Interview with Erin 'Mamma' Barra, Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music, Ableton product specialist, Founder of Beats By Girlz

24 May 2017 4:13 PM | MC C (Administrator)

We sat down to chat with Erin Barra, an amazing Board Member of Women in Music to get her valuable advice for women working in the music industry.

Success is such a personal concept – we all see and define it differently. How did you personally define your success?

It’s changed for me over the years, but now I define it as working solely in the music industry, retaining creative control of the content I produce and making enough money to live comfortably all while simultaneously managing to be happy. It’s pretty broad, which I find allows me to work on many different types of projects, but is still a pretty tall order. 

What advice would you give women who want to enter your side of the industry - What are your top three tips?

  • Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Women in music tech (or any tech for that matter) are at a disadvantage because people assume we don’t actually know what we’re doing, so in some ways you have to know more than your male counterparts just to be taken as seriously.

  • Always keep learning. Music technology is constantly changing and evolving and you need to keep up: Know what the new products are and how they work, pick up a new skill set which will compliment what it is you’re already an expert at, go to conferences as see what everyone else is up too.

  • Don’t underestimate yourself. I just had a conversation with a large music distributor about how most of the women who apply to work for them rate their knowledge of musical instruments as a 2 on a scale from 1-10. We have a tendency to play into other people perception of what we’re capable of, but the truth is that we’re selling ourselves short. People want to work with confident professionals. Even though you don’t know every thing there is to know about everything (no one does), understand that the knowledge you do have is powerful.     

How have the personal and professional experiences in your life contributed to your success today?

We are the sum of our parts. Every experience, every success, every failure… mostly the failures, contribute to what we’re able to accomplish. I’ve worked on many sides of the industry - as an artist, a writer, a producer, a consultant and an educator. To me, they are expressions of the same skill set, which is communicating. Having had so many experiences brings value to what I offer the people I work with. Since I was an artist, when I’m working with one I can come from a place of knowledge and understanding, which makes people want to keep working with me and has been a huge part of my success.    

Can you share with us some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Most of the challenges I’ve faced have been self-created. When I was younger I completely bought into a narrative and identity I created for myself on how things were supposed to unfold. Every time I was confronted with a reality that didn’t match my narrative I wouldn’t accept it. I know that stubbornness prevented me from accomplishing many things and I wish I had had the ability to compromise and pivot when necessary, just like any good business would.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

It’s okay to change your mind.

What do you think is the most pressing issue women in the music industry face in your region?

Lack of role support. There aren’t enough role models for other women to look up too and that is hugely detrimental.

Who inspires you, and why?

I’m really inspired by my boss Bonnie Hayes, who is a big time writer, producer and educator. She’s my role support. I watch her in meetings and see how she talks to the people who work for her and it has such a huge impact on me. She is the definition of a Boss Lady and being around her and working for her has changed me for the better.   

What do you look forward to accomplishing in the next year?

I’m having a baby this year so I’m looking forward to striking a new work/life balance.

Easier said than done I imagine….

Tell us more about how you got involved in your current role? What is your ultimate goal and what do you need to take it to the next level?

I was poached from another job by my current boss. I’ve been at Berklee for 3 amazing years now and I more than accomplished my initial goals. I’m ready to slow down a bit and focus more on my family – which may sound a bit backwards, but for me would be a huge accomplishment. I’ve always been very career oriented and for me the next level will actually be slowing down and learning to let someone else take the wheel.

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