When it comes to setting the bar high, Canadian R&B-Pop Artist Josh Sahunta never lets his feet touch the ground.
Drawing upon his influences of John Mayer, Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd, this self-taught multi-instrumentalist and singer uniquely positions himself as a songwriter with substance.
Since his humble beginnings in 2013 after releasing his first EP “Lights”, young and restless Josh Sahunta is no stranger to the level of intensity required to stand out in the music industry.
Determined to consistently perform at a high-caliber, Josh somehow balanced playing shows and recording his album, while simultaneously working two jobs and studying clinical psychology full- time at the University of Alberta.
I had the luxury of chatting with Josh to learn more about his background in music and his current outlook on the music industry. He provided some amazing insights that all independent musicians can learn from.
Below is the interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you into music?
Josh: I have been playing music since I was little. I really didn’t get into singing however until high school, between the years of 2010 – 2012. I really got my start by putting up singing covers on Facebook and gauging people's reactions.
I attended the University of Alberta and took Clinical Psychology which pretty much put me in a musical hiatus for 4 years. I was just focused on studying, but knew music was something I enjoyed. I had always dreamt of doing it as a career because obviously that would be really cool but I just thought it wasn’t very realistic. I didn’t think it would be a real dream to have and pursue so I just continued on with school.
At the end of my degree I was just so excited to be done with school and I tried to find something related to psychology to pursue as a career. I was already accepted into a follow up program for my degree to obtain my masters. I received the acceptance and was gearing up to go but decided last minute that I didn’t want to do it.
There were a number of costs associated with applying for my masters that I had to forfeit but I decided, “no, I’m not ready” so I ate the cost. I felt I really needed a year to myself because all I’ve ever known in my life was school. I felt like I didn’t have a break from it at all and I never had the chance to really figure out myself and to figure out what I was really good at or passionate about doing.
I told my parents that I wanted to take a year to figure things out and if a year went by and I hadn’t gotten anywhere I would go back to school.
During that year I dropped my first album and that album has done more for me than anything else I’ve ever done. It skyrocketed my career to the point that now I’m playing shows all over Canada and soon to be the UK, all because I took that year off. I could very easily be doing my masters right now and miserable so it was definitely that year off that made the difference for me.
Essentially I released that album and then just really started grinding with music, networking, meeting new people, making contacts and improving my craft. Since then it has just been a steady incline until now.
That’s great and as you talk about your decision not to go back to school I wonder, were your parents supportive of your decision?
Josh: To be honest that was very tough and created a bit of tension for us. My parents are very traditional in the sense that they think education is the most valuable asset, which ten years ago might have been true but I don't think it is anymore. The world is evolving massively to the point that a degree is really just a piece of paper that says you’ve gone to school for 4 years, you’ve read books, written essays and so on.
There are so many people who are creating careers for themselves just based on experience. Look at the large influencers in the world right now who are in their 20s and 30s who are not the most educated in the sense that they haven’t gone to post secondary. They just dove into their fields and maybe took a few courses here and there but don’t necessarily have degrees.
Obviously if you want to become a doctor you need an education but when it comes to things like music and acting you don’t need a degree to be successful.
So yes there is definitely a bit of a clash between my generation and my parents because they didn’t grow up with social media. To them, the only way to make money is to get a degree and then to get a job.
From the bio on your website you list your influences as being John Mayor, Ed Sheeran and the Weeknd. Is there anyone else that you have gravitated to that has influenced you?
Josh: Yeah definitely, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him but his name is Tom Misch and he is phenomenal. He’s about 22 years old, produces all of his own music and even produces for other people. His production is just out of this world and his music is just incredible. He’s someone I really want to be like which is hilarious because he is two years younger than me but musically he is leaps ahead of me.
He’s this British artist who went to Jazz school but I don't think he finished because it wasn't teaching him what he wanted to learn.
You are very talented when it comes to playing the guitar but are there any other types of instruments that you play? Or do you dabble in production as well?
Josh: Yeah so I play the drums, bass guitar, piano and have been focusing on production. The last two songs I released, specifically “Bad” was completely self-produced. I did that entire song in my basement on my free time.
But with both of those they were like basement recordings, we didn’t use a major studio for either of those. We just put together some midi tracks, threw some guitar and vocals over it, mixed them and sent them through an algorithm to master. We didn’t even pay anyone to mix or master, we used Landr.com and it turned out great!
You mentioned networking and how that has been very helpful for your career. Have you gone to any notable conferences or are there any events that you have found to be very impactful?
Josh: For the past 3 years I have gone to Breakout West which two years ago was in Edmonton, AB.
Last year it was in Kelowna and this year I believe it is going to be in Whitehorse, in the Yukon.
