Erin "Mamma" Barra-Jean is an Associate Professor in the Songwriting Department at Berklee College of Music and one of the leading product specialists for Berlin-based music software company, Ableton. She's developed and taught several music technology curricula for Coursera, Beats By Girlz, and Berklee. A board member of Women in Music, Erin continues to advance the equality, opportunities, and cultural aspects of women in the musical arts. We had the opportunity to chat with the “creative swiss army knife", discussing how she got her start in the industry, the prejudice of being a woman in music, and new projects she’s working on!
Erin's musical projects incorporate her skill sets as a professor, producer, musician, and music technology consultant. The soon-to-be mama stated, “I just don’t waste my time," and rightfully so.
It wasn’t until her mid-twenties that Erin became heavily involved in music technology, recalling the lack of funds required for a professional to make a record. As for mentors, Barra fondly remembers a producer that mixed her first record in New York. While co-producing her next project, he taught her how to use Pro Tools, a Digital Audio Workstation.
While Barra-Jean has made huge strides for women in the music industry, she admits to facing prejudice, even by students.
“It's not just men working in the music industry. I get it from my own students a lot of the time because they're used to patriarchy. Berklee hiring me helps us move towards a situation where women don't feel that way. Women in positions of authority, power, and visibility are a big deal, especially for younger women before they form identities. Involving them in different fields that society largely ostracized from them is important,” Barra confessed.
Involving women in the creation of music is a passion Erin regards highly. She even developed a curriculum specifically designed to empower females to engage with music technology, Beatz By Girlz.
Erin explained, “From a macroscopic point of view, it provides groups of subregional, microscopic women with the tools in order to open regional chapters in our own needs. We’ll connect them with companies like Ableton, Novation, and Akai, and provide them with the technology that they need—infrastructures like afterschool programs or other nonprofits that they can connect with in order to reach the right type of underserved people. It started in 2013 in New York at the lower East Side Girls Club. Now we are all over the United States. This year we have one in Canada. In 2018 we'll be in the Caribbean. We let it grow organically.”
As a professor in the songwriting department at Berklee, Erin is constantly exposed all types of artists - some with no technological skills whatsoever. For those lacking music tech skills, she recommends the website Coursera. Fun fact: she designed the course curriculum for Ableton, so check that out!
She promises, “It’s free and they have everything from guitar basics, to music theory fundamentals, Pro-Tools, and music production. There's a whole swatch of free information for people who can't come but are interested in investigating and learning new skills." https://www.coursera.org/berklee
In addition to teaching at Berklee, Barra-Jean is one of the leading product specialists for the Berlin-based music software company, Ableton. As a musician herself, she understands that the creation of music is non-linear. She gushed that “the product itself, Ableton Live, is non-linear and Ableton is largely the only non-linear DAW on the market. As a musician, very infrequently are we experiencing music from beginning to end. I gravitate towards that tool because it mimics the way that people actually compose for practice or produce. It's a real reflection of the music making process.”
Erin prides herself in working with a company that provides the tools for artists to create, as opposed to telling people how to create. She added that “Ableton does very pivotal work— normalizing disenfranchised peoples like women or minorities in the industry.”
When it comes to teaching younger artists, Erin admitted that “sometimes the hard part is breaking through their preconceived narrative of how life is supposed to unfold. I'll be telling a student valuable information but they might not be prepared to hear it, and so they won't listen. The lack of perspective can be difficult. The easiest thing is that they're young, willing to try different things and be fearless.”
As for projects, you can find videos and stay tuned for what's next on her Facebook page. Erin also just finished three tracks, all for students. She produced Leon Waldo’s track, “The Only One”, and is conducting a remix contest for another artist named Matilda.
Erin's parting words: "Support JSJ Events! They do really great stuff and I'm super appreciative of Jami in particular."
By: Allie Barbera