FEATURE FRIDAY : Alina Smith talks new single, sexism in the Industry, KPOP and why the industry is going digital
Multi-hyphenate artist Alina Smith - one half of the internationally acclaimed female writing/music production duo LYRE - recently dropped “Girl That Was Perfect,” her first single in five years. In conversation with Womxn Crush Music, Smith delves into the rising trajectory of digital in music, working with digital content creators and KPOP artists as a premiere music producer, sexism in the industry, creating safe spaces for women in music and much more.
“Girl That Was Perfect” is your first single in 5 years. How did the break from your music to focus on producing for other talent help you find yourself?
Wow, what a great question. When I decided to hang up the artist towel five years ago, I didn't think I would ever come back to it. I had spent about a decade at that point, jumping from country, to pop, to R&B and having no idea of who I was musically or as a human, really, so moving away from it felt like a huge relief. But the funny thing is, the more I produced and wrote for others, the more I began to understand what hadn't worked for me as an artist in the past. For example, a few years ago I used to push some of the artists I worked with to sound like other artists in an attempt to seat them into a niche. But it became apparent very quickly, the best way to record an artist is to bring out the unique elements of their voice, not make them sound like others. It made me realize I used to do the same thing to myself. I tried to stuff myself into some arbitrary box. So, coming back to it now, my #1 motto is to keep things real. My real voice without unnatural artifacts, my real stories, and instrumentation I truly gravitate toward.
What is the message or inspiration behind the single?
I wrote GTWP about overcoming body dysmorphia and bulimia. It's something I struggled with heavily in my teens and twenties, so when I first sat down to write for myself the concept aggressively burst into my mind. It was definitely painful to write - I cried the entire time - but also such a great release. It felt like I was shining a light into this dark dusty corner of my mind. Suddenly, that corner wasn't so depressing or scary anymore.
After the break and producing for others, how has your personal sound evolved? How would you like it to evolve going forward?
Again, an awesome question. When I was an artist five years ago, I was in country music, which, being super honest, was never my true passion. I enjoy the genre, but I only chose to be in it because I thought it would make me successful. Bad move LOL. Now, with "Girl That Was Perfect" and other music I have coming up, I'm actually creating music I'm deeply excited about. If it wasn't my own, I'd still listen to it and love it, which I think is a good sign. Sonically, I'm pulling from my inspirations growing up: Michael Jackson, Usher, Alicia Keys, Pussycat Dolls. Expect aggressive pianos, lo-fi strings, and a heaping of programmed drums. It's blatant 2000's bacchanalia and I love it!
Tell me about your journey. From LYRE to becoming a premiere producer for influencers to now coming back to your own music, what was the turning point for each arc of your life in music?
Every turning point in my career has been accompanied by some turmoil. When I first decided to set aside my artist project, it was a pretty dark time for me. My team had just pitched me to every major label, and everyone said no. My publishing deal was on the line, and I was told that unless I got other artists to record my songs right away I'd be dropped. That's when Elli and I started pitching our music to K Pop. We wrote seven days a week for months and almost immediately started getting cuts (our songs recorded) in that genre. Starting LYRE with Elli truly saved me.
I'm not surprised that I'm returning to my artist project in the year of COVID. It's been incredibly tough in many ways, and a definite break in LYRE's workflow. For the first few months of quarantine, none of the artists we usually work with could come over to the studio, which freed up our schedule quite a bit. Having all this free time to think about my life trajectory made me realize I deserve another chance as an artist. It's exciting to see something that inspires me so much grow out of such a weird time. But, as they say, sh*t makes the best fertilizer.
What are the fondest memories you have of working with influencers like Niki and Gabi, Nikita Dragun, Kenzie, etc? What’s something you’ve learned working with some of today’s top creators?
