, the class side work paid off, with the song gaining the attention of the likes of Sia on its way to viral gold.
It might sound like a fairy tale of overnight success, but the three brothers — Adam, Jack, and Ryan, hence AJR — spent close to a decade honing their craft before they hit it big. First came their hometown of New York City, where the trio opted to test their songs on street corners and parks rather than at traditional venues. Then came YouTube, where they steadily found a wider audience for their unique renditions of songs from The Lumineers, David Guetta and fun. along with their originals.
Fast forward to 2017 and AJR has amassed 260,000 subscribers and earned nearly 62 million views across YouTube. “It’s such an interesting tool because it allows us to really experiment,” explains Adam, the oldest of the three brothers. “We would post our songs on streaming services and see one type of audience respond, but YouTube opened up a whole new audience for us.”
“The great thing about YouTube for me is the comments section,” adds Jack. “I’m always surprised at how nice the people who comment on our videos are. I’ve seen fans start conversations and become friends, and that’s really awesome to see.”
Much of that recent online conversation has centered around the their latest single “Weak,” which earned the brothers an Artist on the Rise feature and amassed 6.4 million views over the last two months. The video shows the three brothers on a speeding subway train, creating a claustrophobic environment that aligns with the propulsive music. “He really gets the frantic energy of the song,” says Ryan. “I think the video of the song has definitely impacted people’s impression of it, and made them more invested in us as a band. A fan sees a really cool visual and that will drive them to check out more and come to a show.”
Given their success it comes as little surprise that the trio now find themselves on the receiving end of their original playbook, with fans and would-be future stars sharing their own takes on “Weak” with the brothers. “We make it a point to watch every single video that a fan sends us,” says Ryan. “It’s great to see all the different takes on a song like ‘Weak,’ because it shows how universal the subject is. It doesn’t matter what temptations we wrote about when we made the song; it’s fascinating to see how people perceive their own weaknesses. We’ve actually discovered some good artists and posted some great covers to YouTube to share them.”