Music is incredibly easy to take for granted. As a virtually omnipresent art form in public life, it’s easy to just be used to new sounds, new songs, and new albums, constantly being there in the background whenever they’re needed. However, the truth is, for every single one of those songs and records, a significant amount of work is called into play for the amazing pieces of of work that musicians and songwriters eventually end up sharing. Add to this inherent difficulty, the prospect of doing all the implied aforementioned work but do so primarily through a medium like social media-driven short video clips, and the mountain to achieve only gets taller. Thoughts of realized objectives start to move toward unfathomable. Lastly, mix in the intangible but very real difficulties of racial disparity and discerning where and when to work though that stressor as an aspiring artist and public figure and what does that kind of musical journey look like and who is there walking through it all?
One undeterred individual who
fits in that answer is Ruth B., an R&B, soul, pop, hip-hop singer,
songwriter, and artist who indeed found her foot hold in the music industry
through the viral power of shared video clips, a now defunct social platform,
and the insistence of her own belief in herself to achieve what she pursued.
Attaining everything from name-recognition, to a record deal, Platinum-selling
artist status and more, Ruth B.’s trajectory as an artist has only continued to
march forward in a positive way, regardless of arising struggles – individual
and internal or public and globe-spanning, as the recent surge of Black Lives
Matter activism has been. Though years into a flourishing career, it’s
applaudable seeing that Ruth B. continues to find not just tenacity but the
ability to give both her creative energy and inner spirit as a human being and
a Black woman, the attention they need to coexist.
American Songwriter: While Vine – the platform that played a key role is bringing you to the public eye – has since gone offline, several new outlets have taken its place and become fixtures of connectivity for aspiring artists that followed you. What are some of your thoughts on the musicians’ use of social media to connect with fans and build their careers, now that you’re in a different place and can look at the tools from a place of hindsight?
Ruth B.: “Yeah, definitely. I think social media is such a amazing tool for like, getting your music out there. I know for me, it was one thing that gave me hope of having people hear me because I’m from Edmonton, Alberta – I didn’t really know how anyone was gonna ever discover me. But I think it’s just such a quick and like tangible way to just have ears listening to your music.
So I think in that sense, it’s definitely, I mean, it’s elevated a lot in the last few years. I think it just gives people such a big platform so quickly, which may have been a little different when I was doing it; I think it took a lot more time and whatnot. But I think regardless, it’s such a big, big tool and I think using it the right way, it can be really amazing.”
AS: Being that your music is known for traversing a variety of closely neighboring genres – and, even more notably, that your emotive songs tend to exude more focus on feeling than explicit fixation on stylistic markers – what is one (or more) of the main things that helps you decide what stylistic direction to take a song more one way over another? Is there a specific point in your songwriting process where you usually end up making that decision or does it just come about organically and differently each time?
RB: “Yeah, I think for me, I definitely put most of my focus into the lyrics and the story and the emotional feeling that I’m trying to capture. And then, like the sound comes second. I think definitely in my early like stages of writing, I didn’t pay much mind to the sound as long as the story was good. Like, I didn’t care as much about what like the genre. But now, I think I definitely pay more mind (to it). I’ve grown up a real love for like, the production side of things as well.
So yeah, I think they go hand in hand like how a song sounds is just as important as what you’re saying. But I think for me, like, yeah, the main focus will always be the story and then I’ll kind of figure out the sound once that’s done.”
AS: What do you think of the music industry’s current “come to Jesus” moment with the identifications of some musical genres – namely, some of the ones you most gravitate towards, like R&B, which became part of the new identity for the Grammys’ previously titled “Urban Contemporary” category, as well as being dropped entirely from Republic Records’ corporate vernacular.
RB: “I think it’s definitely cool that people are acknowledging like, rights and wrongs and that (genre) labels are kind of taking a backseat. I don’t really believe in labels as much anyways; I think whatever music you want to make, you should make it and whatever you want to create you should create. And (with regard to) boxes, I definitely remember a time where I felt very boxed up and was like, didn’t know if I could ‘do this,’ or ‘try this,’ or whatever. But yeah, I think for me, really at the essence of it all is just making songs are true to you and what you want to say and the labels are kind of just something that come with it.”
AS: How big of an adjustment has it been for you as a music maker and public facing artist, with the restrictions around touring and public performances right now? Given that the earlier parts of your journey were based around presenting your work from a distance, in the hope that it would be seen, do you feel perhaps you’re less anxious about the heavy shift to virtual community interaction based on how you first established yourself as an artist?
RB: “I definitely think it’s been tough. It makes you appreciate and miss touring so much more. I think when you’re actually in the moment and on tour, it can become very like grueling and it can be a hard thing, being away from everyone and like, doing shows every night and all of that gets to be a lot. But I think if anything, this whole time in my life has just showed me how important real human interaction is and how much it means, not only to the listener, but to the artists as well.
I think it’s just such a special thing that you can’t really like mimic online. But like, it’s definitely, with that being said, it’s been kind of cool to revert back to how I started, just even writing in my room and making music in my room, which before you know, like the past few years, I’ve been recording out in New York and like in studios and stuff. So it’s been kind of cool just to get back to the root of things and make music on my own. I think for a long time, it just became like, I’d come home (to Edmonton), catch up with everyone, and then leave. But it’s cool to just like, to kind of feel like I’m a part of everything again. So yeah, it’s just been a very interesting season for sure.”
AS: As a Black woman engaging with the momentum of Black
Lives Matter activism, how would you articulate why it matters to you to make a
song like “If I Have a Son”? What ultimately, do you most want other people to
hear, know, process, and internalize, about your perspective, feelings, and lived
experience as a Black person, who conveys her thoughts through music?
RB: “That song was definitely like a very different song that I wrote. And it was it happened very organically. I didn’t really think I was gonna put it out when I first wrote it; it was kind of just a way for me to put what I had been feeling for a long time into music. (But) I think once I played for my friends later, they were very encouraging of me to put it out.And yeah, that release was was super important and special to me. And I think it definitely ignited this thing in me of wanting to use my whatever – my platform, my voice – for good and like to talk about the things that I’m passionate about and to not be afraid to say those things.
But yeah, I would hope that people just hear hear that perspective. If they’re lucky and don’t have to feel that way in their lives, then I just think it’s it’s important to empathize and understand. I think before we can ask people to change, I think they just have to understand So yeah, it was cool to read all the comments (about the song) that were (saying things) like, ‘I’ll never have to feel this way. Like I don’t have to feel this way. But I don’t want anyone to feel this way. So I want to do my part to help.’ That (kind of reaction) definitely meant a lot to me.”
Photo credit: Gabriel Lima