Arts and Entertainment

Ex-Microsoftie pursues his singing dream

Former Microsoft employee George Santino belts out a tune. - Courtesy Photo
Former Microsoft employee George Santino belts out a tune.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

George Santino’s dream since he was a kid was to become a professional singer.

His father liked to sing, and whenever they were out and about, the elder Santino would have his son sing if they ever came across anyone playing the piano or any other type of music. His father’s hope, Santino said, was that Santino would be discovered. After an entire childhood of this, Santino decided to pursue his dream after high school.

But things didn’t turn out how he pictured them.

“I found out that there are a lot of people out there who can sing,” he said.

Santino, who grew up in Philadelphia and Florida, got a few gigs but not enough for him to be able to eat — something he enjoyed doing as much as singing. So he got a job at Microsoft Corp., first in San Jose, Calif. and then in Redmond. He spent 20 years working in the tech company’s software testing department before retiring at the end of 2011 at the age of 55.

Since then the Woodinville resident, now 58, has gone back to chasing his dream of becoming a professional singer.

In mid-2011, leading up to his retirement, Santino met with Erich Benedict, who owns and runs a recording studio called With an H Media in Kirkland. Benedict recommended Santino take a few singing lessons after he heard him sing and within a few months of his leaving Microsoft, Santino recorded an album: “Come Fly With Me,” a collection of Frank Sinatra covers.

Santino said he initially recorded it as a Christmas present for his mother but since the work was already done, he and Benedict decided to release the album online just to see how it would do.

The first song released off the album was “That’s Life” on April 24, 2012. It became the No. 1 hot new swing jazz release on Amazon.

“I was actually shocked that we put it out there and people enjoyed it,” Santino said.

The entire Sinatra cover album was released May 15, 2012.

Up to that point, the crooner-style singer had only performed cover music. But for his second album, “The Magic of Christmas,” Santino tried his hand at songwriting with a song by the same title. The single was released online Oct. 23, 2012 and the album was released Nov. 1, 2012. In addition, Benedict wrote and produced a video for Santino’s holiday song, which has received more than 214,000 views on YouTube — another shocker for Santino.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” he said about everything that has happened to him in the last few years.

Since he spent 20 years in an established career in the tech industry, Santino said he doesn’t have the pressure most singers do to make a living off their music.

“(I’m) hardly working,” he said. “I’m just singing.”

Santino said if he were trying to make a living off his music, he would most likely have to take jobs performing in places where he is basically a “human jukebox” and just background noise. Instead, he can take jobs where he is performing for an audience that wants to be entertained.

Currently, that audience has been at Pizzeria Guido & Wine Bar at 15600 N.E. 8th St. in Bellevue. He performed there last month and is set to perform again at 7 p.m. April 10 and May 8.

At these gigs, Benedict accompanies Santino on the piano. Benedict did most of the instrumental work on Santino’s albums, recording himself playing various instruments to produce that “big band” sound the singer wanted for his music.

A self-described old-school rocker who enjoys the tunes of Elton John and The Beatles, Benedict said Santino’s love for music and singing was contagious.

“Working with George is great,” Benedict said. “His enthusiasm really inspired me.”

Santino is currently living his dream of being a professional singer. It may have taken him a while, but he said that’s fine. There are times when a person needs to be practical and do what needs to be done to take care of themselves and their family, he said.

“I think it’s OK to postpone your dreams...but it’s not OK to cancel them,” said Santino, who is working on his third album, which will feature six original songs and six covers.

He added that even if this second career of his had not happened, he still would have music in his life such as singing in a community choir. Santino said it is important to go after your dreams, even if you don’t get paid, pointing out that people can seek out volunteer positions and other opportunities.

“Always find a way to make (your dreams) a part of your life,” he said.

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