How 100 Tweets and SpongeBob Helped Jump Start AJR's Career

·Senior Editor

On Sunday, Oct. 26, at 5:30 p.m. PT/9:30 ET, Yahoo Live will live stream AJR's concert from the Gramercy Theatre in New York. Tune in to watch!

AJR — three brothers born and raised in New York City — has achieved a startlingly quick levelof success with “I’m Ready,” a buoyant electro-pop single that’s taking off. The numbers:over 2.8 million YouTube views for I'm Ready, tens of thousands of singles sold each week,features in Billboard and the New York Post, and heavy airplay on pop radio's coveted SiriusXMHits 1” while climbing the Top 40 chart. Their tour dates last fall included shows with TheWanted, Demi Lovato, and Hoodie Allen.More amazing? They’ve done this all on their own.No pop svengali overseeing their work. No studio musicians filling in the blanks. No Max Martinco-write. Simply a DIY pop group that writes, records, and produces everything themselves fromthe living room of their Chelsea apartment.So let’s meet the intriguing Met brothers — Adam (bass/vocals), a 23-year old ColumbiaUniversity graduate. Ryan (guitar/piano/vocals), a bespectacled 20-year old Columbia studentwho serves as the band’s main songwriter (in addition to AJR’s music, he has also co-writtenAndy Grammer’s hit single “Back Home”). And Jack (vocals/guitar), the 16-year old force-ofnaturewho splits time between lead vocals and attending high school in NYC.From an early age, music was the brothers’ passion. “After realizing that the three of us couldsing, we immediately started harmonizing, taking cues from classic bands like Simon Garfunkeland The Beach Boys,” Adam remembers. Eight years ago, AJR got their musical start busking inCentral Park and Washington Square, singing Jackson 5 covers, and, later, their own material.They took those busking earnings to buy musical instruments, equipment, and Pro Tools. Overtime, they realized that they could get the sound they needed just recording in the living roomwith their $99 microphone, which is where they still record today.As they were practicing, some interesting sounds started to appear. “We were combining oldermusic, from the ‘50s and ‘60s, with more modern music,” explains Ryan, who dubs their soundas both “electric indie-pop with folksy influences.” “When we play in our apartment, you canhear it in the entire hallway,” says Jack. “It’s actually surprising that we haven’t gottencomplaints.”Their single “I’m Ready” was something Ryan actually wrote while stuck in his Columbia dormroom during Hurricane Sandy. “Instantly, I thought it was a hit,” his brother Jack would laterrecall.The band’s big break came last year. Sitting in a psychology class at Columbia with Adam, Ryantweeted out a link of an early version of their video for “I’m Ready” to dozens of famousrecording artists.Apparently, some of those celebrity tweeters heard a hit as well, including popular singersongwriterSia, who tweeted back and, eventually, formed a bond with the brothers, spreadingthe word to her own network about their music.From those first few mentions, “I’m Ready” took on a life of its own. The “SpongebobSquarepants”-sampling pop track, which Billboard favorably compared to The Beach Boys andSimon & Garfunkel (for the harmonies) and Fun. and Imagine Dragons (for the electro-popinfluences), started getting play on Sirius XM’s “20 On 20.”The amazing music video for “I’m Ready” soon followed and the views continue to jump at anincredible rate. At heart, the video is performance based but mixed with a cornucopia of socialmedia tropes and, concurrently, acting as a (very Meta) commentary on the band’s own rise tofame. It was, as one fan described, “something that could only be made right now.”What came next? The band was named iHeartRadio’s Artist of the Month for Top 40 in January,and a MySpace “One to Watch” in February. Having already formed their own label, AJRProductions, the band finalized a partnership with Warner Bros. Records in March. “I’m Ready”officially impacted pop radio in April, and later this summer, after going on tour with LindseyStirling, AJR will release their debut album, all written, produced and mixed by the 3 brothers intheir living room. As one article described the early results: “Pop melodies with vintage barbershop vocals [and] edgier electronic samples and ‘spokestep’ [aka dubstep breakdowns derivedfrom vocals].”Ask AJR about their rise to fame—and their apparent lack of band turmoil— and the band pointsto the one thing that’s always united them.“The fact that we’re brothers is essential to our process.” says Ryan. “Because we are so close,there is no ego battle. We are all on the same page as to the vision for our band, and the ultimategoal is to create the best possible music.”
