Some might call her a Jill of all trades, but Erin “Mamma” Barra (@ErinBarra) prefers Creative Swiss Army Knife. Within the world of music, she’s a pragmatic troubleshooter who adeptly knows what skill or tool to apply at the right moment. The breadth of her skill set – as an educator, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and music technology consultant over 20 years - makes Erin a key player in the creative process of many projects from conception to final master to stage performance. When she’s involved, people are able to realize and execute their ideas. The people she works with are Grammy-winning artists, engineers, and producers as well as indie artists. Additionally, she has released 5 studio albums as an independent solo artist. That’s some serious cred.
Erin also shares her knowledge and experience while connecting other women. She is an Associate Professor in the Songwriting Department at Boston's Berklee College of Music and one of the leading product specialists for Berlin-based music software company, Ableton. Additionally, Erin has developed, taught and executed several music technology programs, including Beats by Girls for K-12 girls. She also is on the Board of Women in Music, where she contributes to building awareness, support, and opportunities for other women in the musical arts.
During our conversation, Erin shares how she reconciled how identifies with her work versus how other others have perceived how she does, especially when navigating career transitions. Erin also opens up about the detrimental impacts of chronic stress to her body, creativity, and productivity. She also walks us through some (no surprise here) really practical tools and habits that have helped her turn around stress and stuckness. Do not miss this episode with Erin.
Learn more about Erin and her work at MAMMA BARRA here.
Listen to the complete episode in any of these fine places:
Selected link love + resources from the episode
- Connect with Erin on social media: Twitter | Facebook
- MAMMA BARRA
- Beats By Girlz
- Berklee College of Music
- Women in Music (networking organization)
- Patrick Ermlich (branding expert)
- Return of Saturn
- The Immune System Recovery Plan: A Doctor's 4-Step Program to Treat Autoimmune Disease
- Caesar Jean (Physical fitness-focused health & wellness consultant/Erin's husband)
- Yoga Studio (app for doing yoga at home)
- On the Road by Gloria Steinem (book)
- George Michael
- The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (book about creative recovery)
- Bonnie Hayes (Erin's badass boss at Berklee)
- Kickass Theme Music: “Things Are Getting Better” Written by Rishi Dhir. Performed by The High Dials.
- Stay in the loop about future Le vital corps Salon episodes: Twitter | Facebook | The List (sent monthly-ish including helpful health + lifestyle information)
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Quotes + selected highlights from the episode
All of this wisdom is from Erin herself (with some minor edits for readability).
[00:09:47]: Well, I think what makes a creative person valuable, in some ways, to work with is somebody that has experience and can back it up.
[00:11:03]: Yeah, absolutely. I was just on a panel the other day, and the title of it was “Practice What You Teach” instead of practice what you preach.
[00:20:33] And it was actually the same branding expert that I worked with who came up with my creative Swiss army knife title. We were in a meeting, and we were just talking about how people view me. Because, in a sense, there was some point when people stopped viewing me as an artist and they started viewing me as a woman in technology, a woman in music technology. It’s not really something that I specifically set out—that’s not a role I chose to play, and so it was really a response to the way that my audience was viewing me.
[00:22:35]: I mean, I think having a plan is a really important thing, but I don’t believe that plans ever execute the way that you imagine them to. So I’ll set goals, but then I like to be agile and compromise with myself.
[00:27:38]: A lot of times, if you change, that upsets people that love you. So sometimes talking to your closest confidants is actually almost a bad idea because they’re going to be threatened by the fact that you're changing who you are in a way.
[00:36:17]: I mean, because I work so much in gender equity, I personally do find myself working with a lot of women, but just because I search that out. I’m looking for those women. I’m teaching those women. And my boss is just like this goddess of a woman that I work for as well.
[00:38:04]: I guess the older I get, the more I realize that I can’t control everything and why stress about something that I’m not in control of?
[00:38:50] I realize that there’s always this pile, this mountain of work that’s going to have to get done. And even when I finish one pile, there’s another one. So you just kind of get used to the fact that there’s just always going to be a crap load of work to do, and eventually it will get done and put it aside, and sit on the couch, drink a glass of wine, and watch TV for an hour, and then wake up in the morning and start working again.
[00:39:19] The more I stress, the less productive I am.
[00:42:46]: I seem to be my best when I’m eating well, when I’m exercising. I try to spend some time meditating and making sure that I’m investing in my personal life as well. So I actually have to do a lot of work to be my best so I can do a lot of work, which seems sort of counterintuitive. But I really have to invest in myself and the people that I love in order to be my best self professionally.
[00:55:51] You have to really just take responsibility for it and stop feeling bad for yourself. And it might be a really harsh thing to say, and a lot of people aren’t ready to hear those things, and I wasn’t for a long time. But I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned, is that you can’t play the victim and you can’t feel bad for yourself. Because if you're not going to help yourself, nobody can.
[01:03:14]: [...] my father has this mantra that I kind of live by. He’s like, “The things that you want to do the least, do them first.”
[01:13:16] So any time I find myself in a position where I’m flipping out or I can’t handle things or I don’t know what the answers are, I tend to start writing things down. [Erin shares some powerful examples of how she explores questions and problems that arise through writing.]
[01:19:56]: Being stressed out is an addiction.
[01:23:09]: I need to work on this myself also, but I feel like women in general need to give less of a shit about coming off as a b*tch. My boss is just—she’s a huge influence and inspiration of mine. [We explore this more in the episode.]
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