Brooklyn, NY-based vocalist, instrumentalist and official Ableton trainer Erin Barra released Undefined, her latest EP, on April 14th. As adept in front of the microphone as she is behind the boards, Barra represents the best of a new era of what can be best described as “fully realized” creatives in music .In taking the entire process of creation into their own hands, they’ve reached an “undefined” space as a new breed of artists. Thus, Barra, in wanting to engage fans and new collaborators, announcing a three-week long remix contest for the EP – culminating in the release of a Redefined EP in June – makes sense . The individual stems for the album’s five original songs will be available for listening, remixing and re-imagining via Blend, a music collaboration platform that “amplifies existing music making workflows and integrates seamlessly with Dropbox.” I had a chance to speak with Barra at length about her incredibly diverse talents, as well as the modern nature of being a musician, and deeply integrating EDM into mainstream pop music and culture overall.
You’ve been in a state of great transition in your career, as you’ve taken on an expanded (non-artist) professional profile in the industry. How has this affected releasing this EP?
I finished the EP over a year ago, and it wasn’t right time to release it. It was at the tail-end of me being committed to being just an artist. I was musically going in a producer vein. [The whole era] felt like turning a chapter. There was a massive transition regarding what I wanted. I had feelings for years that I didn’t want to be in the artist game, and those were hard to let go as it was my life for the past decade. I wanted it to be less about me and more about making music and paying it forward. The change of perception [allowed me to become a] muli-faceted creative person. I wanted to reflect that in [everything, including my musical] distribution. I didn’t want this to just be another lost piece of beautiful music. Distributing my music by allowing my music to be remixed, too is a cool way to get people to listen, but also create. It’s not about me, it’s about everybody.
You recently hosted a number of events on Ableton’s Tour promoting their PUSH Controller, and as well you started the Beatz for Girlz organization that’s teaching pre-teen and teenage girls in Brooklyn how to produce tracks. Along with that, you’re still producing music and developing your own material, too. How do you balance your time?
Ableton, Beatz by Girlz [and everything I'm doing] are not separate. [They're all] based out of the same idea. I became very user-forward instead of listener-forward. There’s no distinction between user and listener. [Insofar as Beatz by Girlz], young women should be on both side of content consumption and creation. Everybody gets to be consumer and creator. Producer is a vague term that people can’t define anymore. [I'm a] digital consultant, too, so there’s so many boxes. I actually totally believe that producers are the new artists. The path I took to this typically doesn’t happen, but it makes sense. A lot of Ableton users I work with go from DJ to remixer to producer, which is the common path. Me, I’ve gone from artist, to producer, to remixer, and next, I might even DJ!
Continuing in this progressive vein, prior to the contest announcement to remix any of the five songs on the EP, “Dear John” was remixed for the Undefined EP by 16-year-old Florida native Kaelin Ellis. How did this come about, and what did this teach you about music’s digital future?
Kon Boogie posted link to a Dropbox public file on his Facebook page. He said something along the lines of, “I can’t legally give this to you, but look up the artists in this file.” So, I downloaded the file, and listened to Kaelin’s remix of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” Harmonically, it was really lush, and the way he flipped it allowed the song to remain intact. Typically, in a remix, the verses and chorus are gone, and the original musical concept gets lost. So, I reached out to him, this 16-year-old in middle of nowhere Florida. He said, “Yes, I love your music.” As well, he included me in the journey of the remix process. I am so happy with how it all turned out.
You were educated at the legendary Berklee School of Music, and now are working in this generation with digital software, and oftentimes with artists and young producers that lack your musical know-how. Any thoughts about the evolution of the music industry and traditional education versus the benefits of technology?
I encounter so many types of musicians now. The Ableton PUSH controller has polyharmonic structures, so you can basically create music without “speaking the language.” Yes, it’s threatening, but having been i the trenches, it’s [actually] amazing. It’s like having bumper lanes [at a bowling alley], [and yet,] it doesn’t take away from formal education. You can’t teach someone how to be inspired. As far as how it changes the game? You still have to be better than everybody else.
What are your thoughts overall about your career at this moment?
I’m glad I got behind the computer. I enjoy being a creator that is musical, as well as technical. The artists I work with come to me not just because of my production skills, but because I am a fellow artists, I can give them camaraderie and support. [Ultimately], this is fun because I can do whatever I want.