Joshua’s Radin’s story sounds a little bit like a fairy tale. He basically stumbled upon music, discovering a talent he didn’t imagine he possessed. He somehow happened to make all the right moves – moving to LA and finding himself in the middle of the licensing boom of the early 2000s, for example. He also somehow happens to write beautiful music.
Since then he has recorded six studio albums, and his songs have been used in numerous films and TV series. His latest album, Onward and Sideways, was released in 2015.
“I played in Vienna 10 years ago, it was my first tour, I opened for Tory Amos! I got to see Vienna and had some Schnitzel, it was lovely! Over the years I got a lot of emails from people asking to come back to Vienna.”
…and here he is!
Coming Saturday, January 30, 2016
Joshua Radin – 8pm in Chaya Fuera, Vienna!
Tickets and info here.
I talked to Joshua Radin on a cold and dark January evening, with snow outside – for me. I could only imagine the nice weather Josh had, at the other end of the phone, midday in California. Sigh.
Josh Radin is refreshing.
The music industry has changed, true, and we think of these changes inevitably in a negative way. Focusing on what is missing compared to the good old (pre-internet) days.
Now think of this: In the good old days the labels were in control. Nowadays the artist is in control. In the good old days there were strict rules regulating what could be published and how. Nowadays one can release whatever material in whatever quality they like. If you can find enough people that like your music and buy your music, in whatever form possible, you can build a career. In a sense, also, music fans are more in control of the music market than ever before.
Maybe it’s time to stop thinking of all the ludicrous revenue streams they had back in the good old days, with record stores on every corner, radio hits and the major labels. Joshua’s positive attitude made me realize that maybe it is time to stop talking about the good old days at all but to focus on the brand new digital era that lies at our feet, full of new possibilities.
Hi Joshua! Thank you for your time during the weekend!
Hi! Of course, no problem!
There is somehow a gospel about you that goes
“Joshua Radin picked up the guitar by chance. He wrote Winter for fun. He happened to be two degrees of Kevin Bacon from the big licensing boom of the early 2000s …and he took off!”
Well, sort of! In a nutshell! But you’re right, I didn’t plan on being a musician, I didn’t grow up studying music and playing an instrument or anything like that.
No singing in the shower?
Oh, I was singing in the shower!
At the beginning of your career you were really a beginner, I mean at the guitar! What was the feeling?
Scared!! I learned my first few chords and then I was on stage playing in front of an audience. Most people have their whole life to practice, I kind of got thrown into it. I had to learn by doing!
What was more difficult, the big crowd or the small intimate crowd?
It was always tougher when I knew musicians would be in the crowd!
But the smaller audience is always more difficult. Because you can see everybody from the stage, while the big crowd, with light and everything, it’s not as intimate. You don’t see the reaction of every single person!
Like you have a sort of screen in between?
Yeah. For instance over Christmas I was at my girlfriend’s parents’ house and her mother was like
Hey, would you pick up your guitar and play a couple of songs for our guests?
There were maybe 20 people and… that’s the toughest thing to do!
It’s tougher than playing in front of thousands of people, because if you play in front of a thousand people you’re on stage and there are lights…
… kind of a barrier?
Yeah! But you and your guitar in a kitchen in front of 20 people that don’t know you… and you see everyone and their reactions, there’s nowhere to hide!
That’s the most difficult, I think.
Most musicians actually wait much longer for success to come, reading your story it feels almost like you were born a musician but nobody noticed until you could finally blossom!
Does it feel like that or more like a phase in your life? Now you do music but maybe if something happens you could do… I don’t know, poetry? Paintings?
I always felt I was a creative person. I was interested in many different kinds of media, screenwriting for example, anything that would express what’s going on in my head. I was interested in doing that.
Music was one thing… I never thought I could do it, it seemed like a magic trick! But once I tried, it clicked!
Actually that’s how music feels to me, I tried a lot but it never clicked! I’m amazed.
It’s like when you’re a kid and you pick up a pencil, you draw something and either you like what you’re drawing or not. I think when I picked up the guitar, I thought It’s the song coming out of me and either people are gonna like hearing that or people are not gonna like hearing that. Luckily for me, they liked hearing it! So I kept doing it! It feels good.
But whether it’s a guitar, a paint brush, a laptop, whatever, I just knew I wanted to be creative – it doesn’t really matter what form the expression takes.
So it doesn’t feel like you finally discovered your hidden vocation but more you’ve found a channel to let all the creativity out?
Yeah, I guess. Some people say they were born to be a musician…
I don’t know about that for me. I think I was born to try to create things and express myself. Maybe five years from now I won’t be making music, maybe I’ll find something that interests me more, that I can be creative in a way…
I love music – don’t get me wrong! It gives me the possibility to travel around, meet a lot of people, and have a great life so far! Maybe I’ll be playing music and writing albums for the rest of my life, I don’t know. I don’t want to be locked into doing it.
Your story also sounds like you were the right guy in the right place, although you were not physically in LA. You moved from New York to LA for your music, right?
This is very interesting for beginners: how important is the geography?
It wasn’t the geography, but in a sense it was… I moved to LA because I’ve found a community of songwriters and performers all around one venue, one little tiny club. It was the community that I’ve never been part of and all of a sudden I had all these friends – I was talking to people about songwriting and being inspired by people and watching their concerts and picking up tips…
From New York you had the feeling you were too far from it?
New York didn’t have that scene at that time, LA had that scene. A lot of my music has been used in films and television and that all happens in Los Angeles, all that is done here.
(This is the moment when Josh – who was driving in in his car and talking to me over the speakers – parked and got home. His voice suddenly came out of my phone so clear that I jumped and looked over my shoulder to check if he maybe physically entered the room!)
Also, when you’re starting doing something you’ve never done before, it’s scary. It is nice to hang around people you can talk to, who are like-minded, it is inspiring.
You seem to navigate the online market quite well and I believe you do it yourself…
Yeah, basically it’s just me and my manager, I don’t have a record label or anything like that.
You’re the first famous artist I talked to that does it himself!
Well, it’s nice having a bunch of control over your own career!
Do you think there is a right strategy online?
I don’t know, if I have any advice to give it’s just… sometimes I see artists trying to be something that they are not. Having their life and then a separated stage life.
For me what’s been easiest is, I never have to worry about getting caught because I’m always just being myself!
At my performances I don’t dress up in some costume, I wear just whatever I’m wearing that day – that’s what I’m wearing on stage that night. I never think about that sort of thing, I just focus on the writing of the songs! And playing them!
Speaking of social media, if I post a picture on Instagram or Facebook, of me on vacation… it’s just me on vacation! I think I share my pictures with my fans as if it was my family.
Ultimately, as a musician today, where is the money? Online sales, radio play, soundtracks, live concerts…
Ah, there’s so many places! What people just have to realize is, the record business is dead – no one buys records anymore. The music business is not dead, the record business is!
I make money in many different ways, just … not as much as it used to be!
(We both laugh)
Hehe, artists need to save their money! Any minute it can all go away!
It’s going back to what it used to be – singles! Like before the LP was invented, there was an A-side and a B-side of a small 45 rpm record… and also radio play, everything is about singles!
I was talking to my manager the other day about these new songs I have… but it’s not a full album, in the sense that it’s 11-12 songs. I was wondering
Do you think I can release an album that’s 8 songs?
And she was like
Yeah, why not?!
There’s no rule, there are no rules anymore! It used to be you have to have this many songs on the album and this few singles and this… like formulas for success. Nowadays, just because of the Internet, you can do what you want.
There is a lot of freedom with it!