LYRE on Being Women in the Music Industry, Working with Betty Who and Kenzie Ziegler, and Quarantine
"I think what’s awesome about our name is that we didn’t give it any female connotation. When you get a track from LYRE, you don’t know who that’s actually from. You’ll just listen to the track with open ears regardless of who it is. Our goal as a team is kind of just to make music that’s amazing no matter what our personal backgrounds are."
The producers behind hit songs from artists like Kenzie Ziegler, Betty Who, Gabbie Hanna, Niki & Gabi, and more is LYRE, a female writing duo. Conquering the niche of "Youtube music," LYRE has established their sound and their signature style in the music industry, while still being musically eclectic enough to produce country to K-Pop. We were able to sit down with Elli Moore and Alina Smith to talk about being female producers in the music industry, and why they gravitate towards working with Youtubers.
Where are you guys from initially and how did you meet? I know a lot of people think that you’re sisters.
Elli: No we are not sisters. In our hearts we’re sisters! I’m originally from Charleston, South Carolina so I’m an east coast baby. I feel like over a few years I just started getting closer to the west coast and we met in Nashville, so I lived there for a little. Now I live here in Los Angeles!
Alina: I was born in Russia and I lived in Las Vegas, LA, Nashville, New York, etc, and now I’m back here in LA.
Elli: We’re definitely family though. Like I said, we met in Nashville. We were initially roommates which was super fun and we’ve since then just done that off and on kind of. We were both artists so we met through mutual friends who said that we should get together to write. We were roommates for a while before we even wrote together.
Alina: I think the first time we ever wrote together I was lying on your bed and you told me about a song that you were stuck on so I said, “I know what to do!” Haha.
Elli: We were doing country music at the time so everything between our friendship and in our songwriting has always been very bare-boned, and we still do that.
Alina: We still start on piano or guitar and we songwrite before we make a track.
Elli: We ended up joining forces when I decided I wanted to do pop music. I was writing with a bunch of people and it just wasn’t going very well. Alina was like, “Hey if you want to work with me we can try some pop tracks out,” and she was super down to help me. From there we were just never separated. I was at her house every day from probably 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Alina: We were working on your projects and then we started working on pitching songs to K-Pop. We had some K-Pop artists we worked with and when that was going well, we moved more into pop music.
Elli: All versions of pop, because we were just doing global pop at that time. We were writing for different artists in Australia as well as K-Pop.
Alina: We were doing a lot of different stuff. We were kind of doing anything and everything at the time.
What was the transition of writing country to then writing K-Pop like?
Alina: Actually it really wasn’t that weird for me because my very first cut, or a song that another artist recorded of mine, was when I was 18 and it was actually a J-Pop, Japanese Pop, song. So I did global pop before I did country. For me it was very natural returning back to work I had done a while ago, but I think for Elli it was totally new.
Elli: It was so new for me and honestly I wasn’t educated on global pop and I really wasn’t aware of how impactful and how incredible the genres were. When we moved here, the experiences I got to have were pretty incredible. We went to Romania and wrote for a Romanian artist and just completely dove into that. It’s incredible to get to work on so many different types of projects. Country to K-Pop was definitely a big cultural change for me, but I’m so glad that I’ve been able to work with so many great artists in different genres.
Who are some of your favorite country artists?
Elli: My yee-haw turns the hell up when I hear country and it’s funny because while country is such a big part of who I am being from the south, I don’t think that I as an artist made the most sense in country music. But if you put on Shania Twain or Rascal Flatts then you’ll see something different in me. Like “Damn she’s ready to drive a truck and go muddin’!”
Alina: I think for you there’s definitely a part of your soul that really loves country. From being southern.
Elli: Yeah! Like the Dixie Chicks…are we kidding? That just got me excited haha. We just recently wrote a song for a digital creator. She wanted to kind of do like a barefoot blue jean night type of song. I don’t know why but just stepping away from country for a hot second has made me really love it. That song just flowed out.
What music was played around your houses growing up?
Alina: In my house, growing up it was a lot of classical music and opera, and then in my room I was bumpin’ Usher and Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys! My room was just bumpin’ lots of early 2000s pop and R&B. That is what I grew up doing. That is like my number one love musically and I get so excited when I hear that type of music. Like Elli said for country, that’s when you’ll see a different side of me.
Elli: It’s like her workout music. You’ll get so stoked for your workout music, like you’ll stop a workout to just play music.
Alina: For sure for sure.
