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From Romania to the Grammy Stage: The SICKOTOY Story

Alexandru Cotoi, also known as Alex Cotoi, hails from Romania and is a prolific music creator associated with Global Records. Collaborating with renowned artists like Delia, Irina Rimes, Inna, and Alexandra Stan, he’s made a name for himself in the music industry. Under the alias Sickotoy, he achieved success with hits like “Addicted” and “You Don’t Love Me” in 2019.

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Cotoi’s musical journey began in 2003, and in 2009, he formed the music group Sonichouse with friends Radu Dumitriu, Răzvan Gorcinski, and Victor Bourosu. Their album “Supersonic” in 2011 marked a significant milestone, though the group later disbanded when Bourosu pursued his solo career.

In 2022, Cotoi ventured into the world of music contests with “One True Singer,” a show created by HBO Max and Global Records. As #SICKOTOY, an accomplished music producer, and a Grammy award winner for “Best Album of Latin Rock & Urban Alternative,” thanks to his collaboration with Pitbull, Mohombi, and Wisin on the track ‘Baddest,’ Cotoi is a seasoned professional in the field.

In a recent interview with Pooja Kashyap of GrooveNexus, he reveals insights into producing music for top artists, current music production trends, and offers valuable advice for aspiring artists considering record label deals. Additionally, he discusses his latest single, “Bad Girls,” a collaboration with Inna, Antonia, and Eva Timush.

Pooja Kashyap: Your musical journey began in 2003. What inspired you to start writing songs, and how has your style evolved since your early days to become the renowned SICKOTOY?

SickoToy: So basically, I began learning the guitar when I was in middle school and continued through high school. I was always connected to music, primarily leaning towards rock music. As the years passed, I found myself increasingly drawn to the art of songwriting and composition. I became deeply passionate about it and started learning music production.

During that time, there weren’t as many internet tools available for music production; it was more focused on recording. Nevertheless, I started producing mainly pop songs and collaborating with local indie artists. I had my indie band at that time, which I also produced for. After a while, I began working with bigger artists and producing mainstream pop songs, some of which received radio airplay. My love for music production continued to grow.

In 2018, I initiated a project called SICKOTOY, which represents my affection for electronic music and my unique perspective on the electronic and dance music genres.

Pooja Kashyap: Congratulations on your Grammy award! Your Grammy-winning collaboration with Pitbull, Mohombi, and Wisin for “Baddest” was a sensation. What does this recognition mean to you? How did this international partnership come about & how do you infuse your unique touch into each collaboration?

SickoToy: I have a thing for Bad Girls and Baddest. As you mentioned, I feel like there’s a connection with that. Hopefully, it will receive similar recognition to the other one.

The story behind the one with Pitbull is quite amusing. It wasn’t initially intended to be a song collaboration. Mohombi happened to be in Romania, where I’m based, for a movie shoot. After a meeting with some people from management, we were just hanging out as friends by a lake. During our relaxation time, he suggested, “Let’s have a session, let’s create some music.”

That’s how “Baddest Girl in Town” came into existence. Mohombi pitched it to people who were searching for songs, and the entire single was eventually released. From this experience, I’ve learned that it’s crucial not to miss any opportunity that comes your way.

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Pooja Kashyap: And how did you meet Wisin?

SickoToy: The collaboration with Wisin was arranged by Pitbull. I didn’t personally meet Wisin. Pitbull expressed the desire to have him on the song as a collaboration, and Wisin recorded the vocals in South America. He shared the recordings with me, and I pieced together all the parts to create the final track.

Pooja Kashyap: As far as the collaborations are concerned, how do you infuse your unique touch into each collaboration?

SickoToy: I mean, like when it’s interesting goes, as with ‘Bad Girls.’ The song was written by Wayne Hector and Rollo’s Spicoli, both of whom are accomplished songwriters. Well, they are male. So, when I heard the song, I thought it would be better if female artists sang it. Every song inspires me differently. I think I just have to listen to the music, and then I can figure it out.”

