Ableton, the Berlin–based music software company responsible for some of the most widely used production software in the world recently teamed up with New York–based singer/songwriter and remix artist Erin Barra to promote the latest in production technology⎯Push. Barra visited cities around the country to demonstrate how the product is used and to promote an initiative she recently started to advocate women and youth in the music industry. The last stop on the Push tour was taken to Spy Hop in downtown Salt Lake, a center for children and teens to learn different aspects of digital media such as film and beat making.
The product, a small pad about the size of a laptop filled with glowing buttons that represent different styles of an instrument, as well as different instruments, can be used in both live and studio settings and can be used with or without a computer screen. Here’s the best part (or worst, depending on your opinion): you don’t need to be classically trained in music to produce with Push. “You’ll be able to play harmonies and scales without actually having to know the technical information that people have had to know for centuries,” Barra says of the product. “I like to compare Push to how people use bumpers in bowling. Bumpers make it so anyone can bowl without being professionally trained, and people of all ages can enjoy it. This is what Push will do for musicians. There are lots of electronic musicians that don’t speak theoretical music, but are making it regardless. With Push, you can change the interface to match the way you look at music,” she says. Thanks to technology, anyone with a computer these days can open up something like Garage Band and start calling themselves a musician. Good music or bad, it allows for anyone to push their own creative boundaries and further appreciate art. Barra finishes the workshop by live mixing a song for the audience to fully demonstrate how Push is used; she mixes and records a beat before performing her song “Dear John” to the room.
As for being a woman in the electronic music industry, Barra has a lot to say. Most female DJs and performers that I’ve talked to address gender inequality in the music industry the same way: “Don’t treat me any differently,” they say. This year there were only five females on the DJ Mag top 100 list, and those five are unsurprisingly the only five female DJs I can think of off the top of my head. However, Barra not only acknowledged the issue, but also did something about it by founding an organization to teach young women about music technology. “I’m spearheading this initiative with the Lower East Side Girls Club in New York to teach young women how to DJ and make beats. There are so few females that are doing what I do. When you Google how to make a beat and find a video explaining it, it’s all men and it can be intimidating to females who want to be making music. We’re changing that. We’ve produced and uploaded tutorial videos made by girls for girls,” says Barra of the inspiration behind starting Beats By Girlz. The initiative, which started in April of 2011, empowers young women by giving them the opportunity to learn how to use technology to their own creative advantage. “The idea is that we need more women in technology, not just music technology,” she says before comparing the initiative to Spy Hop. I look around the room and see several teenagers working the event, from helping set up equipment to filming Barra speak.
Ableton Push is now available for purchase by the general public and, although it’s not the first of its kind, it’s by far the easiest to use (and the coolest looking—who doesn’t love glowing buttons?). Push works with Ableton Live and is as transportable as a laptop. For more information, tutorials and pricing, go to their website. As for Erin Barra, you can check out her music and upcoming show schedules here. For more information on the Beats By Girlz initiative, as well as donation information, you can go here.