Beats By Girlz Founder, Berklee College of Music Associate Professor, Music Producer, Erin Barra

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Beats By Girlz Founder, Berklee College of Music Associate Professor, Music Producer, Erin Barra

By Leslie Buttonow

What do you do when you spend time learning and perfecting a craft, and then realize many others are looking to you to learn what you do? You teach, of course! And that’s exactly what Erin Barra did, but in more ways than one.

After spending some time as a songwriter and producer, Barra brought technology into the fold from a desire to reach certain goals she had for her career. She also used that experience to land a teaching job at a young age at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Along with her use of tech came the realization that other women were interested in learning about how she made her music and the tools she was using, which inspired her to formally encourage other young women in their musical aspirations.

Here, Barra shares some of her story with us, as well as a few musical treats from some of her current projects.

To find out more, visit beatsbygirlz.com and mammabarra.com.

The WiMN: Tell us a little about how you started using technology in music—did you learn traditional instruments first and then incorporate it, or has technology been there throughout your musical journey?

EB: I was trained as a classical pianist from a very young age and didn’t really get involved in music tech until much later in life, when I was around 24 years old.

The truth is, I got into music tech out of sheer necessity because I had goals that needed accomplishing and not enough resources to pay someone else to help me achieve them. The people who control the tech are largely the ones who hold the power and so after years of frustration, I decided that I was going to get behind my laptop and play that role for myself.

The WiMN: What is the most gratifying part of teaching music students?

EB: For me, teaching is a lot like writing, producing and collaborating, which is what drew me to the music industry in the first place. All of those things, including teaching, are just ways of communicating with other people and exchanging ideas, thoughts, and emotions. That’s what I enjoy the most––communicating, and being able to do that with brilliant young creative minds is the best.

The WiMN: Where did the idea for Beats By Girlz (BBG) come from?

EB: Towards the end of my career as being purely an artist, when I really began to master the tools, it became clear to me that people were more interested in how I was making music and the tech tools I was using than actually listening to my music. People started calling me the “Ableton Lady” and wanted to book me on shows that featured women in technology.

At one point, I sort of looked around and realized that I’d been inadvertently cast in this role as a leader and role model for other women who wanted to write, produce and perform with their laptops. Once I figured it out, I felt a responsibility to actively try and fill the shoes people already felt I was wearing, so BBG was born out of that desire to help other women who were looking to me for help and offer role support.

The WiMN: In your role both as a professor and with your BBG workshops, how have you seen girls’ participation in music and music technology change over the years?

EB: I see so many more women in the music tech space than I did five years ago––on stages, in classrooms, in studios––and I also see far more people talking about the issue of gender equity in general. There’s still a massive amount of work to be done, but we’re moving in a forward direction.

The WiMN: Was there ever a time when you felt you had to prove yourself as a woman working in music technology, which has traditionally been more male-dominated?

EB: I feel like I’m constantly being challenged and doubted by the people around me, not only because of my gender, but also my age. I’m the youngest person in my department at Berklee and I lead several committees and groups full of men who I’ve had to work twice as hard as to gain their respect. I even get it from my own students sometimes, since they’re so used to being directed by older white men.

At a certain point, it’s just not worth investing any energy into it. My resume and reputation speak for themselves, so I let those things do the talking and tune out the rest.

The WiMN: You’re also a songwriter and solo artist—are there any projects you’re working on (or recently completed) that you’d like to share?

EB: I just produced a track for a Swedish artist named Matilda I’m really into (listen here); another young American rock artist named Chloe Jane (listen here); and a song I produced for the amazing Leon Waldo just released worldwide (listen here).

I’ve also been creating a lot of video content that features my performances and productions, paired with how to video tutorials that break the whole process down. You can see them here.

The WiMN: If any of our readers are interested in helping to bring a Beats By Girlz chapter to their community, where do they start?

EB: You can visit beatsbygirlz.com for more details and ways to get involved, give to the community and start your own chapter. 🙂 

Front and Center: Charyn Harris, Conductor of Music Programs for A Place Called Home

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Charyn Harris, Conductor of Music Programs for A Place Called Home

By Lina Bhambhani

Charyn Harris started her career touring as a keyboardist for R&B legend Barry White. She’s also performed with a variety of artist including Malcolm Jamal Warner, MC Hammer, The Cranberries, Jonathan Butler, Al B. Sure!, Doc Powell, Lord Nelson, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Luciano Pavarotti and more.

Harris is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and earned an MBA from The University of Phoenix. She also serves as a Conductor of Music Programs for A Place Called Home (APCH), a popular community youth center located in South Los Angeles.