Pooja Kashyap: “Bad Girls” is your latest hit featuring Inna, Antonia, and Eva Timush. What’s the story behind the single?

SickoToy: So, yeah, actually, I asked a few questions like this in the previous discussion before our sessions at Global Records in Dubai. We included local music for all the artists from Global Records, such as Antonia, my project, and pitched it to our international artists. We worked on a song, as I mentioned before, with Wayne, Hector, and Rollo. It was during a night in Dubai, and it happened to be the third song we created that day.

We brainstormed three different ideas that day. This one turned out to be the fun one. You see, we like to explore different styles – a brief one, a serious one, and then we decided to go for this type of song.

Next, we worked on a more emotional track, and after that, we decided to just have fun for about 20 minutes. That’s when “BAD GIRLS” was born. Afterward, based on the message and attitude of the song, I felt it had a female vibe. It was cool, so I booked INNA and Antonia. Solution, the manager, helped us put everything together. It’s worth noting that I’ve worked with INNA before, and I’ve also collaborated with EVA, so we already knew each other.

Pooja Kashyap: By the way, I heard you’re great friends with INNA, am I right?

SickoToy: We spoke just a few days ago, maybe two or three days ago, and we were both very excited because our song “Victim,” which we collaborated on in 2020, is now being featured in the main promotion for Victoria’s Secret worldwide. It’s quite a big deal, with stars like Naomi Campbell and many others involved.

Pooja Kashyap: In 2019, you gained massive success under the alias “Sickotoy” with hits like “Addicted” and “You Don’t Love Me.” What was the inspiration behind these tracks, and how did you come up with the name “Sickotoy”?

SickoToy: Yeah, so the inspiration behind my music has always been a fascination with Eastern influences, traditional Eastern music, and the instruments used in that genre. I wanted to blend these Eastern vibes with electronic sounds, particularly in dance music. This was the main inspiration for “Addicted,” and you can sense a general Eastern and Western fusion in many of my songs. It’s about bringing both worlds together.

Regarding the name “Alias,” it’s derived from my real name, which is Alexandru Cotoi. When you take “Cotoi” and transform it into “SICKOTOY,” it’s essentially a playful representation of my name. It has that sense of being a crazy, interesting, and unique toy, hence “sick-o-toy.”

It’s a fun way to express my identity through music. While there might not be a hidden meaning as such, the music itself is the exciting part. It’s a realm of creativity where you can expect the unexpected and just have a blast with it. Enjoy the journey!

Pooja Kashyap: You co-founded the music group Sonichouse in 2009 and your album “Supersonic” made waves.  Could you share some memorable moments from that phase of your career? Who were you closest to among Razvan, Victor, and Radu? Still in touch with them?

SickoToy: So back in the day, it was a great experience. I don’t think it received widespread recognition, but within the indie scene, and among those with more alternative tastes, it was well-loved. It was a lot of fun. I served as both the producer and the guitarist in that band.

Pooja Kashyap: Who are you closest to among Razvan, Victor, and Radu?

SickoToy: These are my friends from back in the Morandi days. We then founded Sonic House. I used to, but remember, I’m still in touch with Vicky. We work in the same environment. I also had a conversation with Radu about a year ago.

Pooja Kashyap: Moving from a group to your solo career, how did you navigate challenges and opportunities when transitioning to producing music as an individual artist?

SickoToy: In my opinion, life is all about taking steps and embracing challenges because, otherwise, you can easily become bored by staying in the same routine for too long. So, in my career, I believe my biggest steps were when I graduated in electronics and telecommunications, which is a completely different field, and then transitioned into music to make a living. That was my first significant step. Initially, I started as a guitar player, performing in various bands.

