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German producer and songwriter Toby Gad talks about ‘Piano Diaries’

German producer and songwriter Toby Gad chatted about “Piano Diaries.”

German producer and songwriter Toby Gad
German producer and songwriter Toby Gad. Photo Credit: Oswaldo Cepeda
German producer and songwriter Toby Gad. Photo Credit: Oswaldo Cepeda

German producer and songwriter Toby Gad chatted about “Piano Diaries.”

Background on Toby Gad

Gad is known for co-writing songs including John Legend’s biggest hit, “All of Me,” and for co-writing and producing “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie and “If I Were a Boy” by Beyoncé.

His other notable works include “Skyscraper” for Demi Lovato, “Who You Are”  for  Jessie J, “Untouched” for The Veronicas, “A Year Without Rain” for Selena Gomez & the Scene, “Don’t Hold Your Breath” for Nicole Scherzinger, “Love You More” for JLS, and “I Do” for Colbie Caillat.

How did “Piano Diaries” come about?

My entire career I kept pushing forward to the next session, the next single and the next hit. But now, for the first time, I have arrived at a point in my life where I can begin to reflect on my body of work.

Songs like “All Of Me,” “If I Were A Boy,” or “Big Girls Don’t Cry” are still on the radio today but I felt the urge to re-imagine these songs in a way how I would want to record them today.

I set out to create new timeless versions by going back to the bones of the composition and recording the songs stripped down so the essence of the lyric can really shine through. I feel if I put a lot of effort into playing the piano in a way that it completely carries the vocal throughout the song, I don’t need a lot of other instrumentation.

It was an interesting experimental phase for each song where I would play twenty piano takes one day, then two days later listen back and record another twenty takes, and eventually I would find a way of playing the piano that would just feel right to me, like it has always been there: Minimalist, mellow, emotional and really helping tell the story of the lyric.

This piano-vocal version, which I call the “Piano Diaries” version, was then the augmented by a sparse string arrangement by a friend of mine, Lauren Conklin. She adds a lot of emotion but her strings usually don’t start until the second chorus when I want to build the music a little more.

Once that’s done, I embark on a series of remixes for each song. Recently I have worked with a number of DJ’s and I have gotten a feel for the dance world, so I felt empowered to create versions of the song that can live in the EDM world, in the Trance, House, Hyper-pop and even the Bachata world, and all places where people go to dance.

We are planning the album mid 2024 and Big Girls Don’t Cry is the first of many singles we are releasing on Kite Records. It features the beautiful silky voice of American TV-Star and singer Victoria Justice.

What was it like to collaborate with Victoria Justice on “Big Girls Don’t Cry”?

When I spoke with Victoria about Piano Diaries, she picked Big Girl’s Don’t Cry and said that this song impacted her when she was growing up and she was emotionally attached to it.

After her Global TV hit show “Victorious” she did a lot of acting but recently she began releasing songs again. I have worked with Victoria on songs for the Victorious show (“All I Want Is Everything”) and on two United Nations campaign songs. “Girl Up” was a song we released to empower young girls around the world.

“Love Song To The Earth” was a song I wrote with Natasha Bedingfield, Sean Paul, and John Shanks that featured Paul McCartney, Sherryl Crow, Jon Bon Jovi, Victoria and a dozen other stars.

We performed this song for the Paris Climate accord after the Pope spoke on the national Mall in Washington DC by the Capitol building.

There have been many bonding experiences with Victoria over the years.
Listening to Victoria’s new songs I was excited to hear how she embraces her soft, silky voice in such a beautiful modern way and I could not wait to hear her voice on “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

For “Piano Diaries,” I want to make sure to record the new versions in ways that
sound very different from the original. After I had mixed Victoria’s vocal and she came over for a first listen, we both got chills.

What inspires your music and songwriting?

Most of my songs are inspired by real life. Often, I start song writing sessions with a conversation with my collaborating artist about how they feel that day, or what is on their mind currently.

