Making a life in the music industry is hardly the easiest task, but the right person can do it – just ask Misstress Barbara, an internationally acclaimed DJ, producer, and singer-songwriter who has made her home in Montreal, and has been making a living doing what she loves for over twenty years. Here, she shares the story of how she ended up where she is today.
MadlyJuicy: What led you to first start DJing?
Misstress Barbara: I was a drummer, and I was not at all into electronic music. One night, for a friend’s birthday party, they managed to drag me into a club. One of my friends saw that I was moving my knees a little bit during the house music, and he came up to me and said, “Hey, Barbara, you like house!” I’m like, “House? What’s house?” He said, “House is exactly what’s been playing for the last half hour. You seem like you enjoy it more than anything else, and you should check out gay clubs and raves if you want to hear more.” The first time I went to a rave, the music was insanely amazing! I wanted to know more, and I started going out more.
With everything I do, I realize very quickly that I have to be in control. After a few months of going out, it was fun, but I wasn’t having fun anymore if I wasn’t going farther. I started buying records and turntables, and the rest was history. I got my first turntables in February 1996, and it’s going to be twenty years this February.
MJ: How has the industry changed since you’ve been a part of it?
MB: Today, what’s happening is a double-edged sword. The internet helps everyone by putting music out there right away. But because anyone can be a DJ, promote themselves, or put a record out, there’s so much more competition. Back then, it was just word of mouth and reputation. In order to release a record, you needed a label to sign you. Today, anyone can put out music.
MJ: What was it like transitioning from being a DJ to being a singer-songwriter?
MB: It was a completely impossible task. In Canada, I was helped by people knowing my name. In Europe, I was hurt by people knowing my name. They said, “This is not Misstress Barbara. This is pop.” I ended up releasing it on my label, but I didn’t have a big machine pushing the record like it could’ve been pushed. But I don’t do things because I have a marketing plan. I do things from the heart.
MJ: Have you had to adjust your career based on changes in the industry?
MB: I’ve had to make some, but I don’t think I’ve been great at making them. I’ve done what I wanted to do for a simple reason: I worked so hard; and when certain things happened in my life, like losing my dad, I understood that life is not just about work. I started enjoying myself more and paying the price for it. For example, by making pop and playing live with my band, I was giving less time to DJing and techno, and I paid the price for it. But I’m happy I did, because you need time away from things to re-inspire yourself and miss doing them again. Have I done things right? I probably could’ve done them better, but I did them with my heart and I’m very happy about what I’ve done.
Originally published August 2015. Updated May 2016.