I'll never forget how well-mannered Kenzie was when we first started working together. Every time I would tell her I liked a vocal take of hers she'd say, "Thank you so much!" She's always been a genuinely sweet and kind person. And the first memory I have of Nikita Dragun is her strutting into the studio with full makeup on, gorgeous pink wig swaying. I loved seeing how she was so unapologetic about who she was!
You have always worked to create safe spaces for women in the music industry. What needs to change in regards to women’s safety particularly in music?
I think there needs to be a lot more education around the topic. A lot of male producers don't realize that certain behaviors they think are funny or even complimentary are actually microaggressions against women and that, unless they specifically make efforts to make girls and women comfortable in their studios, they might not be. And, of course, there needs to be a lot more female and non-binary producers, writers and engineers! Which is why my partner Elli and I are so excited to be in this field, not only doing the work but also sharing it online. Currently, we run a Youtube channel where we share a lot of production tips and tricks, and it's always so rewarding, getting messages from young girls that are inspired by what we do.
In your own experience, what has been the most effective and empowering way to overcome sexism in the music industry?
Being good at your job! When your work is excellent, those gender presumptions that "girls can't do this or that" pop like balloons pierced with a pin.
Music is constantly evolving and particularly now with the lack of live music, the digital space has become the prime hub for musicians. In your opinion what are the pros and cons of this evolution?
Wow, you're really hitting me with some great questions. I think there's good and bad there. Obviously, for musicians that mostly make their living playing live gigs this is disastrous, and my heart goes out to them. For writers, I think it can be tough too, because the modus operandi in the industry is in-person songwriting sessions, and not a lot of people are comfortable doing those right now. I think the silver lining is the advancement of remote writing technology like Listen To by AudioMovers. I can stream my Ableton session to my collaborator in Nashville, and they hear it with minimal delay. Elli and I have written some great songs remotely during this time, which makes me hopeful for the future. So far, it's been very difficult for those that don't live in music cities like LA to be taken seriously in the writing scene. But I feel like this might change because of this remote writing revolution we're experiencing.
How do you see music in general evolving going forward? What are innovations you predict or even wish would happen?
It's been really interesting to see how the advancement in tech has made it so much easier for new musicians to enter the space. I remember back when I was starting out in like 2005, our digital audio workstations didn't have anywhere near the capabilities they do now. You really did have to rent out a professional studio to get a good-sounding song. Now you can make stuff on a laptop that sounds better than songs with $100K budgets did in the '90s. I'm hoping this ease of creation will bring us a lot more exciting new music. Music from those who back in the day could have never afforded to enter the field. It's exciting!
What qualities do you believe independent digital creators have that allow them to compete with and succeed against major label acts?
There's something insanely powerful about digital creators. You don't only get to enjoy their content, you also get to know them, which creates a strong creator-viewer connection. To give you an example, I'm obsessed with the Sims (a popular life simulator game, for those who don't know), and I watch this creator lilsimsie on Youtube make videos about the Sims. Not only do I enjoy the videos, I also enjoy seeing Kayla (lilsimsie) on a regular basis. I feel like I know her personally; it's almost like hanging with a friend.
When you're able to create this kind of bond with your audience, any music you put out will be well-received by them. But it will be especially poignant if the music reflects your personality. I've seen this a lot with Gabbie Hanna, who is a creator I work with. Her songs are deeply personal, and her fans connect to them on that personal level. It's a conversation between her heart and theirs. As a traditional media artist, especially if you're brand-new, that level of intimacy with your audience is pretty difficult to achieve.
What advice would you give a young woman who’s looking to find their footing in music?
Surround yourself with supportive women! I know there's some stigma around women being competitive around each other's success, but I think it's a big load of BS. I wouldn't be anywhere I'm at today without the love and support of my partner Elli!
You pursue a wide range of interests whether music, visual art, writing and even podcasting. How does each facet of your creative identity enrich your life?
