5 songwriting and vocal production tips from Viktoria Liv

Viktoria Liv is an up-and-coming vocalist, songwriter, and producer who brings a distinctive sonic identity to the world of pop music.

Her emotive but versatile vocals have been featured in everything from upbeat house productions to hazy R&B tracks, and she’s currently working both independently and alongside some exciting names on new music.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Viktoria to hear about her creative process and insights for other musicians around how they can level up their own songwriting—read on for highlights.

1. Document ideas as they come

Viktoria encourages us to consistently document ideas when it comes to songwriting, regardless of whether they’re complete songs or just fragmented seeds. “I never know what might become a song,” she tells us. “I write down little phrases every day, kind of like keeping a diary. Sometimes those turn into full bars right away, and other times they sit there until they suit a song I’m working on. Then, there are rare golden moments where an entire song would come out in no time (I’ve had that experience maybe five times total—few and far between).”

2. Lean into vulnerability

Viktoria emphasizes the impact leaning into vulnerability can have on both the songwriter and the listener. “Listening back to something that came from a vulnerable place hits different, and usually listeners connect with those lines the most,” she explains. “For example, this lyric would be something I still resonate with after having let some time pass: ‘I like it now you’re quiet / I can finally be myself around you / and not embarrassed about trying.’ That song is about the night my pet got put down, but I made it into this manic concept of having killed an abusive lover. The song came together pretty quickly in my head that night, so I took voice memos and recorded and produced the song at a later point.”

Songwriting can also present an opportunity for you to express yourself in ways that you may not feel comfortable doing in any other context. “When it comes to my solo project, I’m most excited about finding ways to express the things I never get to say out loud since I’m a very reserved, filtered person,” Viktoria tells us. “But in songs, I can say anything from ‘screw you’ to ‘I wanna screw you.’ My first full-length project would be about psychological deep cuts and making amends for mistakes I’ve made, all resolving in the fact that I’ve got to go easy on myself after all, as everyone should.”

3. Don’t be afraid to step away from the DAW

Writer’s block is among the few universal experiences encountered across all creatives. If you find yourself in a creative rut, Viktoria suggests not being afraid to step away and take a breather. “Sometimes I get in my own head, which blocks me from writing,” she says. “I overcome it by taking some time off to go for a walk or meditate, and think of female artists that kick ass. Then, I’m reminded that I could be kicking ass if I would just stop being afraid of failure.”

4. Use production as a source for creative inspiration

Songwriting and production don’t need to be isolated processes; for Viktoria, the two go hand-in-hand and freely influence one another. “My vocal performance is definitely influenced by the production of a track,” she says. “Drums (or the lack thereof) especially dictate the general flow and the way I place words. On the other hand, if there’s a full song already written, I build the instrumental around the vocal.”

When it comes to recording and producing, Viktoria demonstrates that you don’t need the most expensive gear or studio setup to get high-quality results. “To this day, I record in my bedroom at my parents’ house and my setup is super simple—a Shure SM7B and an SSL2 USB interface, which I think are real bangs for your buck,” she says.

Rather, what’s more important seems to be learning how to use your available tools to craft a vocal sound that’s intentional and distinctly your own. “For my vocal chain, I use FabFilter’s Pro-Q2 for subtractive EQing and any analog-imitating EQ for frequency boosts—mainly the PuigTec EQP-1A,” Viktoria tells us. “For compression, I use Waves’ RCompressor and occasionally RVox for additional processing, given it’s very light. I also can’t do without Auto-Tune. Sometimes I use less, and other times more. I also constantly experiment and learn about new techniques—recently, I’ve been running certain parts of my vocals through guitar amp VSTs, which gives you that nasty distortion I like.”

5. Always keep learning

On that note, Viktoria concludes our discussion by telling us about the importance of continually learning from both our creative successes and mistakes. “I’m still figuring out my writing, but some notable production mistakes I’ve made in the past were (1) being too close to the mic and (2) over-compressing in post,” she reflects. “For a polished pop vocal, it’s also wise to turn down fricatives and breaths when comping so that they don’t get overly compressed. That said, you don’t want to chop them out of the backing vocals either, as they might be noticeably missing in the final product.”

On the songwriting side, Viktoria is excited to continue carving her own sonic identity. “In an ideal future, I’m aiming for my music to have distinct influences from alternative rock, contemporary R&B, and drum & bass, with a dark yet self-ironic demeanor,” she tells us. “But, art should never be forced into boxes like that—I’m excited to find out if I’ll be able to pull it off.”

Do you have any songwriting or vocal production tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

June 23, 2021

Harrison Shimazu

Harrison Shimazu is a composer, content strategist, and writer who’s passionate about democratizing music creation and education. He leads the Splice blog and produces vocaloid music as Namaboku.