 

In 2004, Charyn founded Project MuszEd, a nonprofit agency providing arts education, performance and programming. She facilitated and manages the thriving partnerships between APCH and Project MuszEd with Berklee College of Music’s Berklee City Music Network. Over thirty-five students under Harris’ tutelage have attended Berklee’s summer programs on scholarship, while over a dozen students have received full four-year scholarships to Berklee.

Harris is noted for training a roster of highly sought after young musicians. Some of them can be found onstage with artists like Smokey Robinson and Aloe Blacc. Her students have also opened for the Black Eyed Peas, Diana Ross, performed with The Isley Brothers, Macy Gray and more.

Harris has been recognized both locally and nationally for designing and directing vibrant arts programming and developing stellar resources to support youth through the arts. We are excited to honor her at the 2017 She Rocks Awards!

To find out more, visit www.apch.org.

The WiMN: What influenced you to pursue a career in the music industry?

CH: I loved listening to music as a child. I’d read every liner note and I knew the names of the songwriters, musicians and producers. I loved listening to arrangements and hearing complex musical textures. I played a bunch of instruments growing up out of fascination, but excelled in my piano lessons and decided to go to Berklee College of Music.

After graduating, I moved back to my hometown of Mt. Vernon, NY. I met fellow aspiring musicians and began attending music industry events in NY and LA. Eventually several kids from my hometown (Al B. Sure!, Heavy D & The Boyz) exploded onto the music scene and would ask me about music theory.

Al’s record was probably my first professional job. I also started writing dance music for a few independent labels and producers. I kind of didn’t know what I was doing in a sense, but I guess I was doing something instinctively correct. I wasn’t really sure where I would end up but decided to follow my passion. It was definitely the right choice.

The WiMN: Can you tell us about some of your biggest influences?

CH: I had so many because I was always around so much music and developed an appetite to explore. I grew up listening to my dad’s jazz records. I would check out my brother’s records which included rock, funk and fusion. I had my own collection of R&B and soul, and I grew up playing classical piano and singing in a gospel choir. My mom exposed me to musical theater. I would say my favorites were Chaka Khan and Herbie Hancock. I also used to listen to a lot of Barry White, so it was ironic when I was asked to tour with him. I felt I had come full circle.

The WiMN: How did you become part of APCH? What do you enjoy most about working the organization?

CH: I came to APCH as a part time choral instructor. I was still touring on and off at that time. I had also just launched Project MuszEd which I modeled as a nonprofit agency providing consultation in building music education programs. After about a year, I was asked to restructure the music department to include an increased focus on instrumental instruction. It was important to me to provide a unique experience for the youth that I worked with. I thought of what I didn’t have access to as a kid and sought to provide those resources. One of the most important aspects was providing professional-level training in musicianship and a pathway to higher learning. I had an opportunity to become a part of the Berklee City Music Network which is a national initiative through Berklee College of Music to support high school age aspiring musicians.

What I enjoy most about APCH is working with young musicians. I love teaching them about performing and musicianship and introducing them to my colleagues and associates in the music industry. I also love seeing youth that I have worked with grow into adulthood and come back to visit me. I have former students come back as musicians, attorneys, accountants, doctors, nonprofit professionals….I love seeing who they develop into.

The WiMN: What are some of the projects you have with coming up with APCH and Project MuszEd?

CH: My APCH students are constantly booked on performances. We will perform at the New Year’s Race in Grand Park (Downtown Los Angeles) on January 8th and have performance requests well into the spring. With Project MuszEd, we have ongoing low cost instruction for youth in South Los Angeles and an exciting new project that is launching in January called SoundWorks L.A. SoundWorks L.A. is a workforce development and social enterprise program for youth ages 18-24 providing training for positions in live and studio sound engineering, touring and lighting techs. I’m excited to have designed the framework for the SoundWorks and am looking forward to placing the students we train in the music industry.

The WiMN: Do you still perform?

CH: Right now I perform almost every month and public and private events with my students, which is a lot of fun because they are incredible musicians. I am considering playing in a small piano bar once my time opens up.

The WiMN: Can you share some advice for up and coming musicians?

CH: I often tell aspiring musicians to know who is who in their world and who came before them. Know who the decision makers are. Figure out your point of entry and develop your roadmap so you will know where you are going. Develop good habits and be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. I also think it’s important to scan the environment and stay on top of trends. Get out and meet people. Develop deep friendships. Never be afraid. Fear is one of the biggest factors that will halt success. Don’t be afraid to do the work and don’t procrastinate. Admit when you are not on point and do something about it.

