5 vocal production and songwriting tips from NERVO

NERVO is a DJ and production duo comprising twin sisters Olivia and Miriam Nervo.

Their bold and dynamic sound has captured the attention of both fans and artists from across the globe, with their collaborators consisting of the likes of Kylie Minogue, Kesha, Steve Aoki, and Miley Cyrus.

In celebration of the release of their new Vocal Jams sample pack, Olivia and Miriam took a moment with us to share five of the best vocal production and songwriting tips they’ve gathered across the span of their careers—read on for highlights.

1. Never stop experimenting

From EDM and house to funk and disco, one of the most exciting aspects of NERVO’s musicality is the wide array of sonic influences they seamlessly incorporate into their tracks. Their rich, eclectic sound is the result of constant and deliberate experimentation. “NERVO’s sonic identity has definitely evolved and morphed over the years,” the duo tell us. “We started our careers making music for advertisements, and then moved into pop music, and then into dance music. It has been a wonderful creative journey, and we’re still evolving and experimenting every day!”

Making a sample pack was another experiment that NERVO took on recently—and it had unexpected but positive effects on their own music as well. “We loved creating the pack, and ended up writing (and keeping) some ideas for ourselves,” NERVO shares. “It’s always a struggle finding time to finish music these days, but luckily we started making this sample pack during COVID, so we weren’t touring as much and could lock ourselves away in the studio to record these snippets.”

“When making tunes for NERVO, we normally start with a chord progression or lyrical idea and build up from there. This process was slightly more creative in the sense that we weren’t worried about tempos or whether NERVO would release something, so we could be more open to where the music took us.”

2. Layering is key

In respect to getting a powerful vocal sound, NERVO cite the importance of layering. “We love experimenting with layers—definitely harmonies, but also stacks and dubs with all sorts of textures (soft and airy vs. stabby, nasal sounds vs. shouts, etc.). AlterBoy is a great plugin for vocals, as it’s easy to work with and makes it so you don’t necessarily need to re-record to get a different texture.”

“For the pack, we recorded a stacked humming chorus melody that we called the ‘gospel hum,’ which we thought was pretty special and unlike anything NERVO has released. We can’t wait to see what people do with it!”

3. Focus on the hook

As producers, many of us can get lost in the weeds—when this happens, it can be worth taking a step back and evaluating whether your song has an effective hook that pulls everything together. “We do our best to capture a feeling,” NERVO shares. “The main hook’s melody and lyrics are things we really try to focus on. Sometimes, a song can be successful with just a vibe, but there’s nothing like a huge hook to lock you in.”

4. Practice open and honest collaboration

Collaboration is a great process for sparking innovative ideas, learning new techniques, and enjoying the communal aspect of music creation. But how do you collaborate in a way that’s healthy and effective?

For NERVO, honesty and support are key. “Pre-COVID, we mostly created together, which we love to do,” the duo shares. “We have such a good vibe in the studio together, as we’re brutally honest with each other, but also find gold in each other’s ideas, which is key if you’re having a slow day. We are each other’s harshest critic, but also each other’s greatest supporter. Since COVID, we’ve made a lot more music separately, and that also works, but nothing beats being together. There’s nothing better than a great studio flow—it’s almost a spiritual experience.”

Over the years, the duo has also had opportunities to step beyond themselves and produce for various artists as well. “All of the collaborations have come about in different ways,” NERVO tells us. “More recently, we might meet a fellow DJ or artist at a show, swap numbers, and then end up working together. But, prior to touring, we used to work a lot with management companies and record labels, and even publishers who would link us with their artists to collaborate with.”

“Working with Kylie Minogue was amazing, as she’s such an idol of ours and ended up being such a normal, sweet, fun, and hardworking gal! It’s no wonder she’s loved universally and has had such a long career with super loyal fans.”

5. Keep going

Last but certainly not least, the duo leaves us with a tip that transcends vocal production and applies to all creative work. “The greatest advice we were given, which we’ll gladly pass on, is to be patient, keep working, and never lose sight of the fact that each song you make is collateral,” NERVO shares. “You’re learning from every angle—creatively, professionally, etc. Popular music tastes change, so keep making tunes that inspire and touch you, and no doubt someone out there will eventually hear the magic you’re feeling and creating. Keep going!”

Incorporate NERVO’s versatile vocal jams into your own productions:

August 24, 2023

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 creates music as Namaboku.