Elli: I’ve been really influenced by like what I grew up on, and that was Disney Channel. I was such a huge fan of Raven-Symoné, and Hilary Duff. Just all the Disney kids that were iconic. The early 2000s just made stars. It was really a factory of stars. Just incredible. 10/10. Like Hannah Montana…their minds. Who did that?
I saw that cover that you and Kenzie did of “If We Were a Movie!”
Elli: Ahh! It’s so good. I watched the Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Tour, featuring the Jonas Brothers the other day and cried! Like I cried. It’s so good. I also listened to people that weren’t on Disney Channel like Britney Spears growing up. I think Disney Stars really are where a lot of my big influences as to why I am the artist that I am came from. I just loved how happy they all were.
Alina: It was so high energy and so fun.
That track that you recently did with Betty Who was also very reminiscent of the early 2000s! Major Britney Spears vibes.
Alina: It really was! That’s what she wanted. At some point I want to pull up the session and make a video where I just show all of the vocal layers. I just wanna show people the 60/70 stacks of vocals for that track.
Elli: The work in that track was insane.
Once you start layering you wanna keep layering!
Alina: It’s true! Well for that sound you kind of have to. You create that with lots of layers and several voices. There’s even male voices in there.
How do you guys feel about the obvious inequality for women in the music industry, especially the production realm? Linda Perry was the first woman to be nominated for Producer of the Year in about 15 years, and there’s never been a female win for that award.
Alina: I feel like I need to put that on a goal list! I didn’t know that.
It’s insane. Out of all the years of the Grammy’s there’s never been a female win.
Elli: Oh yeah. New goal!
How has this affected you guys?
Elli: I think the worst part about that is that it’s never verbally said as much as it’s conveyed through actions and being passed on opportunities. I think what’s awesome about our name is that we didn’t give it any female connotation. When you get a track from LYRE, you don’t know who that’s actually from. You’ll just listen to the track with open ears regardless of who it is. Our goal as a team is kind of just to make music that’s amazing no matter what our personal backgrounds are. We just want to create amazing music.
Alina: I think that our feminism is more so conveyed through action rather than speech. I feel like us being female producers and not caring what people say and doing our own thing is a better message than talking about how we’ve been treated unfairly. I’m not sure if we’ve really been treated unfairly. Maybe in the beginning there were moments where we felt judged because we were females.
Elli: There’s definitely been moments. There was a time where Alina and I loved to match and we would coordinate outfits.
Alina: We used to dress really cute.
Elli: We used to dress up. We would wear the winged liner, the Ariana Grande boots.
Alina: We actually looked like Arianators.
Elli: I think that was respected by a lot of people but there was actually one instance where a man had a home studio, and put his kids to bed and said goodnight to his wife. He looked at Alina and was like, “Well these are some sexy boots that you’re wearing.”
Alina: He like touched the boot! Which was so professionally creepy.
Elli: Women usually feel a lot more cornered in situations where they’re alone. But it’s crazy that people will go to those extremes with someone sitting right there. But this was like five years ago when we first started.
Alina: But this hasn’t happened in a while. Like three to four years.
Elli: Which is amazing and I think that really speaks to the strides we’re taking to highlight women. Like making writing camps that are predominantly female focused, and then having the final product be entirely female created. The topliners, the artists, the producers, the mixing engineers. It’s so cool that we get to be a part of that movement. To get to pave a way and create a conversation.
How did you guys come up with the name LYRE?
Alina: A lyre is a handheld harp. It’s an older instrument that was used in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. I just really really liked the name. It’s also associated with one of the 9 muses from Greek mythology and it’s specifically associated with the use of lyrics and poetry. You could say that’s an early form of songwriting. They would play the harp and speak poetry. We just thought it had a really cool history and it was beautiful, so that’s what we used!
Elli: I love the idea that this has so much forethought on her end. She called me and she asked what I thought about the name LYRE. I was like, “whatever.” Obviously I grew to love the story, but I think I was 18 when we came up with the name.
How did you guys get immersed in the Youtube/music crossover realm?
Elli: It’s really such a small crossover.
Alina: It’s a niche for sure.
Elli: We really enjoy it. They bring such a different perspective to work.
Alina: We learn a lot from them honestly. I really enjoy working with digital creators because they usually have such a boss mindset. They create their own content, they create their own merch, they schedule their own stuff. I think in the entertainment industry, a lot of artists just rely on their managers and people on their business team.
Elli: It’s very self sufficient.
Alina: It’s so fun to have them go, “Oh cool I’m gonna release that in 2 weeks!” Instead of on a label, where it can be kind of a process.