AJR — three brothers born and raised in New York City — has achieved a startlingly quick levelof success with “I’m Ready,” a buoyant electro-pop single that’s taking off. The numbers:over 2.8 million YouTube views for I'm Ready, tens of thousands of singles sold each week,features in Billboard and the New York Post, and heavy airplay on pop radio's coveted SiriusXMHits 1” while climbing the Top 40 chart. Their tour dates last fall included shows with TheWanted, Demi Lovato, and Hoodie Allen.More amazing? They’ve done this all on their own.No pop svengali overseeing their work. No studio musicians filling in the blanks. No Max Martinco-write. Simply a DIY pop group that writes, records, and produces everything themselves fromthe living room of their Chelsea apartment.So let’s meet the intriguing Met brothers — Adam (bass/vocals), a 23-year old ColumbiaUniversity graduate. Ryan (guitar/piano/vocals), a bespectacled 20-year old Columbia studentwho serves as the band’s main songwriter (in addition to AJR’s music, he has also co-writtenAndy Grammer’s hit single “Back Home”). And Jack (vocals/guitar), the 16-year old force-ofnaturewho splits time between lead vocals and attending high school in NYC.From an early age, music was the brothers’ passion. “After realizing that the three of us couldsing, we immediately started harmonizing, taking cues from classic bands like Simon Garfunkeland The Beach Boys,” Adam remembers. Eight years ago, AJR got their musical start busking inCentral Park and Washington Square, singing Jackson 5 covers, and, later, their own material.They took those busking earnings to buy musical instruments, equipment, and Pro Tools. Overtime, they realized that they could get the sound they needed just recording in the living roomwith their $99 microphone, which is where they still record today.As they were practicing, some interesting sounds started to appear. “We were combining oldermusic, from the ‘50s and ‘60s, with more modern music,” explains Ryan, who dubs their soundas both “electric indie-pop with folksy influences.” “When we play in our apartment, you canhear it in the entire hallway,” says Jack. “It’s actually surprising that we haven’t gottencomplaints.”Their single “I’m Ready” was something Ryan actually wrote while stuck in his Columbia dormroom during Hurricane Sandy. “Instantly, I thought it was a hit,” his brother Jack would laterrecall.The band’s big break came last year. Sitting in a psychology class at Columbia with Adam, Ryantweeted out a link of an early version of their video for “I’m Ready” to dozens of famousrecording artists.Apparently, some of those celebrity tweeters heard a hit as well, including popular singersongwriterSia, who tweeted back and, eventually, formed a bond with the brothers, spreadingthe word to her own network about their music.From those first few mentions, “I’m Ready” took on a life of its own. The “SpongebobSquarepants”-sampling pop track, which Billboard favorably compared to The Beach Boys andSimon & Garfunkel (for the harmonies) and Fun. and Imagine Dragons (for the electro-popinfluences), started getting play on Sirius XM’s “20 On 20.”The amazing music video for “I’m Ready” soon followed and the views continue to jump at anincredible rate. At heart, the video is performance based but mixed with a cornucopia of socialmedia tropes and, concurrently, acting as a (very Meta) commentary on the band’s own rise tofame. It was, as one fan described, “something that could only be made right now.”What came next? The band was named iHeartRadio’s Artist of the Month for Top 40 in January,and a MySpace “One to Watch” in February. Having already formed their own label, AJRProductions, the band finalized a partnership with Warner Bros. Records in March. “I’m Ready”officially impacted pop radio in April, and later this summer, after going on tour with LindseyStirling, AJR will release their debut album, all written, produced and mixed by the 3 brothers intheir living room. As one article described the early results: “Pop melodies with vintage barbershop vocals [and] edgier electronic samples and ‘spokestep’ [aka dubstep breakdowns derivedfrom vocals].”Ask AJR about their rise to fame—and their apparent lack of band turmoil— and the band pointsto the one thing that’s always united them.“The fact that we’re brothers is essential to our process.” says Ryan. “Because we are so close,there is no ego battle. We are all on the same page as to the vision for our band, and the ultimategoal is to create the best possible music.”


