Renowned songwriter and producer Toby Gad has unveiled his latest musical endeavor: PIANO DIARIES – Volume One. He is the creative genius behind chart-topping hits for music legends like John Legend, Beyoncé, and Madonna. PIANO DIARIES – Volume One presents eight of his iconic compositions transformed into emotive piano-vocal pieces and club remixes, featuring collaborations with today’s top artists.
Toby Gad, a driving force in the music industry for decades, boasts an impressive portfolio of platinum hits, including John Legend’s ‘All of Me’ and Beyoncé’s ‘If I Were a Boy.’
Interesting Facts About Toby Gad:
- 7 billion streams
- 2 ASCAP Song of the Year awards
- 3 Grammy-winning hits
- Collaborations with stars like Paul McCartney, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, and EDM artists such as Armin van Buuren and Zedd.
In a recent interview with Pooja Kashyap of GrooveNexus, he talks about his journey, PIANO DIARIES Volume One, offering a unique perspective on Toby Gad’s illustrious career as a songwriter and producer, collaborations, and unique achievements.
Pooja Kashyap: Tell us something about your journey and Piano Diaries Volume One.
My First 100 Marks:
My journey feels like a lifetime of adventures and obstacles, delusional dreams, and a few breakthroughs along the way. My musical journey began in Germany when I was six years old, attempting to create music like my parents, who were part of a jazz band. My brother and I assembled a set of Rock’n’Roll songs, including a few originals. During my parents’ gigs, we performed these songs in the intermissions, a way for us to earn pocket money. I vividly remember when I earned my first 100 Marks, and I promptly went to a toy store and bought a whole Smurf village!
Collaboration with the German pop group – Milli Vanilli
Soon, we played in several local bands, even making appearances on local TV and radio shows at the age of 10. This eventually led my brother and me to our first major record releases around the age of 18, collaborating with the German pop group Milli Vanilli. While Milli Vanilli became a global sensation, they had to return their Grammy when it was revealed to the public that the two performers didn’t sing a word on their records. Nevertheless, we were grateful for the opportunity to have our songs on a significant record. Since we had to leave the studio after producing our music, we never met the Milli Vanilli guys. The experience of hearing our songs all over the radio was unforgettable and inspired me to pursue songwriting as a career.
How I Got My First Artist?
It took more than a decade before I dared to move from Germany to New York. On the streets of New York City, I posted flyers on signposts, asking, “Are you a singer? Young German Producer seeks Talent.” This led me to my first artist, a 17-year-old talent from Trinidad, and together we produced an album. Despite the rejection of the songs and the album by every label, this project opened the doors to NYC record companies.
Collaboration with John Legend and How Piano Diaries Volume I came into existence:
One day, Jim Vellutatto at Sony Music Publishing allowed me to work with an artist who had just left the girl-group Wild Orchid. We co-wrote a song together called “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Six years later, when the song was all over the radio and became Song-of-the-Year in America, I had the chance to work with Beyoncé, and a few years later, I collaborated with John Legend, resulting in my three biggest hits: “All of Me,” “If I Were A Boy,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
In 2015, I spent five weeks in the studio with Madonna and Diplo, contributing to most of the Rebel Heart album. During the same period, I wrote and produced an entire album with Leona Lewis. Staring at my calendar, filled with sessions for months on end, I felt the urge to pause, step back from making music, and catch up on life.
For years, it had been a manic frenzy, moving from song to song, artist to artist, and session to session. My wife and my two daughters were very patient with me chasing my career dreams, and now it was time to be a better dad, travel, and experience life together. So, I took a few years off, traveling the world with my wife and kids, attending my daughter’s school events, learning how to surf, and embracing the beach bum lifestyle. We renovated a few houses, and eventually, I became a judge on German Idol for 18 primetime television episodes, celebrated as a songwriter. This prompted me to write songs again.
Now, I find myself at a point in my life where I can reflect on those songs that have resonated with the world. I feel the urge to re-record them with new artists, capturing them in a way that aligns with how I hear them today. This led me to create Piano Diaries, Volume I.
Pooja Kashyap: Choosing from your extensive catalog, how did you decide which eight compositions to feature in this collection? Were there any particular challenges or criteria you considered when selecting the songs?
Toby Gad: I am going pretty much chronologically through my catalog, starting with “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” which I wrote 20 years ago with Fergie, a song that put me on the map globally as a songwriter. The second single is “Skyscraper,” which I wrote with my friends Lindy Robbins and Kerli in New York. It became a career-defining song for the young Disney star, Demi Lovato. The third single will be “Little Do You Know,” a song I wrote with the winners of US X-Factor, Season III, which was a bit of a flop when Sony Records released it. Years later, the song became a TikTok sensation with over 1 million user-generated videos! It’s now one of my biggest earners. After that, we will release “Untouched,” a hit I had with the Veronicas, and perhaps my favorite song that I ever wrote. It was double platinum in America, but in Australia, it has become something of a national anthem. From there, I will move to my Beyoncé hit “If I Were a Boy,” and then finally, my John Legend song “All of Me.” That will coincide with the release of the Piano Diaries album, which will also include my Jessie J UK hit “Who You Are” and my Illenium/Gryffin/Deya’s “Feel Good.”