To tie it back to our charity, that’s really one of the things I admire the most about drag. The queens are really doing everything themselves. That entrepreneurial quality and that drive is so admirable, and honestly I feel like that’s why I most connect to drag. It’s really something I aspire to do with my own work.
Elli: It’s really cool that you started this project from a pure admiration standpoint as a fan.
Alina: It’s really inspiring, it’s so cool.
Thank you! Were there any particularly unique or serendipitous writing experiences that stuck with you?
Elli: Every artist that we work with is so different. For someone like Kenzie, who has really matured over the course of us working with her -
Alina: Well we started working with her when she was 12 and now she’s 16. So that’s a huge difference.
Elli: Gabbie is also obviously super creative, but I think every experience is super different. I feel like it’s very collaborative in the sense of Kenzie, where everyone’s really throwing ideas around. Something I really respect about Gabbie is that she puts a lot of time into her craft before coming in. When she comes in she knows the idea that she wants to flush out, and she’s very concrete about her ideas before she comes in. Like she’ll have a dream, and then book a session to get out those ideas. Everybody does stuff very differently.
Alina: Sometimes it’s something from their soul, like with Gabbie, or sometimes it’s a cool marketing thing like the song we did with Adelaine Morin that was based around her makeup palette. We did a song called “Yellow” based around that launch. She just came in with a lot of lyrics and wanted to make a really fun and sunny sounding song. Sometimes there’s a task and a goal, and sometimes we really just create whatever comes to mind. I think every creator really knows what they want.
Elli: And what their brand is too.
Alina: Whether they want to experiment, or coming in to create a song to grow the release of their makeup palette.
A lot of those artists are starting off not working in the music industry at all. For Gabbie Hanna, I’ve seen her grow so much, as well as Kenzie growing from Dance Moms to now killing it in music.
Elli: It’s really fulfilling for us to have people recognize the growth that the artists have made. While we’re a big part of that, it’s really a lot of them as well. Moving forward with their lives, going through new experiences, and really opening up about those new experiences in sessions.
Alina: We make sure to connect with them as people as well. We make sure to see where they’re at, what’s going on in life, and we’ll really chat for a long time with them to get a vibe.
Elli: We’re also just close friends with them because we’re constantly in the know of what’s going on in their lives.
Alina: I love how you just love talking to Kenzie’s mom.
Elli: Kenzie’s mom is kind of my favorite.
Alina: I really love the artists we work with. It takes a while to get to know somebody, but the more we work together the more we get to know them. Everything really takes time, so we don’t usually like going from person to person and working with a ton of people but not knowing their backgrounds.
But you guys are definitely one of the direct causes for their musical growth which is really cool to see!
Elli: Thank you so much! I feel like in traditional music, the producers are usually overlooked. It’s been so amazing to see how supportive the digital audience has been. Our artists as well are just always giving us credit. We can’t ask for anything better than that.
Usually Alina covers production while Elli writes with artists. What connects you guys to those roles and are they interchangeable per session?
Elli: We both topline, that’s at the core of what we do. So we both write the song together. I do a lot of artist development. A lot of the time while she’s working on the track, I talk to the artist and really flush out ideas with them. As an artist I know that I really love when people take the time to dig with me and really see how I want to say something, versus the first thing that comes to mind. I’m really working with the artist to see how they want to say certain things while she’s really digging into that sound and making it perfect. Our roles are kind of what they are because of my skill set, [I don’t produce] but Alina’s a beast. I could go on about her for hours.
Alina: Thank you. And you’ve honestly just grown to be such an amazing writer. I think when we were younger, I was trying to do a lot of it. There’s a big age gap between us, I’m 9 years older. I think she’s grown into such an awesome writer and it really just helps me a lot. For her stuff, we usually don’t even focus on the track first, we just write. We just sit there as two songwriters and write. Then we dig into the track. But for other artists it just makes more sense to do the track while she works with the artist.
Elli: Just to be the most efficient with time. We don’t wanna keep like Kenzie there for 10 hours while we do something.
Alina: It’s true. I don’t like to push creativity too much. It should flow.
For Elli’s EP Confections, did you sit down with the intention to write tracks for that project, or did you handpick them from other projects you’ve worked on?
