Impressive Track Record
Recently signed to Coin Records Inc., with his band Newcomer, International School of Beijing (ISB) alumnus Joshua Sofian (’16) balances his studies at University of Toronto (UofT), where he majors in Statistics and minors in Mathematics and Music, with a burgeoning music career.
Although the music business is notoriously difficult to break into, bass-playing ISB alumnus Joshua Sofian and his band Newcomer have already taken the first step on the path to fame and fortune. Joshua, who has been enrolled at UofT since September 2016, is no overnight success, however. He has been playing musical instruments since he was six years old: beginning with piano, he also learned violin, guitar, and viola, before taking up the bass at age 14.
While statistics, mathematics, and music may seem like strange bedfellows, Joshua said his time at ISB showed him how his various passions could be honored and combined. “My jazz band conductor, David Beckstead was a personal role model. He taught both science and music at ISB, and I wanted to be just like him,” said Joshua. “I also believe that there is a lot of math in music, because music follows logical theories, just like math and statistics.”
ISB was a huge part of his development as a musician. “I was always musically involved in something, whether it was the orchestra, string quartet or jazz band,” he said. “A lot of what I learned from my ISB music teachers, including Cindy Bulteel, Tony Yu, Spring Wang, Nathan Long, David Beckstead, Terence Hsieh, and James Ford, I still apply to what I do today.” In addition to ISB’s music faculty, Joshua credits ISB’s teachers with teaching him to succeed and overcome the next supposedly insurmountable obstacle step by step.
A career in music always appealed to Joshua, but he realized that many talented people never get a record deal. “Success doesn’t come easily for most musicians, so I thought I’d need to be the best performer in the world to get signed,” said Joshua. While attending a performance program at the Berklee College of Music, Joshua heard an inspiring speech by Ken Stacey, formerly a backup singer for Michael Jackson and lead singer of the five-time Grammy-nominated band, Ambrosia. “Mr. Stacey said that opportunities open up to anyone who is willing to make the most of them and that those opportunities must be created through connections and putting yourself out there,” Joshua said. “It made me believe that it is possible to achieve my dreams and that I should never give up.”
It is this willingness to make connections and put himself out there, in combination with his love of logic and order, doggedness, and creativity, that has directly lead to Joshua’s achievement. Playing at a local UofT music club, he met Matias Gutierrez (now Newcomer’s frontman). Impressed by each other’s abilities and compositions, they began recording tracks together. In the summer and fall of 2017, the band's line-up changed: Joshua introduced friend-of-friends, drummer, and fellow UofT student, Martin Camara to the band, with guitarist Lucas Ratigan joining in September. Four-piece Newcomer released their first single, 'Zeitgeist', in September.
Having been instrumental in the formation of the band, Joshua turned his sights to creating the opportunity they needed, through self-promotion. Before they released the single through an online distributor, the band members created linked social media accounts for the band on multiple platforms. “The social media promotion is what helped us get the attention of Chelsea Charles, CEO of Coin Records,” Joshua said. The members of Newcomer met Ms. Charles for dinner that weekend, where she told them she loved the song, and immediately gave them contracts to look over and sign. “Ever since then, we have been playing shows, writing, and recording more music for our album, as well as managing our UofT courses,” said Joshua.
Contrary to popular belief, Joshua maintains the life of a rock-and-roller is not incompatible with academic success. “Music helps with my productivity at university,” he said. “Being busy and being creative focuses me and I get through my university obligations much more efficiently when I am also rehearsing, practicing, and performing.” It’s all about balance: on a regular day, he wakes up, goes to school, does his schoolwork, works out, and practices bass. At least once a week, he has band rehearsal for a few hours, and on some days, records his part for a Newcomer track or plays a show. Joshua is grateful for this ability to balance his music career and schoolwork. “I know that methodically taking things one step at a time and never giving up will always lead to success,” he said.
He advises current ISB students to try their best in everything they do. To those ISB students with creative dreams, he advises caution and realistic expectations. “A lot of kids want fame and fortune, but artistic industries are never meritocratic and rarely lucrative,” he said. “There comes a point in time where creative kids have to ask themselves what is motivating them to pursue their dreams. For me, it’s never been about money or notoriety.” But for those committed enough to try, he advises taking the initiative. “It’s on you to prove, to your parents and the world, that you are passionate enough to pursue and achieve what you set out to do,” said Joshua.
YouTube: Newcomer Channel