Also, don’t think that you have to be a ‘starving’ artist.  Step outside your comfort zone and consider your survival first. When you are able to live a comfortable lifestyle, you have the luxury to make choices because you want to, not because you have to. Don’t get caught up in instant gratification. Always remember that there is no such thing as luck.  When preparedness meets opportunity, you have the winning combination of success.  Always be grateful and never burn bridges. Become a master of relationships and interpersonal skills. I would also suggest that one understand business in general. Be a self-starter, understand sustainability and know when you need to make adjustments in order to meet your goals.

Rita Moreno Delivers Epic Rap During Berklee Commencement Speech

By Pauline France

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 8.37.22 AMYeah, we knew Rita Moreno could definitely sing and act, but we didn’t know she could rap in epic fashion. We’re not at all surprised, though!

According to Associated Press, the award-winning actress and singer showed off her rapping skills while delivering the commencement address at Boston’s Berklee College of Music on May 7. The 84-year-old said she was inspired by the popular Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”

This is certainly a commencement speech the lucky students and faculty at Berklee are sure to remember. Watch the video below:

María Martínez Iturriaga Appointed Executive Director Of Berklee’s Campus In Valencia, Spain

María Martínez IturriagaMaría Martínez Iturriaga has been appointed executive director of Berklee’s Campus in Valencia, Spain. Iturriaga, a native of Spain, joined Berklee in 2008 and was at the forefront of establishing the college’s first international campus in Valencia. She has played a leading role in the overall campus development and enrollment strategies and establishing the college’s first master’s degree programs.

“María has shown a remarkable ability to work collaboratively across areas and divisions of the college while delivering strong outcomes,” said Berklee President Roger Brown. “This skill is going to be critical in the years to come—we will only fully realize our ambitions when we can foster this kind of cooperation and shared ownership.”

The Valencia campus serves more than 400 students per year through its undergraduate Study Abroad and Summer Programs, as well as four specialized graduate programs – Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration); Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games; Master of Arts in Global Entertainment and Music Business; and Master of Music in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation.

Prior to Berklee, Iturriaga worked with AEA Consulting in New York, a leading arts, culture, and entertainment firm. She also worked at Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City Center in New York, and as a music agent on projects internationally. She holds a Master of Arts in performing arts administration from New York University, a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Autonomous University of Madrid, and a Bachelor of Music in piano performance from Madrid Royal Conservatory. Iturriaga is also a member of the Abram Wilson Foundation Advisory Board and of the protective committee of the Spanish project Música del Reciclaje.

Front and Center: Executive Director, Curriculum Designer and Instructor at Phoenix Conservatory of Music, Regina Nixon

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Executive Director, Curriculum Designer and Instructor at Phoenix Conservatory of Music, Regina Nixon

By Gabriella Steffenberg 

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Regina Nixon second from left

Music and education have always been at the forefront in Regina Nixon’s life. Working with the Phoenix Conservatory of Music (PCM) since its early days, Nixon has been an essential part of the growth and impact that it’s had in the Phoenix community.

Due in part to its collaboration with Berklee College of Music and its prestigious Berklee City Music Network, PCM became one of 47 affiliate members across the country to recieve the Arts Education Organization of the Year honor at the Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards in 2015.

Head to phoenixconservatoryofmusic.org to learn more about PCM, and read below to find out more about Nixon in this week’s Front and Center.

WiMN: At what point did you realize that you wanted to dedicate your life to music?

RN: Music has always been a huge part of my life and a huge part of my family. I knew I wanted to be a singer when I was five. I didn’t know until my late teens/early ‘20s that I wanted to be an educator. Music is a part of my soul.

Even though most of the time I spend doing administrative things relating to music education, there are times that I need to sing just to stay sane. It is more than a job; it is a calling, and for me, a mission.

WiMN: You’ve been with Phoenix Conservatory of Music for over 15 years. How have you seen the conservatory grow throughout your time with them?

RN: I have been with the organization since its infancy. When our founder retired, our annual budget was $69,000 per year. Since that time, we have grown considerably, serving our students in a deeper way that has lasting impact and long-term outcomes, and our budget has grown to nearly a half a million dollars.

From my living room to our current 7,500-square-foot facility, it has been a remarkable journey (a nerve-racking, exhausting, harrowing, but remarkable journey), but one well worth the cost and that I would repeat again in a heartbeat. I would not have been able to continue on that journey without the dedication and support of our many donors, volunteers, teaching artists and community or without the love, patience, and commitment to the cause from my husband and daughter who have sacrificed right along with me to make PCM a reality.

WiMN: Tell us of a standout student experience you’ve had at the Phoenix Conservatory of Music.

