An Interview with Alina Smith, LYRE - 9/7/2021
Interview by Claire Liu - Illinois, USA
The music production industry is notoriously male dominated, as shown by a 2018 Statista study which indicates that 97.7% of music producers in the U.S. at that time identified as male. Still, there are hugely prominent and leading female music producers representing change in the field and working to balance this statistic. Two of the most widely celebrated artists in this group are Alina Smith and Elli Moore, also known as the duo, LYRE, an all-female production and songwriting team that has worked with a variety of artists around the world such as ITZY, Betty Who, Red Velvet, Kirstin Maldonado, and many other incredible artists and influencers to create some of the most popular songs worldwide.
While LYRE are currently based in L.A., Smith was born and raised in Russia. She credits her parents for her early start into academics and the arts, stating that music has been a part of her for almost her entire life. This was especially supported by her role as a vocalist in the music group, "Aurora," which she began touring with from the age of about 7 or 8. "It was one of those things where I loved music as a kid and I got kind of thrown into it as well by being in this group... I never really even considered doing something else... this is what I do," Smith said.
Despite her experiences and skills, Smith's aspiration of working as a professional singer encountered many difficulties and she worked for around ten years without getting many projects going. "To be an artist it requires a lot more than talent. It requires a certain amount of training in writing and creating music that is really difficult to get," Smith stated. She also cited her lack of connections and financial stability as a young immigrant to the U.S. as major factors that led to scarce opportunities and mentors that would help her career to take off. "When you're new nobody wants to work with you but to become really good you need to work with people that are really good. It's like a Catch-22," Smith said.
Nevertheless, Smith believes that these experiences pushed her to work harder and sharpen her skills. "The good thing that came out of it though, is that I kind of figured out how to write and produce and do all of those things by myself," Smith recalled. After she started writing for other artists, and dabbling into K-pop especially, she found that this was what worked for her and experienced greater support in the industry. "Really improve your writing and your production, because that can lead to great places," Smith advised.
As a self-taught producer, Smith was forced to find resources and practice producing through immense amounts of time in the studio. "When I first taught myself production, it was a really long journey... it comes down to hours and hours and hundreds and thousands of hours of experience of just doing it, as unglamorous as it sounds," Smith remembered. With the plethora of new resources that are easily available on platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, she encourages aspiring music producers and songwriters to take advantage of free or inexpensive resources and practice producing music to the best of their ability in a multitude of sessions. "There are so many people just putting really great content out there you just have to look and you don't even have to look that hard, it's literally all out there," Smith stated. This is especially true with the work Smith creates on LYRE's platform, which features many tutorials, tips, and tricks to working with different forms of music production in pop music.
The duo of LYRE met early on as roommates at a shared house in Nashville, Tennessee. While they were both pursuing careers in music at the time, they didn't start working together until their friendship had already grown strong. "We weren't collaborating for a long time. We were friends for two years, that's what our collaboration is based on. Just being really great fricking friends... it's not based on any sort of transactional relationship," Smith said. Once they eventually decided to begin their collaboration, the decision to move to L.A. and to work to establish themselves there professionally came about organically.
"It was really natural and really messy... I think it's really important to take messy action as opposed to waiting for things to be perfect," Smith commented. She admits that she is naturally a bit of a perfectionist and although this was a difficult decision to get behind, she is proud and happy that she chose to do it. "I wanted my music to be perfect... and the thing is, things are rarely perfect. Even in situations that seem perfect from the outside, they never are," Smith stated.
While the majority of Smith's experience and work in Nashville was centered in country music, she began exploring pop music to help Moore on an artist project she was working on at the time. "We just had so much fun... we just had the best time," Smith recalled. She began broadening and refocusing her work in the pop genre, realizing that her new music brought her much more happiness and excitement. However, many of the songs Smith and Moore pitched to their publisher were rejected by labels, including a massive artist project Smith had been developing for a number of years. The publisher gave her an ultimatum, stating that she had to get songs written for other artists or she would be dropped.
Fortunately, Smith recalled opportunities outside of the U.S. that she had worked on in the past. "I remembered that back when I was a teenager, I had a couple of songs recorded in Japan. It just kind of happened naturally, I just collaborated with somebody and he just got them cut in Japan because he was an established producer there," Smith said. She and Moore discussed pitching their work to pop industries in Asia, as both of them were already fans of the music there despite Asian pop music being largely overlooked at the time. They began sending their work there and hit a streak, getting a few songs on hold and a few songs to be recorded within a couple of months.
After receiving some success in that direction, Moore and Smith decided to keep pursuing their path in pop music. "As we kept it up, we realized 'yeah Nashville's not really our place. We're not very understood or seen here,'" Smith stated. The duo moved to L.A. less than a year after they had started working together professionally and started working on greater opportunities in pop music within the American and Asian pop industries. They eventually named themselves LYRE after the muse of lyric poetry in Greek mythology, Erato, who they viewed as essentially "an archetype for a songwriter" as she accompanied herself on the lyre while delivering very personal and poetic stories.
Nowadays, LYRE work on a variety of projects including American pop music and K-pop, but also encompassing many genres such as R&B and hip hop. "Our center is pop but we definitely take inspiration from different genres," Smith stated. Both Smith and Moore are also working as individual artists, as Moore recently released her EP, "2000s Teen," and Moore has an artist project in development. In terms of working with other artists, they are both on the lookout for people who can bring an unusual or a new perspective to the table and have something that excites them. "It just has to be somebody who really interests us in some way. They have something interesting to say, or they have a really cool voice, or they have a really cool story. There really is no formula for that, you just kind of go with your gut," Smith stated.
