Ryan Lerman: A Musician for the YouTube Era

Feature by Jake Goodman

Music has had a rough ride adjusting to the digital age; YouTube has been one platform though that has been fairly successful in providing digital communities for independent artists to thrive in. Ryan Lerman is one of those artists that has managed to incorporate social platforms with his independent music production. Like his frequent collaborators Pomplamoose, Lerman is known for his “Video Songs” which have two simple rules: what you see is what you hear, and if you hear it you’ll see it. These rules have informed the production of Lerman’s YouTube videos, in which his songwriting combined with his production expertise resulted in an innovative visual display of the recording process. His videos shows different shots of him recording everything that is featured in the song from clapping to playing guitar, drums, xylophones, or the many other instruments Lerman plays. 

Take, for example, his collaboration with the well-known pianist Ben Folds. His video for “Do With You” combines his pleading love song with quirky visuals. As the song unfolds, you can watch everything from Ben Folds on the piano and drums to Lerman singing and playing guitar. The video also features some exuberant dance moves from Ben Folds, in which he struts around caressing a corded phone. The boxy guitar sound meshes with a tumbling drum sound, creating an atmosphere of depressed indie resentment. Folds is himself well-known for his biting love ballads and adds somber piano parts to the song. He and Lerman struck up a relationship when Lerman was touring with Folds as a bassist. His cameo in the song has resulted in Lerman’s most popular YouTube video and a feature in NBC’s Parenthood.

Lerman, in fact, is a frequent collaborator. After graduating from USC’s Thornton School of Music, Lerman worked extensively with a whole host of YouTube musicians, most notably Pomplamoose’s Nataly Dawn, who also creates Video Songs. He has also toured with John Legend and Michael Buble. Lerman even has a whole album of collaborations featuring covers and originals called Friends. In addition to his collaborative work, Lerman frequently produces songs in which he plays every instrument and sings. His other album, Pinstripes, The Sky, a 15 song audio compilation of his Video Songs, is a testament to the his multi-instrumental skills and his production prowess. 

It is also worth checking out Lerman’s interesting covers. His arrangements of classic songs like “Alone Again (Naturally)” and “Blue Christmas” blend well with his wistful indie-jazz crooning. Yet, he is also adventurous enough to successfully tackle pop songs like “Rolling in the Deep,” “I Will Survive,” and “When I Was Your Man.” The videos for these songs range from his typical Video Songs format to more traditional music videos. 

Though Lerman’s work is sporadic (his last release was three weeks ago but he has taken hiatuses as long as seven months), he is a worthwhile artist to check out. His independent-production ethos combined with his multi-instrumentalism are essential to any artist striving to be successful in the YouTube scene. You can support him on Patreon, a subscription content service, or just check out his videos on YouTube.