RN: I always say that the most favorite part of my job is our students. I love these kids. They inspire me and humble me. Here are just a few stories with our students:

Abraham: Phoenix Conservatory of Music changed my life, simple as that. I wasn’t focused, I didn’t follow through on things. When I got to PCM, I was just starting junior high; my grades weren’t that good and I didn’t have good time management. At first, I thought I wanted to play piano, but here I discovered guitar. I loved everything about it; learning theory, learning music history, learning how to compose music, learning how to use my fingers most effectively, learning how to prioritize, how to focus. I discovered I could manage my life better, my grades got better, I am really good at math and at science. Before PCM? Musical, yes – but disciplined, no. Because of PCM, I am a changed person, for the better.

Ben: Before PCM, I lacked follow-through, I didn’t realize I had potential, and I didn’t take my talent seriously. In just two years, I’ve gone from being scared to death on stage to having the time of my life. It’s because of the support team that’s here, the relationships that are built, and the connections we make. I love being the lead singer of a group of amazingly talented musicians. Being part of a master class at Berklee City Music Network really solidified what I want to do with my life. I am going to audition for American Idol this spring, and I’ve got all my friends here at PCM helping me with that audition; they’ve got my back. It’s like the first time I went on stage, I was scared, yes, but then I turned around and saw all those musicians behind me, rooting for me, supporting me, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Before PCM? I wouldn’t have been that reliable. I would slip in late for everything; I didn’t think it mattered. Now, I know it does, that we all depend on each other to be the best we can be.

Another one that sticks out for me is with one of our recent PCM graduates. He is currently a freshman at Berklee College of Music. He started with us when he was 12 years old. I was never his primary teacher, but I was a mentor. Musically, he is very gifted. In looking back at our time together, the skill sets we were developing were not just his musicianship, but all the other developmental assets he needs to be successful in life – teamwork, collaboration, positive leadership skills, forward thinking, backwards mapping, developing relationships.

The time had come for his senior year auditions. The auditions went well and he heard back fairly soon that he was accepted to the college. Now we were waiting to hear about scholarships. The day came. We received notification that one of his peers had received a full tuition scholarship, but he did not get any notifications. We were talking, and I asked him if he was ok. He said he was. Later that night about 11 p.m., he called and said he was not ok. We had a great conversation about paths and many roads to get to the same destination and developing a good plan b.

The following Saturday he saw his fellow student for the first time since the scholarship announcements were made. I was a bit nervous about how the interaction was going to go. He went to his band mate, and gave him the most sincere congratulations and a huge hug. It made my heart happy. This is the moment that we live for in education. At that moment, I was more proud of this young man than if he would have gotten a full tuition scholarship because of the strength of character that he had shown. This is why we teach. To top it off, later that night he received notification that he also received a full tuition scholarship – but that was just icing on an already pretty sweet cake.

WiMN: What is your involvement with Berklee College of Music? How have they helped grow your program?

RN: In March of 2010, we were paid a visit by the Berklee College of Music in Boston – one of the premier music schools in the country. Through a highly competitive process that included a site visit, student performances, and consideration of our organization’s health, Berklee College of Music awarded us an affiliate membership into The Berklee City Music Network. This is a stamp of approval from one of the premier music schools in the country for our programs. There are 47 affiliate members throughout the country – only 5 in the southwest region – and we are the only school in Arizona. As an affiliate member, we bring an amazing resource to our community through the Berklee PULSE Program.

PULSE is an online learning network that stands for Pre University Learning Systems Experience. Its goal is to teach quality college preparatory music education through technology. This allows us to take a STEM experience and integrate Technology with Arts to turn STEM into STEAM. Because of this amazing partnership, we began to grow and hone our niche in our community.

In 2011, Metrocenter Mall donated 7,200-square-feet for a unique community music recreation center to house our newly formed college prep program ensembles. We started the ensembles so we could give the students the skill sets they needed to be successful in a college environment. With just 15 kids we started the program, and we needed space for them to rehearse. The mall stepped up. So now, we have this new program and this new facility.

We decided to leverage both for all they were worth and developed a community music learning center in our local mall. For many years, community centers have proven themselves to be vital for the improvement, engagement, and investment of families and revitalization of neighborhoods. Phoenix Conservatory of Music used the community center model and created a community music recreation center that actively promotes arts, specifically music education. These two elements combined really pushed us to the next level of our organizational development. Our earned and contributed revenues are growing and we are gaining local and national recognition for program facilitation.

Our partnership with Berklee provides much needed professional development, mission alignment, and the chance for our organization to be a part of a national paradigm shift in music education. In 2015, Phoenix Conservatory of Music was honored as the Arts Education Organization of the Year recipient at the Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards. In 2015, we had seven seniors. We had three seniors who auditioned for Berklee College of Music, and all three were accepted.

