Joshua Radin: The accidental TV songwriter |

Joshua Radin: The accidental TV songwriter

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoSinger-songwriter Joshua Radin performs at 9 p.m. Monday at Belly Up Aspen.

ASPEN ” Joshua Radin has taken a most unusual path to becoming a star on TV. He didn’t take any concrete steps in that direction till he was 30; most of his creative energy in his early years was devoted to painting. And when he finally did embrace the small-screen medium that has given him such lavish exposure, it wasn’t as an actor, but as a singer-songwriter.

Radin reckons that he has licensed more songs to contemporary television shows than any songwriter. “You can pretty much name a TV show, and I’ve had a song on it,” said the 34-year-old, who has had more than 100 of his tunes featured on such shows as “Scrubs,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” One Tree Hill,” “American Idol” and more.

When Radin appears in Aspen Monday night, it won’t be on ABC, but on the Belly Up Aspen stage. Radin tops a singer-songwriter bill that includes New Yorker Jesse Harris, best known for writing the Norah Jones hit “Don’t Know Why”; and Meiko, a Los Angeles musician who contributed vocals to “Sky,” a track from Radin’s recent CD, “Simple Times.”

For musicians of his generation, Radin believes a presence on TV is almost a necessity. It is not only difficult to get on radio, but the medium has become marginalized in a time of music-via-computer. CD sales are dwindling almost to nothing. But licensing a song ” or oodles of them ” to hit TV shows can be lucrative and provide broad exposure.

“We have to do whatever we can to get our music out there,” said Radin, who was just pulling into a tour stop in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “And TV’s the new radio.”

Radin doesn’t believe that his songs have been compromised by being used as the backdrop for on-screen romance or medical procedures. He doesn’t write songs for the shows, but merely licenses songs he has already written. And Radin has a background in screenwriting, and thinks that there is a natural synergy between visual-based storytelling and songs. He points to films such as “The Graduate” and “Harold and Maude” to illustrate how well the two mediums can go together. In recent years, that relationship has been revitalized on network TV series.

TV producers, said Radin, “saw how much a good song could evoke a scene. How it could make people feel.” He traces the evolution back to the MTV era of the early ’80s: “When MTV started, the biggest radio station was the TV.”

Establishing himself as a musician by using TV wasn’t planned. Neither was being a musician at all. From the age of 7, the Ohio native focused on visual arts; at Northwestern University, he earned a fine art degree. His first career was as a junior high school art teacher. He loved the work but grew weary of the impoverishment, so he tried his hand at writing screenplays. In six years, his tally was six finished scripts, two sales ” and not one finished product to show for his efforts. “It was such a frustrating business. It was such a blessing that the music thing came along,” Radin said.

Music came along in the most casual way. At the age of 30, Radin had never written a song, and his musical skills were limited to being able to strum a Bob Dylan or Beatles song. It was a skill he usually pulled out when he was stuck on a movie scene; Dylan ” especially break-up songs like “Shelter From the Storm” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” ” were therapeutic. In 2004, when he went through a break-up of his own, Radin turned to songwriting and wrote his first tune, “Winter.”

“I didn’t know how to express myself any other way,” he said. “So I wrote a song and fell in love with songwriting. I guess it had built up in me.”

The best part about a song was how personal it could be. “It was the first medium in which I could be totally honest,” said Radin, who is about to move to New York’s West Village, after several years in Los Angeles. “The screenplays were all imaginary. It wasn’t using my real life at all. Songs were like journal entries.”

One big hurdle was his voice, which he thought of as overly soft. “I would picture rock stars as people screaming into a microphone,” he said.

But the current crop of song-studded TV shows has proved an ideal medium for his music. “If you’re writing a lot about falling in and out of love, which is my general theme ” there’s a lot of demand for that in TV,” he said.

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