Guest Blog: Erin Barra On Songwriting And Technology

Technology is my best friend; it follows me wherever I go, wakes me up in the morning, gets me through my day and is the very last thing I make sure is around before I fall asleep at night. If only I could have as familiar a relationship with money as I do with Technology, drinks would be on me, for life. The Music Biz, on the other hand, has been resistant to the many changes technology and the Internet have caused, and we as an industry are suffering hugely because of it.

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As songwriters I think it would be unwise to think that our craft remains unaffected by technology and specifically the advent of file sharing and Digital Audio Workstations such as Pro Tools, Ableton, Logic etc. Getting songs made, distributed and heard is no longer a luxury of the few, but now the inheritance of the masses and that is a reality I feel we as content creators, need to embrace.

As is, the competition is tough enough; not only are we competing in a pool of extremely talented writers steeped in the harmonies and melodies of the years of writers before them, but there’s a new wave of writers who, armed with their laptops, are also fighting on the front lines of production, engineering and arrangement.  The harsh reality of this is that since the later group of creators is armed with so many more weapons in their writing arsenal, these are many of the writers who are getting heard, placed and paid.

The Wall Street Journal recently covered a MacDowell Colony discussion between Stephan Sondheim and Paul Simon regarding the tools of songwriting. In addition to both writers being fervent yellow legal pad users, the writer deduced that, “success may be as much a function of the correct, cooperative, unobtrusive writing implements and furniture as of divine inspiration.” This resonates with my feelings about the implementation of technology in writing, because what we’re really talking about here is a vocabulary. Whereas previously we only were able to use things such as melodies, harmonies, lyrics and rhythm in which to form our ideas, we now have audio and midi effects, virtual instruments, timelines, multi-tracks… I could go on. As professionals, is it our responsibility to master all the tools of the trade?

So often do we back into things by writing songs to a 2 track or composing an arrangement to a finished song, imagine that you were able to produce and write simultaneously. All the elements of the production would be informed by the structure of the song, and vice versa, inevitably making the material stronger. Imagine that at the end of a co-write, you and your collaborator were able to leave the room with a fleshed out demo in hand; both of you now have something shareable and developed, which can often times make or break what eventually ends up happening to the work. People these days have no time to listen to anything, especially people who exist at the top of the food chain, so if someone has to choose between two… or twenty great songs, they will most likely pick the ones where they are shown the potential rather than having to listen for it.

Oh Technology!! Not only have you forced me learn a completely new skill set and compete with a younger generation who seems to understand you more than I, but you just keep changing all the time. In addition to leaving many of us in the dust, you’ve also seemed to have eluded the government by completely outgrowing the policies and laws that protect our intellectual property. Maybe you’re not as good of a friend as I had first imagined. Maybe you’re the Yoko Ono in this situation and we’re the Beatles. Either way, resistance is futile, so we might as well try and get along, right?

Speaking of the competition, imagine you live in a world where there were an equal number of women competing as there are men, and that you don’t actually have to be a traditional musician in order to make music. Ready or not…

Beats By Girlz is an initiative I’ve created that’s goal is to empower young women through music technology education, art and role support.  In tandem with the Lower East Side Girls Club in downtown Manhattan, we’re providing the space, computers and curriculum for underprivileged young women to get their hands on the technology and help change them from content consumers, to content producers.

Built in response to a workshop I did with the girls in 2011 and my experience of being one of very few women in music technology, we’re creating an open-source learning platform that is female powered and created with the understanding that not all young people may know how to play music, but they all speak Tech.  Eventually the program will be available to everyone via a companion web-series. Aspiring creators and advocates will have access to the content and also be able to replicate the initiative in their own communities.

Although you can never replace good writing, the next generation will eventually replace us, and I have made it my responsibility to make sure there are more women in that group of people. In the same way that many of us learn how to play the guitar or write songs, it’s all about putting your hands in the right places and I believe this same approach can and should be taken when showing kids how to make music using a computer. Tomorrow’s songwriters and music makers are much more technologically savvy than we currently are and as educators we need to teach from a perspective that is ahead of the curve rather than trying to catch up with it.

To learn more about us and donate to our cause visit or visit us on facebook at and follow us @BeatsByGirlz.

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