Since 2013, we have a 65 percent acceptance rate to one of the most prestigious music colleges for contemporary music study in the world. In 2015, Berklee City Music Network awarded only 15 full tuition college scholarships. Two of those scholarships went to Phoenix Conservatory of Music students, a total value of $360,000. The rest of our 2015 class has been admitted to Grand Canyon University, Northern Arizona University, and Arizona State University studying music, pre-med, economics, and education.

In addition to the great benefits that we utilize through Berklee College of Music and the Berklee City Music Network for our students and our teaching artists, as an individual I find it empowering to be a part of a group of people that I absolutely admire and respect. I sit on several committees and feel like I am making a difference on a national level. Being around such like-minded people who are just as committed to our young people and helping them fill their potential through contemporary music education helps me personally to recommit to my personal mission in my community. I am honored to get to be part of such an exciting movement.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 2.10.57 PMWiMN: What’s your favorite part about working in music education?

RN: For me, it’s all about the kids. I just happen to be a musician, so this is how I reach out. If I were a baseball player, I’d be working with a baseball team for kids. But I’m a musician and its how I can communicate and help future generations find that special part of themselves that will help them to fulfill their personal potential.

WiMN: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your time working in the music industry?

RN: Good music making is really about listening and having a conversation. We have two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak.

WiMN: What pieces of advice to you have for women looking to work in the music business and education?

RN: Find your passion. Work is a four-letter word.

I was watching a comedy skit (I think it was with Chris Rock), and the comic was talking about the difference between jobs and careers. The gist of the routine was that in a job, you watch the hours drag and the minutes tick by. But with a career, people have to remind you to stop working and go home.

Have a career. Have a calling. Life’s too short to watch a clock. Do what you love, what inspires you and inflames you, and figure out how to monetize it to provide for you and yours. Don’t give up. Being in the music industry or being in the education industry is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. But your voice matters; your experiences can nurture, inspire, create connections and reach people.

WiMN: Where do you hope to take the Phoenix Conservatory of Music within the next five years?

RN: There are things I desperately want for our organization: a permanent facility with actual walls designed to minimize sound bleed; more lesson rooms; a functioning recording studio; a window in my office; infrastructure and staff to continue to serve the growing need in our community; the resources to securely pay for the infrastructure and increase of staff needed to run more programs because of the growing need; twice a week janitorial services – these are all things we need. In addition, we need a working cash capital reserve and six months of funds in the bank; an endowment to pay for private lesson music scholarships for students in need; and a slush fund to pay for programs that are risky, innovative and creative.

In my heart of hearts, one of the long-term creative risks I want the organization to undertake is starting an artist development branch and youth-run label where we can nurture young talent in an even deeper way than we are, providing them with the practical skill sets that they need in their craft development, but also in their professional development including budgeting, marketing, and industry knowledge.

 

 

Front and Center: Founder of InFocus Artist Management and Merch Cat, Vanessa Ferrer

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Founder of InFocus Artist Management and Merch Cat, Vanessa Ferrer

By Gabriella Steffenberg 

FullSizeRender-1An alumna of N.Y.U. and Berklee College of Music, Vanessa Ferrer has been a successful businesswoman for over 15 years in the financial and artist management fields. Armed with the heart of an artist, the belief that she could make a difference, and the drive to make it happen, Ferrer founded InFocus Artist Management in 2009.

After managing several touring clients and consulting with high-profile industry professionals, she realized a market need for DIY artists and their business teams, and used her multi-faceted background to develop a means for artists to maximize merchandise revenue streams.

In 2015, Ferrer officially launched Merch Cat, a musician friendly one-stop tool for artists to sell and manage merch at live shows. The app also features a website reporting component for tracking and analyzing inventory and venue sales. Ferrer is a member of NARAS, A2IM, the Music Business Association, and Women In Music.

WiMN: Did your journey into the music industry start at Berklee College of Music, or did you know beforehand that you wanted to work in music?

VF: I had been working in another career and I met a guy in a band who had been signed to an indie label. When the band’s record was released, the label wasn’t doing what they said they would, and the band also had decentralized management. I started filling in the gaps to help them out and I loved it.

Music had always been a “thing” for me, and I felt a deep connection to it, but I never knew what to do with that. This was when the light bulb really went off for me that here was how I could combine my love of music and my business experience and help artists. I saw how the band missed opportunities and eventually imploded because there was no one person or team looking out for their best interest. A lot of it came pretty naturally to me, but I wanted to solidify and re-enforce what I thought I knew, which was when I found Berklee and enrolled in their on-line classes.

WiMN: Who has been your biggest mentor within the field and what have you learned from him/her?

VF: I’ve had a few, but I’d have to say that Jan Smith, also known as “Mama Jan” has been my biggest mentor. She is a kick-ass woman and great role model who organically grew her business into a small empire. She’s a force with an amazing work ethic and love for what she does, and I found her to be really inspiring. I was fortunate enough to meet her through my music community in Atlanta, and I spent some time working with her on a business opportunity she was exploring when I was at a crossroads with where I was heading next.