As time went on, I began to feel that I could do more, which led to my second career step, becoming a music producer. After I started producing songs and gained recognition with radio airplay and hits, I decided to embark on an artist career. This is when SICKOTOY came into the picture.

I’m not sure what the next step in the future holds, as we’re all trying to figure that out. However, I firmly believe that taking steps and embracing challenges in life is essential to keep things interesting and fulfilling.

Pooja Kashyap: In 2022, you were part of “One True Singer.” & Your involvement showcased your mentorship. Would love to know your thoughts on this music contest and the experience of being a part of it.

SickoToy: Oh, I was quite nervous during the initial auditions because I wasn’t accustomed to being in front of the camera. I didn’t have much experience with it. So, the auditions were quite challenging for me at first. However, once I got into the groove and understood the concept of the show and the purpose of the song, which is to discover and nurture talented artists, I became more comfortable.

In fact, the competition achieved exactly that. The winner of the contest has gained significant recognition in Romania. It became truly fascinating for me, and I began to enjoy it more and more, having a lot of fun with One True Singer.

Pooja Kashyap: What was that takeaway lesson for you?

SickoToy: One of the aspects I focused on more during One True Singer, which I believe was essential for both me and the contestants, was the boost in self-confidence. It was evident that I gained a significant amount of self-confidence, and I could see the contestants also growing in confidence.

The entire experience revolved around building self-confidence for all of us, which was a positive outcome. Regarding performances that truly touched my heart from One True Singer, I would have to say that the winner’s final song in the contest was exceptionally moving and well-executed.

Pooja Kashyap: Artist’s dream of signing with major record labels. In your opinion, what are the critical factors an artist should consider before sealing the deal with a record label?

SickoToy: I believe the world has undergone significant changes over the last 5 to 10 years, primarily due to the rise of social media, the internet, and streaming platforms. Nowadays, there’s an abundance of artists and music, with approximately 60 to 70,000 songs released on Spotify daily, which is quite substantial.

In my opinion, an artist should consider doing as much as possible independently before signing with a record label. This includes self-promotion, creating music videos, and engaging with platforms like TikTok. The advantage today is that many aspects of the music industry can be handled independently with just a laptop, a phone, and some basic equipment. With these tools, one can produce high-quality music.

The best investment an artist can make is in themselves, both by learning and by creating. I would recommend every artist to spend their initial two or three years building a name for themselves, cultivating a fan base, and establishing their presence. This way, they can negotiate a more favorable deal with a record label once they have a solid foundation.

Pooja Kashyap: Aspiring music producers look up to you. Could you share a “secret sauce” of yours when it comes to crafting hit tracks?

SickoToy: You know, there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for success in music production. Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time observing producers I admire, and the main lesson I’ve learned from them, which I’ve applied to my production, is the importance of learning how to listen to yourself. When you have a specific sound or idea in your mind, it’s crucial to be able to reproduce it accurately on your computer or in the song you’re working on. With all the available tools, it’s easy to get caught up in them and lose focus on your own creative vision.

Another valuable piece of advice is to learn an instrument. I would recommend starting with the traditional approach of learning an instrument first.

As for what’s next after “Bad Girls,” I have around three or four ideas that I’m currently focused on. However, I also plan to engage in more creative sessions, generating perhaps ten or twenty more ideas, and then selecting the best one for my next release. While I don’t have everything planned out 100%, I’m excited to see where the music takes me.

Pooja Kashyap: Also, how do you connect with your fan base? How do you get to know about their experiences when they listen to your music?

SickoToy: Oh, I’m not very active on social media, to be honest. I mainly use Instagram for some promotional activities. I post updates about my recent releases and share pictures from sessions and events. However, I have this belief that while it might not be the most recommended approach, people should focus more on listening to the music itself rather than the social image of an artist.

When I’m involved in gigs, concerts, or studio sessions, I do share updates from those experiences. However, I’m not the type of artist who constantly engages in live videos and interactions with fans on social media.

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