You never know where life will lead. One day you could be a starving artist waiting tables and another the first song you ever wrote could be airing on a hit TV show. This is what happened to Joshua Radin, the folksy singer songwriter whose first song debuted on “Scrubs” back in 2005.
Call him a late bloomer, but Joshua didn’t realize music was his path until his 30th birthday. It wasn’t until he picked up a guitar at 29 that he discovered his talent for singing and songwriting. Now 12 years later, Joshua is an independently produced musician with thousands of fans around the world.
About to release his 7th album “The Fall,” MiLLENNiAL caught up with Joshua at The Bowery Hotel in New York City – a place he called home for many years – to learn how he uses vulnerability to make his art more resonant to listeners.
Getting By with a Little Help From Your Friends
Not all of us are lucky enough to have famous friends, but on the off chance that a close friend becomes famous, you never know what kind of opportunities could come your way. For Joshua, his best friend just happened to be Zach Braff, the actor famously known from NBC’s “Scrubs” and the cult classic “Garden State.”
Before Braff was famous, he was a starving artist just like everyone else in the pursuit of making it big one day. Joshua met Braff at Northwestern University, but it wasn’t until they both landed in New York City some time after college that the two became close.
“We were both waiting tables and just trying to be artists. At the time, I was trying to be a screenwriter. [Zach] was doing theatre and writing what would become Garden State,” Joshua tells us. He says they use to give each other notes, but when Joshua picked up a guitar, Braff recognized his talent and insisted he should pursue it. “Zach was one of the first proponents and fans that I had.”
Braff had been on “Scrubs” for three years when Joshua wrote his first original song “Winter.” Around the same time, Braff had just released “Garden State” and the soundtrack, which included a lineup of 60s folk artists was blowing up on iTunes. Braff suggested recording a demo of “Winter” so he could pass it off to the producer of “Scrubs.”
“I demo’d that song in my friend’s apartment,” Joshua says, “a week later, Bill Lawrence, the creator of the show, called me and said “would you mind if I used that demo in the show?”’ When the song debuted on “Scrubs,” it set off an online fan furry and temporarily crashed the NBC server. “I wasn’t thinking about being a professional musician or anything. I had one song and a demo. So I fell into it.”
It’s All in the Licensing
With luck on his side, Joshua realized that licensing music could be a lucrative means to his creative expression. He passed along several tracks to other friends in the industry to use in movies and television shows. “The first album I released was called “We Were Here.” They were my first 10 songs I had ever written.” It just so happened that every one of those songs had been licensed to shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scrubs” and “One Tree Hill” before being released on iTunes.
Once the album shot up the charts, music labels started noticing and offered Joshua a record deal. “I was maybe one of the first singer songwriters to look at TV as the new radio. Now its just common place.” Understanding that he was a folk artist, not a Top 40 songwriter, Joshua decided to leave the label and pursue his career independently. “I did my starving artist thing for years and years in other mediums. So I think I was more prepared as an artist when my music started getting out there.”
He had loyal fans and the entertainment industry licensing his music. For a guy who had no intention of ever becoming a musician, Joshua certainly had a grip on his newfound talent. “The industry has been really kind to me.”
Lessons About the Old and New
Joshua is no stranger to baring his heart and soul. “The Fall” is a collection of songs that reveal the heavy dynamics of a romantic relationship Joshua recently experienced. “I was trying to convince one person to be as vulnerable as I was being. And that’s a tough thing to do.”
Inspired by artists like Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, Joshua considers his lyrics to be “relatable and honest.” A line from the latest single “Falling” seems to say it all. Joshua sings, “When you leap, you’ll see who you really are,” implying truth is revealed when one is brave enough to get hurt.
Vulnerability didn’t just show up in Joshua’s lyrics, but also within the production of the album. This was his first attempt at self-producing. The biggest challenge he faced was “budget.” He recorded the album in three days.
Due to the expensive nature of renting a studio, Joshua insists that the songs needed to be ready to go. He adds that managing the amount of time spent with each musician was also a new responsibility. “I went in knowing what I needed to get,” he says.
But with those challenges came his rewards. The payoff in Joshua’s words was “feeling total ownership.” Rather than dictating the sessions like most producers, he celebrated the collaborative process with his musicians. “I don’t like a lot of rehearsal, I like to hear the charming mistakes,” he says, suggesting that his approach to producing is based on trusting who he brings into the room. “The more vulnerable I can make myself the better my art becomes.”
The Next Chapter for Joshua Radin
Self-producing created a new love for Joshua. He enjoyed the process so much that he now sees a new future for himself. “I’d like to produce other people’s music,” he tells us. “I would like to get into the position where I can work with songwriters and help them write and record their songs. That would be a nice transition for me.”
In the meantime, he works with Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that buys back arts education programs for inner city schools. For the last six years, Joshua has helped the NGO raise money to buy instruments and pay for music teachers.
Additionally, he goes into the schools and teaches the kids one of his songs. Then he brings the kids on stage with him at his show later that day. “When their faces light up in a venue like that, it’s the best part of the concert,” Joshua says with a smile.
While Joshua Radin began his artistic career with the hope of becoming a screenwriter, he ultimately funneled his talent into music – writing lyrics as if it were dialogue. His story proves that life is full of exciting mysteries revealed in the most unlikely of ways. Sometimes all it takes is a friend to call out a hidden talent.