She encouraged me to trust my intelligence and have faith in my journey. It was somewhat of a spiritual mentoring for me, and having someone with her success believe in me and my abilities at a time when I was feeling somewhat defeated, inspired me to stay on course.

WiMN: Tell us about Merch Cat. What prompted you to launch it in 2015?

VF: I had the idea for Merch Cat in 2013 after the singer/songwriter I was managing had a big show and I couldn’t find something cohesive to run the merch table. I had been using PayPal, Excel, physical counting, and Word docs that my artist would send after a show. I just thought in this day and age there has to be a better way, and if I was looking for it, chances were that other managers and artists were looking for it too.

I had the vision for an app that artists would embrace using, something intuitive to use with a cool vibe, while also being informative enough to help whoever was making business decisions do so. I also wanted it to be affordable for DIYers. I wrote my idea down, did a little research on creating an app and then put it on the back burner.

In 2014, the company that had been my primary place of employment for the past fourteen years decided to outsource my department. Around the same time, a stock I had invested in years ago returned some cash, and I had met my soon to be tech developers through working with Jan Smith. The stars were aligning and it felt like the right time to make a change, so I decided to take a leap of faith and take a chance on myself. My gut said go. The app took a little over a year to develop, it launched in December 2015, and here we are.

WiMN: What’s an important lesson that you’ve learned from starting both InFocus Artist Management and Merch Cat?

VF: Patience, persistence and perseverance. Nothing happens over night and there will be times when you can’t clearly see the road ahead, but if you have a dream and a vision, keep going. Pay attention to the signs in the universe and listen to your instincts – they can lead you to amazing places. They will also tell you when to cut your losses. Knowing when to walk away or go in another direction is as important as staying the course.

WiMN: What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career thus far?

VF: Creating and launching this app has by far been my greatest accomplishment. I’ve had a previous career that most would consider successful, but I’ve never felt like I was doing what I was meant to do in life. I’ve long had the desire to be in the music industry full-time and be impactful, and while management is my heart, creating this app has provided a way to help artists and their teams on a greater level.

WiMN: Who are some of your favorite musicians/bands and why?

VF: My musical taste is all over the place. Dave Grohl is just the coolest. I love his attitude and no B.S. approach, as well as the musicality of the Foos. Lenny Kravitz has been a longtime favorite of mine with his multi-instrumental talent and his fashion sense. Pearl Jam. Ambrosia (who?!?) from the late 70s and 80s are on the list – I love their vocal harmonies and song arrangements. And of course I love the classics – Heart, Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, The Stones, etc. for obvious reasons.

Among the newer artists I’m digging lately are Band of Horses, Civil Twilight, City and Colour, Ray Lamontagne, Grace Potter, Florence and the Machine, Ingrid Michaelson and the list goes on…I have too many “favorites!”

WiMN: What kind of adversity have you faced for being a woman in a male-dominated industry?

VF: The industry I spent most of my prior career in (Commercial Real Estate) was totally male-dominated, and I experienced some disparate treatment during that time, so it prepared me well for being in another male-dominated industry. When I was managing my former artist, I would get comments like, “oh so you’re in love with him,” or when explaining my desire to do management, “oh so you’re a groupie.” Those comments were mostly from people outside of the industry, so I didn’t take it too much to heart because those people didn’t get it.

Inside the industry, I’ve found that when I’m exhibiting Merch Cat at conferences, people tend to think I’m just the chick manning the booth, and I get a kick out of it when they discover that it’s my company. And then you get the men who pretend they’re interested in your product and are really just interested in a date. It’s a fine line, but I think you have to treat every opportunity as potential and then adjust accordingly.

I’m aware of the stigmas and stereotypes, but I try not to let it intimidate me or allow myself to feel insubordinate. I put myself forth as an equal and I think that resonates with people. I believe it’s a really exciting time for women in music and women in tech, as there are a lot of initiatives currently out there to support us. We need to use those and our “womanhood” to our best advantage.

WiMN: If you could give a piece of advice to women pursing a career in the music industry, what would you say?

VF: Work hard and be present. Network your butt off. Build relationships (relationships, not just contacts). Respect boundaries and other people’s relationships – they’ve worked hard to build them and so should you. Know your strengths and lead with those, but don’t be afraid to ask others for advice to get what you need to go where you want to go. Express gratitude to those who help and support you. Your likability can be one of your biggest assets in this industry. Surround yourself with positive people who share your vision and point of view.