The two have contributed to a vast array of songs, ranging from some of the top tracks in K-pop to work with U.S. media influencers. "As far as our favorites, I would definitely say it's stuff like Red Velvet and 'Mafia in the Morning,'" Smith commented. "There's a lot of work that we've done with influencers that was really interesting in how it came about." She cited a specific experience working with an influencer to write a song that tied in a promotion with the artist's makeup palette as an especially fun and interesting project to work on.
Although LYRE currently experience global success from their work in both the U.S. pop and K-pop industries, they have also overcome immense obstacles, including sexism. "Back in the day we really did [experience discrimination], things are a little bit better now because everybody is bringing this to light and talking about it but there was not a lot of education back then," Smith said. "A lot of people were very surprised of seeing two women walk in the studio and being fully capable of taking care of the writing and the track."
"We had a lot of even well meaning comments from male collaborators that were like 'wow sounds so good i was looking for the guy hiding other the desk,'" Smith recalled. She stated that although they haven't heard these forms of microaggressions and comments in a long time, the experiences and memories can still hurt. Nonetheless, Smith and Moore have continued to persevere and work for their success in the industry. "We are women and we bring a feminine approach, but at the end of the day we're writers and producers. We come in and we do the job," Smith stated. "There's really no reason women can't do this... it just takes a patient person, regardless of their gender. But I am excited to see more girls and women showing interest in it."
When facing discrimination, Smith encourages other artists to work through their emotions rather than repressing them. "It hurts and it's okay that it hurts... don't suppress your pain, don't try to hide from it. It's not okay... it sucks and it's okay that it sucks... it's okay to be upset by these things," Smith advised. She admits that it is easy to focus on negativity, as those comments are much "stickier" than positive comments. "Focus on you and your worth and what you know you can do," Smith encouraged. While there is no easy answer to encountering discrimination, Smith emphasized the importance of working through it internally, focusing on one's self-worth, seeking outside help if needed, and connecting with kind and supportive people. "It's just going to take time, it's going to take all of us working towards a better future. Men, women, people of all genders, and it will get better," Smith said. After seeing the progress that has taken place over the past decade, she is confident in the change that will continue to take place through work, effort, and time.
As Elli continues to work on her artist projects, Alina will be taking on the majority of the educational content that LYRE produces in the future. She is currently planning to create a course for pop and/or K-pop production and has been releasing content on YouTube and TikTok to gage what their audiences want to learn. "I've been working on it for a while and it's something that's probably going to be released next year... I'm always excited to bring more education to the community," Smith stated. These classes and resources are extremely important as Smith is able to provide real-time, realistic advice and insight into the music industry and professional work. "This is a very confusing industry... nobody has a concrete plan. Things change, things shift, you have to just kind of roll with it. I'm excited to be able to support other people in this journey as well," Smith said.
Additionally, Smith will also continue working on her own artist projects, branching off from the EP she released earlier this year. "It is a new journey for me and this is something that is very exciting for me because it's what I've wanted to do for a very long time, I just didn't have the resources," Smith commented. "It's pretty much been 17 years of me grinding on this thing... To me, it's really important to show that a woman who isn't 14 can do this. Can launch a project and have it matter in the world and have it be something that a lot of people can connect to."
As modern pop music places immense emphasis on youth and teenagers, Smith hopes to expand the importance and opportunities of creation to a wider range of artists. While she believes that it is good for young people to have a voice, there is a toxic understanding that middle-aged artists have little future in music, especially if they have not been working in the industry from a very young age. This results in a pressure for older artists to imitate younger artists, trying to look youthful and sing about the same things that younger artists sing about, without being genuine to themselves. Although she understands these tensions and pressures from the industry, Smith hopes to create the work that she wants to share and help others realize the possibilities of the future. "I want to see more people of all ages, all genders, all [skin] colors presenting their story... There are narrow perspectives being presented right now so I definitely want to break that with what I release," Smith stated.
This is set to be the next stage of Smith's career and her journey with LYRE. "I hope it's a permission for others to do the same... to speak their truth actually, and not embellish, not hide it," Smith said. By sharing her honest and real story, she hopes to encourage others to do the same. From their respective artist projects to the music content and courses LYRE will continue to release in the future, Smith and Moore are making incredible impacts on the music industry in both educational and creative aspects. The progression towards a more diverse and genuine industry is under way through their continued work, effort, and releases.
This or That with Alina Smith:
1. Books or movies? - Books (huge bookworm and she has a book in the works!)
2. Winter or summer? - Winter
3. Singing or dancing? - Singing
4. Cake or pie? - Pie (pumpkin especially)
5. Chocolate or vanilla? - Chocolate
Connect and follow LYRE at the following links:
LYRE Website: https://www.lyreofficial.com/
LYRE Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lyreofficial/?hl=en
LYRE Twitter: https://twitter.com/lyre_official?lang=en
LYRE YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmlAWWcwqyq6pJNsrSAk45g
Alina's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thealinasmith/?hl=en
Elli's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ellimoore/?hl=en
Check out some of the music mentioned in the article!
2000s Teen, Alina's EP: https://smarturl.it/2000sTeen
"Mafia in the Morning," ITZY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ysomCGaZLw