This conversation then can go on for a while until we stumble over a memorable sentence, such as “If I Were a Boy.” Once a sentence appears that feels truly
unique, I usually feel a strong natural urge to drill into this subject and turn it into a song.

From thereon it can go fast. My songs like “All of Me,” “Gig Girls Don’t Cry,’ or “If I Were a Boy” were all written in less than two hours.

How does it feel to be an artist in the digital age? (Now with streaming, technology
and social media being so prevalent)

I have always had the desire to be an artist and in fact, started out as an artist in a band with my brother called “Q-nrg.”

We were not very successful, but nevertheless P-Funk legend George Clinton was so impressed with us two teenagers that he invited us to jam three songs with him on his concert in Munich and invited us to come to America.

I wish I had pursued that invitation. It took another decade before I found the courage and got the savings together to make the move to New York. Back then our first album release was still in vinyl.

Cutting a vinyl record was a laborious process and our producer, Frank Farian, had
one of these million-dollar machines that could cut vinyl records, which would then get delivered to a press from which all the other vinyl would be manufactured.

I am an environmentalist and it always irked me that most vinyl and most CD’s were creating so much trash after listeners don’t want them anymore. Streaming has eliminated all that.

Back in the day, record labels had to invest a fortune just to create the records, distribute them to the stores, create a music video and work on promoting it. These days social media campaigns that artists can do on their own platforms with their own followers, can work miracles.

So, I am excited to release “Piano Diaries” on my indie label Kite Records and I am
looking forward to performing again.

How do you use technology in your daily routine as a musician?

I work on Logic Pro. I have worked with Logic pretty much all my artist-life, since the days when it was just a primitive sequencing program on an Atari computer in black and white. It is remarkable how this program has evolved. I still play a lot of instruments myself on the records. I love pianos.

The piano is a dream to play. I also play guitars and bass on many of my songs but for the “Piano Diaries” remixes I used a lot of programming with Kontakt, Massive, Splice, Spire, and Nexus.

Out of all the songs you’ve ever written, which is your personal favorite?

I love the rebellious nature of “Untouched,” a song I wrote with The Veronicas originally and which am really excited to reinvent in Spring.

What does the word success mean to you?

When I was at the peak of my success, receiving my second ASCAP Song of the Year award and Grammy nominations, even a few Grammy-wins, I was quite stressed-out and I put constant pressure on myself to climb higher and higher, work harder and harder.

I could not really enjoy the successes at the time and in 2015 it became all too much. I was in the studio with Madonna and Diplo working five weeks on her album and at the same time I finished an album with Leona Lewis.

That was also the time when “All of Me” became a global hit and I realized that my calendar was booked solid for the next months and it gave me anxiety. I began to dream about cancelling everything.

I began to crave being that ten-year-old boy again who would just drift around on a bicycle, riding through the woods and discovering things along the way.

I longed for that freedom, that spontaneity. That’s when I took the plunge and told the music world that Toby Gad was not writing songs anymore. I needed to catch up on life, spend quality time with my family, learn to surf and renovate houses.

Looking back now at these off years, it made a lot of sense and I am happy for
the new perspective that it gave me. In 2022, I served as a judge on German Idol (DSDS).

It was a lot of television; eighteen primetime Saturday night shows and I loved every minute of it. I loved being celebrated by my home-country for my American accomplishments and that motivated me to re-focus on music, my lifelong pursuit and passion.

What would you like to tell our readers about the “Piano Diaries”? (What’s the one
thing you want them to get out of it)

Many people I meet have very specific personal memories attached to my songs. “All Of Me” became a wedding song for many. “If I Were A Boy” gave people a feeling of empowerment.

It makes me feel so blessed to be part of peoples’ memories and experiences in that way and with Piano Diaries I hope these memories live on and new ones are created.

To learn more about Toby Gad, check out his official website, and follow him on Instagram.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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