The industry is full of jaded people who may cause you to second-guess yourself. Take them with a grain of salt and keep moving forward – this is your journey and no one else’s. Dream big, but set realistic goals and take a step back every once in awhile to re-assess. If the path you’re on isn’t working for you, try another. Listen to your instincts, and follow your heart.

WiMN: Where do you see your businesses five years from now?

VF: There are some really cool things in the development pipeline for Merch Cat, so I hope to get funding to execute them and still be running strong in five years. I can’t share details, but I will say the plan involves a fan side-app, so everyone could potentially be a Merch Cat user. If I had to sum it up, I’d say I see Merch Cat being a premiere servicer and artist-to-fan facilitator in the merch space.

Right now, InFocus is pretty much just functioning as the parent company for Merch Cat, but I’d really like to return to management someday if the timing is right and opportunity presents itself. For now, that’s on hold until Merch Cat stabilizes as a profitable music tech company. Five years is a long time. If you asked me five years ago what I’d be doing now, never in a million years did I think I’d be the sole founder of a bootstrapped music tech company. Anything can happen!

Front and Center: Drummer, Film Score Composer and Audio Engineer, Lorena Perez Batista

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Drummer, Film Score Composer and Audio Engineer, Lorena Perez Batista

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Lorena Perez Batista from Punto Fijo, Venezuela, has music in her DNA. At her young age, she has already done more than some will accomplish in their lifetime.

It all started when she packed her bags to travel overseas from Venezuela to the United States to pursue an opportunity most would consider unachievable – applying to the ultimate destination for musicians, Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. But there are no obstacles for Perez Batista.

Since her arrival to the United States, she has landed an endorsement with Gaai Drums; written for the world’s only magazine dedicated to female drummers, Tom Tom Magazine; and earned a spot in the top five worldwide players in the Hit Like a Girl drumming contest, for which she became the Venezuelan ambassador this year.

But there’s a lot more. Perez Batista has played as a supportive artist to music giants like Latin Grammy Award-Winners Camila, Belanova and Javier Limón; written music for movies like Christmas in Palm Springs and orchestrations for documentaries like Conquest of the Skies 3D

She’s currently an audio engineer at RMI Music Productions, where she works with Multi-Platinum recording artist Russ Miller, who is now in the process of recording an album for South Korean artist Lee Moon Sae. She’s also tapping into the educational world with Wondertree Kids by developing an exciting project that combines original music, dance and sign language for children, providing early learning experiences to foster their development through music. In addition, she teaches drums at the Academy of Music for the Blind; a non-profit organization dedicated to provide music education to talented blind students.

For more on Lorena Perez Batista, visit her website at http://lorenaperezmusic.com.

WiMN: What do you think the perception of female musicians is like in Latin America?

LPB: I think we have great female musicians but maybe not enough of them. And like in the rest of the world and in the music business, men outnumber women and that can be a challenge.

When I was growing up in Venezuela I remember there were more well-known worldwide Latin female acts like Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan and Olga Tañón. Nowadays I feel like most of them are hidden treasures that might not get the exposure they deserve. For example, singer-songwriters like Natalia Lafourcade and Marta Gómez, or albums like Raíz by Lila Downs, Niña Pastori y Soledad should be heard more! There are other upcoming female musicians like Mariana Vega, Linda Briceño and conductor Alondra de La Parra who are currently demonstrating what they are really capable of: proving that as female musicians we just have to work a little harder and speak a little louder to be heard.

WiMN: What prompted you to choose drums over other instruments?

LPB: Since I was a little girl drums and rhythm have fascinated me; I used to dance everywhere I went! Growing up I used to make drums using anything that I would find in the house and played along with my favorite songs. That led my mom to realize I had a real interest in the instrument so she got me a drum set and a drum teacher. That decision determined what would happen next!

WiMN: Who are some of your favorite drummers?

LPB: I have always enjoyed playing drums as an accompanist who makes people dance and not as a soloist who is put in the spotlight. So I grew up playing along songs by Michael Jackson (JR Robinson, Jeff Porcaro), and bands like the Foo Fighters (Taylor Hawkins), Incubus (José Pasillas) and Los Amigos Invisibles (Juan Manuel Roura/Mauricio Arcas). All of them really influenced my playing. I also love playing music that has heavy percussion like South American Folk, Caribbean and Flamenco music. Originally this type of music doesn’t have a drum set so I like to work on adapting those rhythms to the set.

WiMN: Whom would you love to share the stage with?

LPB: One of the singer-songwriters I mentioned above, Natalia Lafourcade. I admire her work, growth and versatility, and I believe there is nobody who can compare to her. She really loves what she does and she transmits that love through her music, voice and lyrics. Every album she has released has a very different theme and sound and I appreciate how she has accomplished that with dedication, great collaborations and pure genuineness.