Pooja Kashyap: Your collaboration with Victoria Justice on the rendition of Fergie’s ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ is intriguing. Can you share more about the collaborative process and how her involvement added a new dimension to the song?
Toby Gad: I have known Victoria since she was 17 years old when we released a song for her world-famous TV show, “Victorious,” titled “All I Want is Everything.” Over the years, we collaborated on various projects, such as the song “Love Song To The Earth,” which we wrote for the United Nations Climate Summit in 2015. We had the privilege of performing it before the Pope’s speech on the National Mall in Washington, DC. This song also featured Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, and many other superstars.
In recent years, Victoria has focused more on acting. However, she recently released a new song called “Only A Stranger,” and I truly enjoyed the soft, breathy way she sang it. I believed she would be perfect for my reimagined version of “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Recording with her was a lot of fun, and we had an even more enjoyable time creating video clips for social media.
Pooja Kashyap: The four remixes of ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ offer diverse listening experiences. How did you approach creating these remixes, and what was the inspiration behind the Euphoric, Workout, Moab House, and Bachata mixes?
Exciting Collaborations Scheduled for Release in 2024:
I have had DJ hits before, such as “All Of Me” with Tiesto, and “Feel Good” with Gryffin and Illenium. Recently, I got even closer to the DJ scene and began releasing my own artist collaborations with Dutch DJ Bakermat. Our single release, “Can’t Bring Me Down,” dropped earlier this year. There are several more exciting upcoming artist collaborations with DJs scheduled for release in early 2024. I feel inspired to explore what I can do with my Piano Diaries songs now that I have created a new “original” from which I can derive remixes.
The “Big Girls Don’t Cry Euphoric Mix” leans towards EDM-Trance. I enjoyed how breakbeats now find their way into EDM pop and celebrate the drop with an ethnic sample that gets chopped up. A Tears for Fears reference starts the song with a Fairlight sample, and Victoria’s emotional interpretation in the verse draws you into the song. Ethnic vocal samples lead into the powerful drop, on which I chopped the vocals up. Alanna from my Kite Records team has created a mesmerizing lyric video with an ever-changing bionic avatar eye that morphs through all kinds of luminescent AI interpretations of the lyrics. That video is now on YouTube.
The “Big Girls Don’t Cry Moab House Mix” is based on a house-shuffle beat throughout the song. It begins with an exposed acappella vocal of Victoria. The song builds through trance-triggered chords in the chorus and, like the Euphoric mix, drops into a heavier section with chopped ethnic samples and a house bass riff.
The “Big Girls Don’t Cry Workout Mix” is hyper-pop-fast and starts with beautiful live strings, which Nashville-based virtuoso Lauren Conklin recorded on the original Piano Diaries version. After the chorus, the mix leads into a catchy 80s synth theme. When I made this version, I danced along with it many times, and it gives you a great workout.
The “Big Girls Don’t Cry Bachata Mix” is an ode to the music my family and I hear in Mexico on the radio. During the pandemic, we fell in love with Baja California. Since we could not fly for vacations anymore, we explored what could be reached by car. Within 3 hour’s drive from Los Angeles, we found a lovely small beach house, where we now regularly spend fun weekends with lots of surfing and relaxing. In the restaurants and cafes there, this Bachata beat is blasting through all speakers, so I felt this could be a wonderful combination. I love Baja and the culture. The people there are very cool and friendly.
Pooja Kashyap: With 7 billion+ streams, over 400 songs released, 3 Grammy wins, 10 nominations, Diamond Award & ASCAP wins, you’ve had an illustrious career. How does PIANO DIARIES – Volume One fit into this impressive musical journey?
Toby Gad: “Piano Diaries” celebrates all the hits of my career. I re-imagine my most popular songs the way I hear them in 2024, with new singers that I love. I am so excited about sharing this project with the world.
Pooja Kashyap: Is there a particular achievement or milestone that holds a special place in your heart?
Toby Gad: We were nominated for several Grammys with the Beyoncé album at the 52nd Awards in 2010. As I sat in the audience, I was full of anticipation, but we did not win any of the Grammys during the show, so I was a little disappointed. However, Beyoncé appeared with dozens of dancers in military uniforms and began a dramatic intro that soon turned into my song, “If I Were a Boy.” Then her performance morphed into an Alanis Morissette song, “You Oughta Know,” and came right back to “If I Were A Boy.” I had goosebumps all over and could not believe that my song was celebrated this way on such a big stage by an iconic artist like Beyoncé. The performance lasted almost six minutes and fully celebrated my song. That was one of my most unforgettable highlights.
Pooja Kashyap: The music industry is constantly evolving. How do you navigate and adapt to technological advancements and changing trends in the industry to keep your sound fresh and relevant?
Toby Gad: For some reason, my sound has never been trendy. Many of my songs were initially rejected by record labels and were later picked up years later. That was also the case for Callum Scott’s coming-out anthem “No Matter What,” which did not even make it onto his album at the time but became a successful single for him years later. My Beyoncé song “If I Were a Boy” was rejected several times by big record companies before I had the opportunity to play it for Beyoncé in person.
My dream has always been to write a timeless song that will still be on the radio many years later. I feel so fortunate that some of my songs are still on the radio today.
Pooja Kashyap: Were there any songs that took on a completely new life in their reimagined form?
Toby Gad: On the “Piano Diaries” album, I strip the songs down to the bones, basing them on minimalist, mellow piano accompaniment to let the lyrics shine through and give the vocals a lot of breathing room. From that new original, I create various remixes that touch all kinds of genres and different tempos. My goal is to record each of the “Piano Diaries” songs in a very different interpretation to offer a new perspective for the composition.
My second single, “Skyscraper,” for the first time features a male singer performing the dramatic lyrics. So far, “Skyscraper” only had female vocalists with Demi Lovato, UK-X-Factor winner Sam Bailey, who had a UK #1 with the song, and Estonian artist Kerli, who originally sang the song when she wrote it with Lindy Robbins and me. So yes, the goal is to create radically different interpretations for all of my most popular songs.
Pooja Kashyap: Each track on the album features a different top artist. How did you go about selecting the collaborators for each song?
Toby Gad: For my first “Piano Diaries” single, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” I decided to work with Victoria Justice. Victoria is someone I have had records with for over a decade. Back then, we wrote “All I Want is Everything” for her world-famous “Victorious” TV show. Victoria and I also worked on “Love Song to the Earth,” a song that featured stars like Paul McCartney, John Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, and many others. We performed the song with Sean Paul and many other stars like Natasha Bedingfield before the Pope spoke at the National Mall in Washington DC. It felt like such a historic event, and we felt honored to be there.
For the second “Piano Diaries” single, “Skyscraper,” I chose Universal Republic recording artist Camylio, a 22-year-old rising star with a beautiful expressive voice and an ultra-dynamic vocal performance that makes the hair stand up on my neck, even a little more than back when I recorded Demi Lovato on the song.
Pooja Kashyap: Can you share any memorable moments or stories from the collaborative recording sessions?
Toby Gad: When we attempted to record “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Victoria was quite nervous because she was very aware of the fact that she had very big shoes to fill. Instead of treating the song like a cover, we aimed for a new original, and Victoria found her way of interpreting it with a silky, soft, emotional approach. Now the song feels very different from Fergie’s iconic belting vocal, and I had goosebumps when we finished the first mix with Victoria’s vocals. Once I feel goosebumps on a song, I want to share it with the world to share those goosebumps. It’s a great feeling and it’s the reason why I make music in the first place.
Pooja Kashyap: What led you to choose “BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY” as the first single from PIANO DIARIES – Volume One?
Toby Gad: “Big Girls Don’t Cry” was the song that put me on the map as a songwriter, my first big global #1 Billboard hit. So, it made sense to me to begin with this song, which is still on the radio today, and to work my way pretty much chronologically towards the more recent songs like “All Of Me.”
Pooja Kashyap: Can you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re excited about?
Toby Gad: Well, I don’t want to jinx anything, but I can say that I have been quite active this year writing with incredible artists, and there are several records slated to come out in 2024 that I am very proud of.
Pooja Kashyap: As “PIANO DIARIES – Volume One” is released, what message do you have for your fans who have been following your incredible journey in the music industry?
Toby Gad: Throughout my life, music has always saved me. Looking back, I almost can’t believe that I have never worked a job in my life, yet I have always found a way to survive. After school, my dad did not support us anymore. In my early years, there were many times when I was running out of money and began to question what I was doing. It was always music that saved me at the very last minute. Just when the rent was due, someone liked a song, I got to perform, or I got a deal here or there to produce something. It always worked out somehow. In New York, there were months when I lived on instant soup and a bagel, on the brink of going broke, until I eventually found my manager David Sonenberg, who was instrumental in making it possible for me to earn money with music in America.
Having fun with music is one thing, but perseverance and faith in your craft maybe even more important. I have learned that everything always takes a lot longer than expected, and through all the letdowns, I got stronger and more resilient. Many of my songs took years before they saw the light of day. For example, if I had given up after record labels rejected “If I Were A Boy,” it would have never found its way to Beyonce. But the best advice I can give is, to have fun in what you are doing while you do it, always give your best, and never expect anything in return. This way you are already happy once you have written a song, and anything else is just the icing on the cake.
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