Erin Barra – nicknamed "Mamma Barra" by her many clients and students due to her nurturing, hands-on approach – is a woman of many hats. She is the founder of Beats By Girlz, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering young women in music technology. She is an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music, a board member of Women In Music, and a private instructor whose curriculums are available online for free at Coursera and ROLI. She is also an accomplished recording artist, songwriter, and producer with five independent albums and 20 years of experience in the music industry under her belt.
You're not only a producer, songwriter, tech specialist, and educator, you're also a musician!
Yeah, I would use that word. Yes.
And would you say that audio has always felt like a calling?
No. I mean, in retrospect it makes a lot of sense, but I never really thought I would get into tech at all. My father's an audiophile. We always had a listening room, and he was a pro audio dealer. He put together systems, home automation, and listening rooms for wealthy people. I was constantly surrounded by audio culture.
Pro sound wasn't a foreign concept to you growing up?
No, not at all. I mean, my dad would buy me an RCA tape player with two speakers, and we'd wire it up together for fun. But it never occurred to me that I'd do that for a living. The entire time before I got into music tech I was always on the reproduction side, never on the production side. I was always a listener, as opposed to an engaged participant in the process. In terms of a career, I always thought it was going to be on the content creation side, either as a writer or composer. I had gotten a songwriting and piano performance degree from Berklee, and I had aspirations to be a singer-songwriter; which is a role I played for many, many years. I was unhappy with not being in control of what was happening, and feeling frustrated that I wasn't really able to dictate my sound. After I graduated, I decided to figure it out.
I totally get it. You were ready to be the mistress of your own destiny!
Yeah. It was a money thing too. I've always been a person that, once I figured out what I wanted to accomplish – whether it was make a record or see an idea to fruition – once I have identified what it is that I need to do, nothing will deter me. For me it was a point at which I realized that I needed to get closer to my goal. Obviously the solution was that I need to be the one behind the computer. It wasn't even an arduous or long process. I was so focused, and I had an actual task that I was trying to accomplish. It was so different than classroom learning, in that I experienced it in a really tactile way that has served me well.
Most of the women I come across in production start on the other side of the glass creating music, and have aspirations in that vein. They tend to move into production or audio from there. Would you say that was your case as well?
Pretty much, yeah. But I mean, this is usually true of anybody in the music industry. You enter with one goal, and then you land so far away from that goal! [laughs] Even if you wanted to be in management or film scoring, it never happens the way you imagine it. The pathway of people going from content creators on the compositional side to more on the production side – I think that's probably a reoccurring theme amongst people – it's a gender-agnostic concept. But, you're correct that there're not a lot of women who consciously choose these specific career paths. I mean, there are so many reasons why. My postulation on it is that it's the same three things: Lack of mentorship, culture in the classroom, and the evolution of our culture in general – how we perceive women in specific roles. I don't think I have anything brand new to say about that. I feel like it's something important and that something needs to be done about it. And I think that's where I have more interesting things to say, as opposed to rehashing why it is the way it is.
I like that you're going beyond the "why" and you're focused on the, "Well, what can we do about it?" That really is the next and most important step. I think we're doing that right now, which I think is...
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