How Passenger went from busker to two billion views on YouTube

Passenger outdid everyone's expectations including his own.
Passenger outdid everyone's expectations including his own. Photo credit: Supplied/Jarrad Seng

He describes it like "winning the musical lottery"; Mike Rosenberg - better known as Passenger - is referring to creating a song that went viral.

The sensation 'Let Her Go' has accumulated well over two billion views on YouTube alone, struck number one in at least 19 countries and earned the troubadour a Brit Award nomination. 

More than that, the track gained the neo-folk singer-songwriter mass notability, and if anyone is more aware of the power of such a trend, it's Rosenberg.

"I think it was especially bizarre for me because I was a busker," he told Newshub.

"I was playing in pubs to 50 people a night; it didn't ever feel possible that I would have a song on the radio, let alone a song that would end up doing what it did.

"It was kind of a miracle that it managed to breakthrough on such a level, beyond that it meant so much to people.

"I think sometimes with songs, all you're ever trying to do is capture what everybody feels, and say it in a really simple way, if you think of some of the greatest songs ever written, that's all people are doing, as soon as people hear a song like that, they understand it instantly and it resonates with them and they can believe in it, and I think that's what 'Let Her Go' does."

Rosenberg admits it's almost luck for an acoustic, guitar-based song to create such a hype - nowadays he says you'd be hard pushed to find any on the radio that aren't sung by his mate Ed Sheeran.

Behind the hit was an eager Brighton-born lad, just trying to make his dreams a reality.

His career was kickstarted with the help of his parents who purchased him a guitar when he was eight or nine.

"I started playing classical guitar and I did that until I was about 15, by which time started writing my own songs. I just fell in love with it."

As he was starting out, like many musicians, Rosenberg was hit with an overwhelming feeling at times where he was left to wonder if the commitment and determination required to forge a career in music was worth it.

Behind the hit was an eager Brighton-born lad, just trying to make his dreams a reality.
Behind the hit was an eager Brighton-born lad, just trying to make his dreams a reality. Photo credit: Supplied/Jarrad Seng

"It's a heartbreaking thing when you're pouring your heart and soul into songs, working really hard, and it just for a long time it doesn't really seem to be moving in the right direction."

After dropping out of school at 17 he worked in a kitchen, playing gigs around Brighton on the side before making a record with a band - Passenger.

The band fell apart after making a record and touring together but the name stuck, he says: "That's when I started going busking on my own."

He pushed through times of doubt by believing in the power of his music and would play his own songs when feeling lost to reimburse his motivation to be heard.

The 'Hell or High Water' singer dropped his first solo record in 2009, Wide Eyes Blind Love, to a strong and positive response in Australia where he grew a loyal fan base, allowing him to sell out shows around the country.

He paid tribute to that alliance by recording his next two albums in Sydney, bringing to life 'Let Her Go' in 2012.

In the six years following, Rosenberg has soared to a status of every artist's envy with fans taking notice of his every subsequent release as he chases longevity in the industry and maintaining the commitment that saw him succeed originally.

Most recently - his tenth album in 11 years - Runaway, has already pushed boundaries, accumulating 25 million plays from advanced track streams on Spotify before its official release.

And in November, Rosenberg will bring his new music to New Zealand.

The East-Sussex native said he adores the country, having travelled over gigs and a recording session at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios in Auckland.

"I absolutely loved that and living in Auckland for a month. It's one of my favourite places in the world.

In November, Rosenberg will bring his new music to New Zealand.
In November, Rosenberg will bring his new music to New Zealand. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Of course, touring is one of the best things I get to do, we get to explore all these amazing places and keep on going back and start building a bond with different cities in different countries. It's amazing, I am so lucky."

As a person who didn't work very hard at school, wanting only to make music, Rosenberg believes a career as a recording artist was a very obvious choice.

"For as long as I can remember this is all I wanted to do."

He now speaks with buskers who are trying to establish their own place in the world and tries to ingrain into their beliefs that it can lead to something bigger.

"I think everything that I can say will probably sound quite cheesy, but it is possible and it's about taking a leap of faith, and just having that kind of blind faith in yourself and knowing that if you work exceptionally hard, then anything really is possible.

"Whoever you are, whatever you want to do, it really is possible."