The funny thing about pursuing a lot of creative endeavors is that the lessons you learn from each of them bleed into each other. For example, I used to be a pretty impatient songwriter, but writing a novel for almost two years now has taught me an insane level of patience, which I now apply to songwriting. Podcasting is a pretty new pursuit for me, but it's surprisingly helpful when it comes to writing my book. Interviewing people on the show makes me dig into their backstories, teaches me to understand them on a deeper level, which is a skill I can now bring to my fictional characters.
I love the idea and concept of your podcast “Crossover Creative”. What inspired the idea for it?
Thank you so much! As I've mentioned in the previous question, I'm a pretty broad creator, which is something I feel has been stigmatized a lot in our culture. There's a certain level of commodification going on. It's a lot easier to stuff people into neat little boxes - "singer", "writer", "woodworker" - as opposed to viewing them as something limitless. So, that's where my podcast "Crossover Creative" comes in. I want to shed light on the creative lives of polymaths, to let every artist tuning in know: it's okay to be your unabridged self.
What is the one struggle of being a polymath/crossover creative that not a lot of people realise or know about?
Even if you have enough time for all of your pursuits, switching constantly, bouncing between them can be very overwhelming. It's a bit of a tightrope walk. On one hand, you're getting to grow leaps and bounds and do all the things you love. But if you take one wrong step, you're tumbling into a sea of stress LOL. I talk about this a lot on the podcast: managing not only your time, but also your energy and mental health as a polymath.
Are there any other interests you’ve yet to explore completely? What’s something you’d love to delve into?
I would love to write a non-fiction self-help book! It's a genre I haven't explored before, but I do feel like I'm pretty good at writing inspirational tweets LOL. That's the fun thing about being a polymath; you never know when an idea's gonna hit you out of nowhere. I try to never question inspiration. If it speaks clearly enough, I know I have to pursue it, whatever it is.
What’s been the most memorable or surreal moment in your career so far? What’s next for you?
It was pretty cool when Gabbie Hanna's songs "Honestly" and "Honestly (Encore)" went #1 on iTunes and beat out artists like Drake and Cardi B on the chart. They were the first songs we created with her, so Elli and I had no idea what to expect. It definitely wasn't this.
My next big goal is to finish writing my book "Influencer". I'm currently on draft 2, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whatever happens to it, it will be a great feeling just to have a finished manuscript in my hands!
If you had to condense the incredibly diverse career journey you’ve had into three words, what would they be and why?
Weirdo Strikes Back. I feel like a lot of artistic people feel like outcasts growing up, and I was definitely one of them. I wasn't exactly bullied - I was tall and mouthed off at anyone that tried - but it still left a residue on my mind, that feeling of not fitting into any group, knowing that a lot of my peers didn't connect with me. I spent my 20's just trying to get people to like me. It feels amazing being in a place now where I can be my full self and not care if anyone thinks I'm too out there.
Finally what’s one question no one asks you in an interview you wish you were asked?
People don't usually ask me what I do for fun. I think it's easy to assume I'm this robotic person, who works 24/7, but that's completely untrue. For me, it's really important to unwind and feed my creative brain with some things that inspire me. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and I love anything themed to the books: HP puzzles, HP video games, HP humor on Youtube. I also really love reading, especially fantasy and sci-fi genres: anything that helps me re-envision the world! As an ex-workaholic, I have to confess: learning to relax has been hard, but it's also been a huge boost to my creativity. The more I allow myself to just be, the better my art becomes. If there's one thing I could impart to other artists it's that you don't need to create from open wounds. Let your scars inspire you, but keep 'em closed, for goodness sake, and enjoy your life.
Written by Malvika Padin
Malvika is a freelance music journalist and publicist based in London and born in India. Currently the Editorial Coordinator at #WCM, she is also the Online Editor for alternative music magazine Discovered and one of the admins of Facebook journalism community 'The Journalist', founded by German-Indian journalist Johannes Koch. Malvika is most passionate about giving rising artists a chance to shine, and is also keen to focus on diversity and people of colour in the creative space. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org: Twitter/Instagram : @malvika_padin26
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