WiMN: Describe your experience of attending Berklee, from the moment you decided to apply, to traveling from overseas and getting accepted. What were the biggest challenges? What was the male to female student ratio like at Berklee classrooms?

LPB: I never imagined I would be able to study at Berklee, it seemed impossible to me. Why would a small-town girl from Venezuela dare to travel to the freezing city of Boston? And to study music? However, my family and my incredible colleagues and professors from my previous school, Miami Dade College, encouraged me to apply to Berklee. So with a lot of research and help from others I was able to prepare a great audition that led to a scholarship.

Once there I noticed that the male to female ratio was around 70/30 so I got used to being the only female drummer in the room! But I must confess, sometimes that would work to my advantage.

Berklee was a wonderful learning and growing experience. I had the chance to share the stage with internationally recognized artists, study with award-winning composers and performers, and meet amazing people from all around the world with whom I have the pleasure of working with now.

WiMN: Tell us about your experience working in Los Angeles.

LPB: After spending almost a year in Venezuela performing and writing music for television, I decided to move to Los Angeles at the end of 2013. The city gave me a warm welcome with a scholarship from the Women’s Music Summit presented by the Women’s International Music Network (WiMN), and a chance to perform with former Michael Jackson guitarist Jennifer Batten and former Béyoncé bassist Divinity Roxx. That day I knew I had made a great decision by coming to L.A.!

From there on I have performed with artists like Shahkar Bineshpajooh, singer-songwriters like Robert Reid Gillies and Moises Velasquez, and at television shows like El Show de Platanito with an exciting all-female band.

I have also been working with award-winning composers like Sandro Morales, Juan Carlos Rodríguez, Elik Álvarez, Freddy Sheinfeld and Joel Douek. I have had the opportunity to write music for movies like All I Want For Christmas and Christmas in Palm Springs, and for soap operas like Los Miserables for juggernaut broadcast television network Telemundo. I have also worked as an orchestrator for the latest documentary for IMAX 3D for David Attenborough’s Conquest of the Skies 3D, and as a second engineer on the album Rhythm Sphere for multi-platinum recording drummer Russ Miller and percussionist Pete Lockett.

WiMN: Can you tell us more about your current projects?

LPB: I work at RMI Music Productions under the guidance of Russ Miller, where we are currently recording for a new album by Korean artist Lee Moon Sae. I am also composing and producing a series of albums for Wondertree Kids, a learning and development center for children. It will be an exciting project that combines original music, dance and sign language for kids, providing early learning experiences to foster their development through music. This year I will also be performing live with artists like Robert Reid Gillies and Moises Velasquez, and I will continue to write original music and record drums for TV stations and independent artists.

Free Online Music Courses via EDx and Berklee College of Music

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EdX, a website offering interactive online classes and MOOCs from the world’s best universities, including MITx, HarvardX, BerkeleyX, UTx and many others, has partnered with Berklee College of Music to offer two free online music courses.

The classes are Introduction to the Music Business, a class that will survey key aspects of an evolving industry from recording, publishing, and distribution to legal issues confronting music commercial; and Vocal Recording Technology, a class that explores approaches and emerging innovations in vocal production, recording, and mixing.

Students can pursue a verified certificate for a minimal fee, or audit the course completely for free.

For more information, visit www.edx.org.

The Top 25 Music Schools in the World According to The Hollywood Reporter

berklee-college-of-music-300x225The November issue of The Hollywood Reporter features its annual ranking of the world’s top music schools. The list showcases 25 venerable schools assessed and fully vetted by The Hollywood Reporter editors and industry and academic insiders.

At number one is The Juilliard School in New York, followed by Berklee College of Music in Boston in second place, and University of Southern California in Los Angeles in third place.

See the complete list here.

Fast Company Says Music Majors Make Some of Best Entrepreneurs

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Next time someone undermines your abilities simply for pursuing a music major, you’ll want that person to read this.

Turns out that, according to an article written by Panos Panay in Fast Company, the skills for being a musician directly translate to being a successful entrepreneur.

“Learning how to play a musical instrument and becoming a musician is an exercise in developing good listening skills, experimenting, overcoming repeated failure, self-discipline, and successful collaboration,” he wrote. “It is simply impossible to become a successful music professional unless one also masters certain theoretical concepts, develops good presentation and improvisational skills and, ultimately, attains that elusive quality of originality that only comes once fear of failure is overtaken by the desire to acquire a new insight, a fresh perspective, and a unique voice.”

Panay, founding managing director of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, as well as founder of Sonicbids (the leading platform for bands to book gigs and market themselves online), gives examples of when being a musician serves you well in the world of business, such as being on the road, improvising and mixing it up.

Read the full article here.