The Ups and Downs of The Music Industry With Gary Pinto
Success in the music industry doesn’t come without its own set of struggles and no one knows that better than Melbourne-based musician, Gary Pinto.
Despite holding an ARIA award along with his brother and former band mates from CDB and being able to enjoy success that initially came quite easily to Gary Pinto and the band, he has not been immune to the struggles that a career in such a competitive industry can bring.Sitting comfortably on a large, mahogany lounge in his suburban Melbourne home and looking a little tired from a supremely busy day before, Gary shakes his head with a joyful smile at his phone buzzing with messages. “I’ve been so busy, just flat out,” he says as if in explanation.
Currently Gary works on a myriad of projects including Channel 7′s X-factor as a vocal mentor, a backing vocalist for many of Australia’s highest charting artists such as Stan Walker and Jimmy Barnes and is about to embark on a national tour with Guy Sebastian. He has just finished producing his wife Natasha’s album as well involving himself in writing songs with other artists. More personally, he is involved in catechesis work with the Catholic Church while trying to find the right balance to make way for friends, family and marriage.
It is easy to see just how busy his life is.
Gary exudes a welcoming and charismatic vibe as he chats happily about himself as a rogue teenager who was part of a dance group with his brother Brad Pinto and two friends, Andrew De Silva and Danny Williams.
“We started off as a dance group. A dance group of graffiti artists,” he admits with a bashful chuckle. “I graffitied on everything. My tag was ‘Impackt’,” he adds showing his own amusement with his past.
“We named the group CDB,” he says, turning serious. “It didn’t mean anything it was just three letters that looked good together. Then we thought up ‘Critically Def Boys’ it went through many changes, next it was ‘Criminally Dope Brothers’ and then it eventually evolved in to ‘Create, Dream, Believe’,” he explains.
The band performed at underage gigs, at Indian dances and on demand for family and friends.
The first big break for the band came when Gary was 16 years old in 1992. He was approached by a bass guitarist who asked if they would be interested in performing with Peter Andre on the Steve Vizard Show.
“We went back to the studio with Peter Andre and recorded backing vocals for his album and then Molly Meldrum picked up on us and took us to over to Mushroom [records], signed us and then the fun began,” he explains.
CDB rode the wave of success alongside Peter Andre (now a high profiled personality in the United Kingdom) and enjoyed tours with Celine Dion, Madonna and in Seoul, Korea performing with John Denver in front of a viewing audience of 77 million people.
“I remember we had to sing in Korean so we learned the words while we were on the plane on the way over,” Gary reminisces brightly, continuing to try to politely ignore the flood of text messages that continually chime on his phone.
The band managed to pick up an ARIA for highest selling single of 1996 with “Let’s Groove” a cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic. Despite the success and the nation-wide popularity of CDB, they were not nominated for any other awards.
“We thought it was a rock-based culture and that was just how it was in those days,” he says.
CDB, touted as the pioneers of R&B music in Australia, were indeed swimming against the tide for recognition in a rock and grunge-centric industry with bands like Silverchair and Regurgitator dominating the charts and awards.
A roadblock in the band came at the height of their success when band member, Andrew De Silva was diagnosed with cancer.
“We were about to launch Sony India when Andrew came down with cancer and so we went on hiatus for nine months and we really didn’t know what to do. We had support for Celine Dion that we were lined up to do so we went on as three members,” Gary says.
After some change-ups and a few more roadblocks the band decided to call it quits.
After CDB, Gary was then signed to a major record label as a solo artist and began to feel the frustrations of the industry that most professional musicians experience.
“I spent two years recording and put an album together in America and spent half a million bucks on it, and it ended up on the shelf,” Gary explains. “They released one single, ‘What The Day Brings’.”
His first solo single was released and received no promotion from his record label and no release date for his first album.
“Andrew had also been signed on the same label and I think they decided, ‘we’ve got two boys from the same group on the same label here, we better ditch one.’ and so they ditched me,” he says, not seeming particularly phased these days by the treatment he received.
Despite the frustration, Gary moved on and toured with Jimmy Barnes as a backing vocalist.
“I then toured with Renee Geyer, Guy Sebastian, Marcia Hines, Diesel and still do so now, right now its Stan Walker and Jessica Mauboy.”
While stepping back behind the scenes Gary has worked as a songwriter, having a hand in penning “Taller, Stronger, Better” an ARIA number 1 single from Guy Sebastian as well as many other successful hits.
While being a backing singer has perks of its own, Gary believes that it also has its downside too.
“I enjoyed not being the one to blame if something goes wrong. It is not as much pressure, but at the same time, you do not live to your fullest potential. And this is what I’ve realised now,” he says.
The music industry proves to be an unfair one at times, with artists signed to major labels who earn significantly less than a backing vocalist, and it is this comfort that kept Gary behind the scenes for so long.
“As a backing singer I earn more than a signed artist,” he explains lost for a moment in his own disbelief over the reality of it. “Considerably more, actually. Which is ridiculous. So I guess I got used to being comfortable,” he adds.
There is not an air of pretention about him with regard to his fans of which he also considers his friends. “All the people that we met in the CDB days, they’re our friends now, they are great,” he says graciously. “Their age range is diverse, I’m very blessed.”
Gary’s faith in God is an integral part of his life that becomes apparent when talking to him. He speaks about his faith freely and openly and he is also currently working on two gospel albums.
“God is everything. I always say God is the electricity and if I’m not connected to Christ, I’ve got nothing,” he says.
Long-time fan and friend of Gary Pinto is Lisa Bonnici who counts herself as blessed to have someone like Gary in her life.
“Gary’s faith surrounds him and it guides him in his daily life and it flows seamlessly in to his music, in to his sound and in to the stories that he shares through his lyrics,” she says.
Lisa believes that Gary has a very special musical gift. “His voice and the music he releases is soulful, captivating, spiritual and raw. He has such a power to mesmerise and uplift his audience.”
Gary doesn’t believe that his faith has any negative effects on how those within his industry perceive him. “If you live your life authentically, there’s no problem. And all the artists I’ve worked with – all the artists, I feel like the spirit of God is within them.”
After working behind the scenes for over a decade, Gary feels it is now time to take hold of the opportunities that seem to continually present themselves.
“I’ve got all these God-given opportunities lined up right now, so I’m just going to take them and not sit on my butt,” he says confidently.
He is just about to release an album through Sony Music.
“My friend Premo D’anger is coming out in August and I want to record with him. Guy Sebastian has written a song for me, I’ve written a song with Daniel Merriweather and right after this I’m going to record with Li’l Jon,” he says, seeming passionate about his plans.
“In the past, I think a little bit of my ego popped up when I was dropped by my label. I didn’t want to deal with any of them anymore. I got very disappointed and disillusioned with it all,” he says with mature hindsight. “I didn’t see the opportunities in a door closing and others opening.”
There is one thing that this busy musician knows for sure, and that is that to make it in the music industry these days, an artist has to be multi-faceted. “Its very hard to survive as an artist otherwise.”
“You just have to aim at the right thing with your arrow and persevere in this industry,” he says with an air of resolve.
Gary is confident about his new album and hopes to have a single on the radio within two months.
“Its all bubbling,” he adds with yet another joyful smile resurfacing upon his face again.
WRITTEN BY JESSICA TENI