Elli: That’s a great question! My artist project has been one of those things that we really take day by day, as far as what I do. Gateway was really something that we decided to put out on a whim. Let’s just see what happens! We put it out and we had all these other songs, “OK,” “I Love To Hate You,” “Somebody to Talk To,” and they were all great and fun but it was so stressful to try to pick which one to release. “Somebody to Talk To,” was slated to go first, and then we talked about putting out “I Love To Hate You” first. We definitely knew that “OK” wasn’t going first. I wanted that one to come out when there were people there to listen. I didn’t want to release that track to no one. We needed a song to just be the frontman and go out, and test the waters. “Gateway” was kind of perfect for that. Funny enough, we wrote “Somebody to Talk To” with another artist, for her project and her team didn’t want it. We sat on that for like another 6 months. We kind of go through our library sometimes to see if there’s any gems that got overlooked. It’s really cool that I get to work with other artists and if they don’t want to use a song that I feel connected to, we’ll just spruce it up for me. That’s what we’re doing for a single that’s supposed to come out later this year.
Alina: So it’s both. Sometimes we’ll sit down and write for you, and sometimes something just really fits your project that got overlooked.
Elli: Like I said, we kind of just take it day by day. There’s no real structure here. I love that there’s songs that we’ve written for me that we’ve sent to other people. It’s nice that I have both options.
How do you guys like digital writing sessions and how has quarantine affected you creatively? Do you feel that during digital writing sessions the energy in the room is depleted?
Elli: I will refer to yesterday’s session as a complete and utter hang. The girl that we wrote with has written a bunch of singles with us coming up, and she is the ultimate hang. We just love her so much.
Alina: But it’s tough to like work haha.
Elli: We were probably on the phone with her for like 5 hours
Alina: Today we were in a digital session with somebody and it was also tough to really get going. You have to email the track back and forth. I think it’s still technologically challenging.
Elli: I think we’re handling it pretty well though.
Alina: Yeah I think the track we did yesterday was good, but the process was a little slower.
Elli: It usually takes us about a day to make a good demo. By the time we leave it’s usually done.
Alina: So that’s been a little challenging. But as far as energy I think it’s fine.
Elli: We’ve also been pretty exclusive with who we’re spending our time with. We’re not trying new sessions as much. For K-Pop it’s easier because they usually have a specific lane that they want, but for artists who don’t come in with a particular idea it’s a little more difficult. There’s no tangible energy. We’ve stuck to working with artists like Kenzie and Gabbie, and finding new situations with people we’re already familiar with.
How did you guys learn how to produce?
Alina: I’m self taught. I was an artist when I was younger and I didn’t have money to pay a producer. I was like, “How hard can this be?” I’ve been actually recording myself for a very long time. Probably since 2004. At that time, the technology wasn’t as good, so I just had a microphone plugged into the computer and just recorded myself. Over time, I learned more and more professional techniques. I remember at one point I googled the best gear, and I had a friend that would lend me money to buy the expensive gear that I needed. I would just try it out and return the stuff that I didn’t like. I think it actually took 4 years. I don’t think I got good at pop production until we went to LA and just went into a bunch of sessions. We just had to figure it out.
Elli: We kind of had to learn and play it by ear. My role as a producer is more verbally producing.
Alina: I wish there was a magic trick to it, but it’s really just a ton of repetition. People ask me all the time if I’m scared to put my tricks on the internet, but I literally don’t have any tricks. Everything I do is pretty self explanatory. It’s just more about being experienced.
Elli: And just applying yourself creatively. Someone that does something like you do is gonna be different in their application of what you do. We’re never afraid to share what we’ve learned. We want people to grow, and we want other females to feel like they have someone to guide them, because we didn’t.
Why do you guys think it’s important for us to support out of work artists during this time?
Alina: I think it’s important for us to support artists at all times, and I think it’s especially important during the pandemic because a lot of artists’ opportunities have been taken away. For performers like drag performers, they really can’t earn their living, and they can’t express themselves. It’s just a tough time financially and also psychologically. Right now, people are really concerned about finances, so I don’t think as many people are spending money on art. A lot of that is really suffering right now because people are choosing to spend their money on things they need to survive.
Elli: Creativity is so important and honestly I think our society has shown us that we need these creative things to survive. Not knowing when the next concert will be is so impactful. Going places, connecting, seeing people. All of that is so incredibly important. We never want to lose the artists to a time like this where they have to give up on their craft because they financially can’t afford it.
Alina: It’s a tough time psychologically as well. A lot of people feel really uninspired right now. It’s tough to create, earn money, and you just feel kind of stuck. It’s just not a ground that’s easy to thrive on.
Elli: It can be such an unsettling thing and really hard to draw inspiration. As songwriters we’ve had lots of moments where we wonder if we should write about what’s topical right now, but we also don’t want to shove it in people’s faces. I know so many people are feeling that way.
Alina: It’s especially difficult for the queer community right now, [who are subject to being vulnerable because of discrimination.] I think those people are more at risk of being very depressed.