Like many European writers and producers, Toby Gad moved to the US to reach more opportunities and he must be glad he did. I first heard of him when he wrote the brilliant hits Damn I Think I Love You and Happy for K-Otic and Sita from Holland’s Starmaker (similar to Fame Academy) TV show. But it was a few years later he had his big breakthrough hit Big Girls Don’t Cry by Fergie, after which every major female artist wanted a track by Toby on their next release.
Toby went on to write the song he may be best remembered for, If I Were A Boy by Beyoncé, as well as hits for Pixie Lott, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, JLS and Nicole Scherzinger. Read on to find out what happened when he had Beyoncé in his studio and why he’s so excited for The Veronicas’ next album…
You’ve set up your own publishing company and record label in the past few years, would you like to run a major label in the future as writers like LA Reid and Amanda Ghost have done, or would you prefer making music to remain your main focus?
With the start of our new label I’m now venturing into the A&R terrain and I hope 2012 will be our year. We have four artists on the roster, Chelsea Williams (Kite/Interscope), Susan Justice (Kite/Capitol), Jordan Jansen (Kite/TBA) and Jessica Jarrell (below) (Kite/TBA). I have contributed a lot of writing and production on these albums, but I have also for the first time had the experience to let other writers and producers do songs with our artists with songs that are competing with my songs on their albums. Of course the better songs win and I can’t chose songs just because I am involved.
I haven’t really thought about working for a major just yet but I guess it’s not going to be too different from what I’m now doing with Kite. My heart is still in the writing process but I’m starting to see the bigger picture and I am enjoying that, too.
Do you think it’s more important for songwriters to carve out a niche for themselves with a certain distinct sound which they become known for, or to be adaptable to whatever the record labels are looking for?
I think a balance of both is really important. Artists often do have a vision of what their sound is and not only does it make the result better if the songs have the personality of the artist, regardless of the sound of the producer, but it can also provide a lot of fresh inspiration. Generally I love to listen to the artists and help the artists make their favorite record.
But on the other hand it is also good if a producer has a sound he is known for, I guess that attributes to a producer’s courage to venture into new territory and hopefully get successful with a sound that is different from what everyone else is doing. When I think of Timbaland, Rodney or Luke I do think of a certain sound.
I hope that people don’t just remember me for my slow songs like Big Girls Don’t Cry, Skyscraper or If I Were A Boy. I also had quite a few uptempo singles like Untouched (Veronicas), Don’t Hold Your Breath (Nicole Scherzinger) or A Year Without Rain (Selena Gomez) or even I Do (Colbie Caillat).
Have you ever been in the studio with an artist who surprised you with their vocal or songwriting talent?
All the time. Most artists I chose to work with amaze me in one way or another and I feel obliged to do my best when I am in the presence of great talent.
Do you have any funny stories about things that have happened while writing or recording with famous artists?
When I recorded Beyoncé and we had some time to chat, I asked her at one point if she had won any Grammies (I know this is a really stupid question) and she answered something that sounded to me like “none”. I was like, really, none? and she said, “no, niiine”. It was her southern accent that sounded that way. She was very sweet, driven and smart, a real powerhouse. I hope I can work with her again.
Some of your big hits were originally recorded by less well-known artists, before being given to major stars. Do you think it’s important for the original artist to get first dibs on the song, or is it more important for the song to reach as many listeners and connect with as many people as possible?
I love it when the artists write the songs they sing but sometimes an artist can also take a song they didn’t write to another level and make it their own. I feel both Beyoncé and Reba McEntyre brought a lot of personality to If I Were A Boy. I loved BC Jean’s original version as well, but B turned this rock song into an urban/pop song and Reba made it a country song. I love it when a song transcends genres.
Do you usually write new songs with a particular artist in mind?
Most of the time I write with artists for their record, but sometimes those songs end up on other artists’ records, depending on the circumstances. I feel it’s more inspiring to write with the person who is going to sing and perform the song.
Which new artists have you worked with recently that you think we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future?
I am very proud of the four artists on my label, Chelsea Williams, Jessica Jarrell, Susan Justice and Jordan Jansen (above).
How do you think the music industry in Germany compares to the US?
I left Germany 13 years ago, it’s been such a long time. I have completely lost touch with the German market so I can’t really give you a good answer. I do a lot in the UK market, though.
Which of your songs do you think was overlooked by the public and deserved to be a bigger hit?
I feel the entire second Veronicas album should have been more successful in the US. I did 9 songs on the album and we had 5 hit singles in Australia but only one in the US. Songs like This Love and This Is How It Feels should have been singles I feel. We are now wrapping up the third Veronicas album and I am very excited about the record. We have written for almost three years on this, on and off, and have gone through so many A&R changes but I think it’s a great team now and I hope that this will be their best record yet.
What do you think music will sound like in 2012?
You know what I hope for!
And on that mysterious note, thank you Toby! Find out more about him and his work on his official website.
Toby is one of my heroes! Thanks for the interview, and good luck to him!