For the last several years, Alina Smith has enjoyed a successful career as part of the production and songwriting duo LYRE (with Elli Moore), helping to create hits for artists such as Gabbie Hanna, Kenzie Ziegler, and Kirstin Maldonado, among many others. But on August 25, Smith will release “Girl That Was Perfect” – the epic, emotive track is her first solo single in five years, and she admits it came about rather unexpectedly.
“It’s surreal because I really didn’t think I was ever going to release music as an artist again; I was just so comfortable being a producer and a writer – I really enjoy it,” Smith says, calling from her home in Los Angeles. Ironically, though, it was her success working with other artists that eventually made her realize that she needed to focus on her own solo work.
“I think a good producer and writer always caters to the artist,” Smith says. “You really want them to express what they want to express. That is super important and nurturing,” she says, but she adds that for the producer, “it can leave you feeling a little bit like you’re never expressing anything you want, lyrically or musically. I mentioned it to this life coach that I work with. I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong. I have this amazing job – why do I feel sad?’ She was like, ‘You should write some music for yourself as an artist. Think of it as therapy.’”
Smith followed that advice, and was surprised to discover just how quickly “Girl That Was Perfect” came to her. “I sat down with a guitar one night. Within an hour, I had most of the song,” she says. She has a theory about why this song came so easily: “I am a strong believer in channeling forces outside of yourself. I think people’s creativity is not always completely their own. I think there is a mystical factor to it. The way the song just came, I felt like, ‘Wow, there’s something really magical and special about it.’”
Lyrically, “Girl That Was Perfect” encourages body positivity. That theme emerged, Smith says, because “I think probably there was an unhealed part of me that needed to be healed in that particular way.” As she wrote it, she says, “I was sitting there just bawling the whole time. It really was therapy.”
Now, Smith hopes that listeners – particularly young women – will also find the song’s message to be empowering: “I want them to feel inspired to love themselves,” she says. “It’s really tough to decide to love yourself when you don’t fully accept yourself, so I think maybe the song will give a little push in that direction for somebody who’s in the same space that I was in, to start working on accepting themselves and loving themselves unconditionally.”
Smith admits that her own journey to this type of self-acceptance was sometimes a struggle when she was younger. Born and raised in Russia, her prodigious musical talents landed her a spot in a professional music group when she was still a child. That led to an opportunity for Smith, at 17 years old, to move to Las Vegas to continue performing. From there, she became a country artist in Nashville, then formed LYRE with Moore to focus on pop songcraft and production. But even though she was going from one success to the next, Smith says she still harbored self-doubt.
“Coming from Russia, I had a lot of unrealistic standards about what I was supposed to look like and what I was supposed to do with my life,” Smith says. “It’s a very high-pressure culture for women. Objectively speaking, there’s a lot of extremely beautiful women in Russia, so if you have even a tiny little thing ‘wrong’ with you, you immediately feel inferior and you feel like you have to take drastic measures to fix it, whether it’s fasting or overly working out, just resorting to not necessarily loving measures to improve your appearance.”
It didn’t help that Smith, unfortunately, discovered early on just how sexist the music business can still be: “At one point, somebody that I was working with in the industry, I came to him with some music I produced and I was really excited to show it to him. And he was like, ‘Wow, that’s really good, but why are you doing this? You’re a pretty girl and you sing; why don’t you just do that?’” Smith sighs. “It’s really discouraging.”
Fortunately, Smith did not let these obstacles deter her, but instead summoned her inner strength: “I think a lot of it is a mental game,” she says of what it takes to survive in the music business. “It’s building up that fortitude. I think much of it comes from self-love and self-respect and really believing in yourself.”
After her own experiences, Smith has advice for other women hoping to succeed in the music industry: “Seek out mentors that are either women or men that are obviously very forward-thinking and very nurturing,” she says, “and have some friends and peers around you, as well, that love and support you. Definitely find the people that champion you.”
Smith points to Elli Moore, her partner in LYRE, as a prime example of this type of ally. “We both support each other without a hint of jealousy, without a hint of competitiveness,” she says. “If one of us succeeds, even if the other one isn’t involved, we’re so happy.”
Smith and Moore actively work to support others in this same way. They have a YouTube channel where they offer practical lessons, encouragement, and advice. “We put out videos analyzing productions we’ve done, tips, things like that,” Smith says. “I’ve noticed a lot of female producers gravitate toward it because it’s really hard for that beginning female producer to find other women to look up to, so it’s really exciting to being able to provide that for them. I really enjoy that.”
Smith hopes that this will help the music business to become a welcoming place for everyone. “I truly believe there is space enough for everybody,” she says firmly, “and once people truly dig into their own creativity and their own unique expression, the less competition there will be because I think when somebody’s being truly authentic, it doesn’t really matter if you’re writing about love for the millionth time, because you have your own kernel of authenticity that makes it special.”
Smith’s own experiences and honesty have enabled her to write “Girl That Was Perfect,” which she feels is a culmination of all of her professional and personal growth: “I think it came from being a producer and working on so many songs over a decade, to where I just know craft, but I also know myself and my heart and my soul,” she says, “so I could combine that technical knowledge with creative impulses.”
Next, Smith says she plans to work on more solo material, as well as continuing as part of LYRE. She also plans to put out more episodes of her podcast, Crossover Creative, where she discusses a range of topics related to working as a “multi-hyphenate artist,” as she calls herself.
It is a hectic life, but Smith says she wouldn’t want it any other way: “I do all the things that I want to do now, and I honor all of them because I want to honor my true self,” she says. “For me, it’s not really about traditional success, it’s about personal success – whatever I deem that to be.”