When Berklee Online launched in 2002, we finally had the opportunity to bring the Berklee College of Music experience to students worldwide. Now with the help of Coursera, we’re able to deliver Berklee’s time-tested teaching methods to an even wider audience by offering free classes. That’s right—FREE! Coursera offers massive open online courses (or MOOCs) in just about every conceivable subject, all taught by top universities and colleges.
Berklee’s Coursera offerings include guitar, songwriting, music production, improvisation, and now a three-week Ableton Live course. Introduction to Ableton Live is taught by Berklee songwriting professor and independent musician Erin Barra. I recently spoke to Erin about her musical background, experience, and her new Ableton Live MOOC.
Kayley Kravitz: How did you get into electronic music?
Erin Barra: I don’t make electronic music in the traditional sense, but I am highly influenced by the technology. Just as of the last year or so I’ve been getting more and more into different forms of electronic music and it’s largely due to the Ableton community. We as users are hugely interconnected and a significant amount of the community is in that lane so I guess it finally rubbed off on me. I still feel strongly that there should and can be a lot of organic elements to the most digital of recordings.
What drew you to do the technical aspect of music production? Was there a particular inspiration?
Erin Barra: I don’t think I was necessarily drawn to the technical aspects of music production but rather was empowered by them. First and foremost, I come from a very musical background and was admittedly adverse to digital technologies in my early career. I eventually got behind the computer because I realized that I couldn’t afford to have another person be in control of my content and once I realized what was possible, I never turned back. There wasn’t necessarily a moment where things mentally changed for me. It was always just about having a vision and doing whatever it took to execute it, so I sort of got into the tech side by putting one foot in front of the other and not putting much thought into the whole thing. When I look back now, I realize I was using a lot of the digital tools in a musical way without really understanding much about them, which I think happens to a lot of people. All the specifics and technical information came much later for me and I think it’s somewhat of a lifelong learning process. I learn and hear more every day, especially when I teach.
How has your technical proficiency enhanced your career as a musician, performer, and songwriter?
Erin Barra: I have found that when it comes to music there aren’t very many people who can handle things on both the technical and creative side. I was blessed with the ability to be simultaneously left and right brained so once I harnessed and understood that potential, I became 100% more employable. People want to work with me because I can relate to them as an artist, help them create the content that they are emotionally invested in as a writer, and execute their vision as a producer/programmer. All the technology wherewithal makes the creative stuff I do that much more valuable because there’s no middle man. I, in terms of my performances, have a whole arsenal that traditional singer/songwriters don’t have and it’s helped to set me apart in a lot of ways.
As a performer and songwriter, how did you fall into teaching?
Erin Barra: Teaching was one of those things I didn’t really see myself doing until I was in front of a classroom doing it. A few years ago I created a program called Beats By Girlz which was a music technology curriculum I wrote in reaction to how few women I saw working in my field. I created an Indiegogo campaign to fund it and before we were even done fundraising, an amazing non-profit, The Lower Eastside Girls Club, picked it up for development and we were off. I don’t know what I really expected to happen but I definitely didn’t expect things to happen so quickly. I started off by teaching female pre-teens from the projects of Manhattan, which was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was sort of a sink or swim situation so I started swimming and quickly realized how much I loved doing it. Less than a year later and completely out of the blue, I got a call from the chair of the Songwriting Department at Berklee asking me if I was interested in coming to share my talents with their community. Sometimes I look back and am completely baffled by how life unfolds, but here I am, and I’m extremely happy to be here.
You are teaching your first Coursera course on Ableton Live—what do you hope students will get from the course?
Erin Barra: I hope that people use my course as a jumping off point for their journey and that they are inspired to continue to learn and create. I think that’s the most important take away from any course – creating that spark that can eventually turn into a fire.