I have been to a handful of conferences and met a good chunk of the key industry people from Western Canada. My goal for 2019 is to look more into Eastern Canada. Toronto is where I have my eyes set right now.
I also did the 5 week Canada’s Music Incubator course in Calgary where I met the whole team from Toronto.
I actually recently just got back from Toronto where they put me up in an apartment and I did some co-writing with their artists and hungout with them a bit. That was cool because now I have a pretty solid connection in Toronto from being around them.
I have also made connections with SOCAN and their team in Vancouver and also did a songwriting camp with SOCAN in Toronto so they all know me now and are all just great resources to have.
Out of all the conferences you mentioned which one would you say was the most impactful?
Josh: Out of all of them I would have to say that the CD Baby conference was the most impactful. Just because there were so many different types of people involved with different genres of music that you could meet and visit with.
Seeing full time musicians everywhere was just crazy inspiring for me. It was just really encouraging and it was just cool to be around people who are aspiring to do the same thing that you’re trying to do.
They’re also just so empathetic towards the struggle. I feel like in Edmonton nobody gets it because there are only really a few musicians who are working at a Nashville pace.
That’s one of the things I realized… Because I’ve always wondered, “do I need to move out of Edmonton to pursue music?”
Overall my answer right now is no but what I do think is, if I did move to a city like Nashville I’d probably be working 10 times as hard as I am here because the vibe of the city just makes you want to work.
Whereas Edmonton is kind of like a hangout city where people just like to hangout, have fun, and party which is obviously a thing in Nashville too but it’s more like a lifestyle choice in Edmonton.
Whereas in Nashville, it’s like no, we all work our asses off and maybe the odd day a week we’ll go hangout and do something fun. But other than that we just work and our work is so fun that it doesn’t feel like work.
What would you say your biggest challenges are as an artist?
Josh: In terms of challenges I would say that before it was figuring out how to make a living from music. My thought process before was “ok, the only way I can make money from music is if people buy my songs on iTunes and if I get a gig.” Those are my only two income streams and that’s it.
Whereas now I see that there are so many ways that I didn’t even think of because now I am teaching piano and guitar. I am still gigging but playing more corporate events than anything else because that’s where the money is at and it’s very low stress.
Like nobody is paying attention to you. They stick you in a corner of a room for two – 45 minute sets, for like $800 it’s the easiest thing.
Then obviously selling merch. I’ve put a lot of time into designing really cool merch that is really good quality. So they look really cool and they’re super comfy. So everyone who buys them actually wants to wear them cause its the comfiest shirt in their closet.
I am also producing music for 3 different musicians and they are actually paying me what they would normally pay at a studio but at a slightly discounted rate as I am still in my experimental phase so I don’t want to charge them as much as an actual studio would.
I am also working towards sync licensing and getting my music into commercials, TV Shows and movies and if one of those gets secured then that’s like $10,000 easy. It’s the coolest feeling to get a song licensed.
There are also a few musicians I know who needed help with their social media strategy so I am helping them in that area and that has been going really well too.
What I find is that when you really need money you'll find ways to make money. When you have no choice and this is what you do for a living you become very creative in the ways that you get paid. You just have to go out and find new methods and come up with new strategies.
In terms of challenges right now, it has always been tough being an artist in my genre in Alberta because I find that there is not a huge audience for my genre out here.
If I was in Toronto or Vancouver it would be much easier to sell and get label attention. Easier to get better shows and open for better artists.
Because Edmonton and Calgary are very folk and country based, It has always been difficult to land strong placements here.
Key Takeaways From The Interview
As you can tell from the interview Josh is a very smart and talented young man well on his way to success with his music career. In speaking with him you get a sense of his confidence and a passion for music yet he is extremely humble and grateful for all of his experiences.
Here are some key takeaways from the interview:
- Making a career for yourself in music can be a reality and getting past outside noise and self-doubt is a hurdle all artists must face.
- Conferences and networking open a ton of doors for you. Exposing yourself to new environments not only lets you see things differently but you also meet great people along the way who are willing and able to help you further your career.
- You don’t necessarily need to uproot and leave your scene to pursue music. Being around passionate music scenes and artists through networking and conferences can have a similar effect and still pushes you to be better upon returning home.
- There are a ton of ways to make money as an artist, you just need to be creative and resourceful. Working hard only gets you so far, you need to work smart and leverage your abilities to generate a living from your music.
Wrapping It Up
In closing Josh has attracted a combined social media following of 6000 strong and progressed far in competitions like CBC Searchlight and Edmonton’s Hot Factor. Furthermore his career wins have only encouraged him to give back tenfold. Having already travelled to Uganda to teach music, he continues volunteering his talents for the betterment of the less fortunate.
If you are looking for a new up and coming artist with some phenomenal music I highly suggest you give Josh Sahunta a listen.
You can find Josh on the following platforms below: