Toby Gad’s songwriting and production credits include superstar artists such as Fergie (from the Black Eyed Peas), Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana), Keke Palmer, Fatty Koo, Jaci Velasquez, Kaci Brown, The Veronicas and many more. Toby tells us about how and why he needs nothing more than a hotel room to record entire albums!
When did you discover your love for music?
My parents were Jazz musicians and had their own Jazz band. They rehearsed in our living room and at a very early age I was exposed to all these great songs. Even while I was still in the womb! I was seven years old when my brother and I used the intermission between my parents sets to perform our own little sets.
3 years later, Gunther Mende discovered and offered us our first recording contract. While it was certainly tempting to pursue that route, my dad didn’t think it was the right choice and instead we decided it was best to stay in school. Nevertheless, we continued to compose music and play in all sorts of bands and by the age of 16, we managed to have our first record release with German artist Peter Schilling.
How did you get involved with producing and songwriting?
Actually by sheer coincidence. When I was 15, my brother and I were planning to work with a successful producer in Germany to record our songs at his home.
He owned a state-of-the-art studio (back then, we still had 24 track tapes!) in his basement. But scheduling turned out to be quite tricky as he was travelling a lot and as a result the studio was empty.
We didnt think twice about whether we should record some songs ourselves. My brother was the lead singer in the band and I decided to helm the production.
We didnt have any engineers around that could help us, so we had to do it all ourselves. This turned out to be the foundation for my production work.
When did you experience your first big success with your music?
After German music producer Frank Farian assembled Milli Vanilli from session musicians, fronted by two good-looking dancers, the group landed the breakout hit Girl You Know Its True.
The song blew up and peaked and remained at #1 for several months in the German charts. It also gathered an international following and Coca-Cola stepped in to invest in promoting the entire album. Suddenly Frank was faced with completing the entire album in a really short time.
So we submitted our songs to Frank. One week later we flew up to his studio, recorded and mixed the rest of the album. Another week later the record was #1 in the charts. I never saw this happen so fast again. That was my first big success in the music business.
What happened after Milli Vanilli?
I diversified my efforts and tried my hand in different areas.
From the success of Milli Vanilli, my brother Jens (who also produced Enigma, Andru Donalds, Sandra, and Milli Vanilli) and I made enough money to live comfortably for a couple of years. During that time, we made a solo record with our group and toured a little bit. I also started to produce and record albums with my then-girlfriend who was a new artist at the time.
Shortly thereafter I ventured into scoring music for TV, movies and advertising projects. My career started to take off in that field (I did around 20 different projects at that time), but I noticed that it wasnt something I was completely happy with.
I felt Id rather spend a week composing a 3-minute song than making 2 hours of music that accompanies a movie. If it was a film for TV, it would only air once and I felt that the music was simply buried in the movie. I obviously still place music in film and TV, but I prefer it to start out as a song meant to be listened to as a song, rather than just background music in a movie.
Are you with a publishing company or do you publish your own music?
I worked with Sony ATV for five years and now I am in my third year with Cherry Lane Music – one of the biggest independent publishers in the USA. Among others, they publish Elvis Presley, John Legend, and the Black Eyed Peas. In fact, I worked with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, who has premiered my song Big Girls Dont Cry (the song became Ferguson’s first worldwide #1 single, and is her most successful single to date) on American Idol a few weeks ago, which is the fourth single from her album. The song has spent nine weeks at #1 in America, and as if things couldn’t get any better, Sean Kingston (J.R. Rotem – Britney Spears, Rihanna) just re-recorded the song as a duett with Fergie in a Jamaican remix version.
How do you go about placing songs?
This is what my publishers Cherry Lane and my managers do. Three years ago I signed a contract with David Sonenberg and he has been very helpful. He has a company with over a dozen employees from tour managers to manager, song pitchers to legal and all kinds of people who work together – its more like three record labels combined. Its a very good collaboration as he can also pitch songs to the artists that he manages.
I have a second studio in the Eleventh Store with 5 interns, two of which pitch my songs internationally (including digitally). Its a great way for that intern to get credits, and secure a job in the music publishing industry. For any given pitch my intern will send out 3 to 5 songs, no more than 5. Then after two weeks you usually know if the song has been picked.
What are you currently working on?
I am finishing up on the second album for Kaci Brown right now which is another exciting project for me (Toby already produced the first album featuring the hit single Instigator. You can check out a recent writing session with Kaci here).
With The Veronicas we sold half a million in Australia and and we are starting with the second album. In fact, I am flying over to L.A. this week to continue with them in a few days.
I’m also starting the second album with Broadway star Elisabeth Withers of The Color Purple. Oprah Winfrey is involved and the first 2 singles on our first album went Top 10 on many urban AC radio stations in the south.
Of course, there are many other projects coming up.
Do you have any recent highlights from up-and-coming artists youve worked with?
One of my highlights of last year was Keke Palmer – she is going to be huge. I did the last 11 songs with her, which she followed up with 2 more with Babyface and 1 with Rodney Jerkins before wrapping up the album. Shes 13 years old now and she just won best actress at the NAACP Awards.
At that age, I have never experienced a talent like that. Keke absolutely blew me away. I have also worked with Mylie Cyrus and she is equally talented.
When working with up-and-coming artists such as Keke Palmer or Mylie Cyrus or even established artists what should a new producer know when sitting down in the studio with them?
The biggest mistake is not to listen to the artists. For example, when I worked with Keke, even though she is 13, I let her direct the sessions, I come in with ideas, but then I let her decide what she wants to do.
I write the lyrics with her, but I let her sing the song how she wants to sing it. I only help the artists to make their record, so the record will sound the way the artist wants it.
A big mistake is when a producer comes in with a finished song and tells the artist how to sing it.
To put it another way, writing music is like therapy. My mother, who is actually a psychotherapist, pointed this out to me. By listening to the artists and finding out their problems or thoughts, you need to believe that the music can ease their problems. Then once the song is written they will feel better and think that Wow! This song has helped me.
In turn, the artist will love the song and someone else will be able to feel its healing power. I firmly believe that music needs to be personal – about the life of the artist and the songs on the album need to reflect that.
Are there any artists or producers you would like to work with?
In terms of artists, Id like to work with Gwen Stefani. I think shes such a great artist and a very sweet person.
In terms of producers, I havent had much luck collaborating with other producers, because its almost like two magnets working against each other.
I co-wrote with a lot of other writers during my first 3 or 4 years in America. Sony ATV set me up with more than a 100 different co-writers and I have written probably 600 songs over 6 or 7 years.
I learned a lot during these collaborations, but I also noticed that placing songs that you write with another writer is much more difficult than placing songs youve written with and specifically for the artist.
Naturally, if you get to work with an artist directly, the song will have more of a signature from the artist and the artist is already married to the song. So you dont have to pitch it anymore.
What do you do differently than other producers?
Lately Ive been recording a lot in hotel rooms!
I recorded three of The Veronicas songs on their album in Sydney in a hotel room. And with Kaci Brown, I recorded the entire first album in her living room on a laptop. So studios are losing out. Im not using big studios any more.
I have my two studios in Manhattan, New York which I use to mix the songs. But I am doing most of the recording and the producing in hotels rooms on the laptop. Ive come back from England and done a few songs with Pixie (Island Def Jam artist) in her living room. And next week Im going to L.A. with The Veronicas and Im going to record in their living room again.
When I first discovered I could do that it was like a breakthrough a revelation! You can do your entire production on a laptop if you know your set-up well!
Youve spent a large part of your life in Germany, do you see any differences between the US and Europe?
I have spent 30 years of my life in Germany and then decided to move to the US. I now live in New York and I just love discovering America.
I love that here music is constantly re-inventing itself. Its a constant challenge and people are open for the next big (new!) thing, whereas in Europe I find its not as fast pace.
What trends do you see in the music industry, what will happen in your opinion?
I think it is pretty exciting that there is a new outlet for artists on the Internet on sites like mySpace. Artists can now sell and promote their own records. I think this is very healthy in the grand scheme of things for the music industry.
When CDs replaced the vinyl records there was the promise from the record labels that as soon as the technology is cheaper they would cut the price in half but they never did. So they made tremendous profits on the CDs. And there were times when the manufacturing of CDs cost less than a dollar and they would sell for $17 or $18. Now, I think record labels are struggling to stay profitable, but its like a cleansing process. The music industry has to constantly reinvent itself to survive.
I think listening to music on mobile phones is going to be a big part of the future. I think very soon mobile phones and iPods will be the main device for kids to listen to music.
About Toby Gad
Toby Gads songwriting and production credits include superstar artists such Fergie (from the Black Eyed Peas), Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana), Keke Palmer, Fatty Koo, Jaci Velasquez, Kaci Brown, The Veronicas and many more. You can listen to many of his records and watch videoclips at www.tobygad.com. You can also watch “behindTheScenes” footage at www.gadfilms.com.