Brothers Adam, Ryan, and Jack Met have insisted on establishing their own brand of indie pop and, so far, the results have been impressive. After performing covers and self-written/produced songs on the streets for six years, the New York trio made the transition to a national platform, thanks to their unique sound, smart social media strategies and clever sample of Nickelodeon's SpongeBobSquarepants cartoon.

Raised on the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and Leonard Cohen, the brothers (aged 23, 20, and 17, respectively) made their debut with 2013's I'm Ready EP and are dropping their follow-up, Break You Down, on Tuesday via a partnership with Warner Bros.

Yahoo Music recently spoke to Adam about the group's rise to fame.

Last year, when you were still completely independent, your music video for "I'm Ready" was getting played in Kohl's department stores. How did you get such a great opportunity?

Actually, it all stared with Twitter. We started out street performing. We wrote a bunch of original songs and ended up with "I'm Ready." While Ryan and I were actually in a college class together [at Columbia University], we were tweeting out to a ton of different celebrities and Sia found the video. She responded and she invited us to brunch with her. It was absolutely nuts. She covers her face for much of her videos, so we actually know what she looks like. She introduced us to a bunch of different people. We tweeted to about 100 celebrities on that first day, and Sia was the only one who responded.

Did you guys know that in addition to being a singer that she had written songs for Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Katy Perry?

Yes. That was one of reasons why she was one of the people on our list. We write, mix, and produce everything. We did "I'm Ready" with just the three of us. No one else's hands touched it. We were really inspired by her. She's such a prolific songwriter. She gave us a lot of songwriting tips and even now we send her songs for feedback.

Did she tell you why she was so moved to reply to your tweet?

Yes, she said the chorus of "I'm Ready" was one of the catchiest things she heard in a long time.

Did Sia introduce you to the people who do the in-store programming for Kohl's?

Kohl's happened just after we met Sia. Sia introduced us to who is now our current manager, and we created our own label, and we began to work with independent companies that were able to get our music in Kohl's, McDonald's, and Macy's. As soon as Sirius Radio heard our music they started playing it.

What was the first big thing that happened for you guys that made you go, "Wow"?

We opened for Demi Lovato in California a little over a year ago just when "I'm Ready" was starting. Just before, we did a couple shows, really small, 40-50 people showed up; to playing in front of 10,000 people. Seeing their reaction was absolutely incredible.

Whose idea was it to sample SpongeBob on "I'm Ready"?

That was Jack's idea. He had the idea that someone like Skrillex or Avicii should incorporate that into one of their songs for an EDM throwback mix. He brought it up and Ryan, who produces our music, said, "Why let them do? Let's just do it."

Did anyone from Nickelodeon respond to the song?

We got permission from Nickelodeon to use the SpongeBob sample. Nickelodeon ended up using it for World Wide Day of Play over the last couple months. It is cool that we were able to use their stuff and they were able to use it for their commercial.



So you are a graduate of Columbia University. What did you study, and did your education help you in your music career?

I double majored in business and philosophy. In business school we learned how to read contracts. We read every marketing plan and business plan to make sure as a band we are being treated fairly. I think that it is really important for artists to be as educated as possible so they can really be in charge of their career.

So you now have a partnership with Warner Bros. How do you work together?

We are in a really great position. We are still signed to our independent label, but we are working with Warner and have a machine behind us, something that a small indie with only a couple employees could not do. So we get to continue making the kind of music we want and designing video and cover art; all the artistic stuff is done on our side with all these great people supporting the record at radio and all the business. Warner Bros. is one of those labels that is open to new kinds of deals.

Do I hear a bit of Kanye West influences on your song "Pitchfork Kids?"

You can definitely hear My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy on something like "Pitchfork Kids."  We are impressed because he is an innovative producer. When you listen to his discography, you hear so many styles of music and his influences come from so many places. You're not going to find another song that sounds like "I'm Ready." Our second single sounds like something else. Kanye does the same thing. He makes the kind of music that he wants to listen to. We really want to emulate that style of innovation of change in moving the music industry forward.

Follow Billy Johnson Jr. Facebook, Twitter, Google+.