Baltimore singer-songwriter ‘Like Water’ provides her unique perspective on an unprecedented year for an industry forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Christen B, a soulful and revolutionary musical artist now known as “Like Water,” initially had high hopes for a year of new music and a much-anticipated tour across the United States, but the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the music industry kept her off the stage and out of the studio, entirely separated from the artistic world she so loves. Her newfound resilience is shared by musicians around the world who have been forced to adapt to a new creative process, one no longer cultivated in flashy recording booths or presented to roaring crowds. Instead, artists have worked quietly behind closed doors for the past year, sealed off from a frenzied world in makeshift studios to bring a new era of music to their fans.
According to the trade publication Pollstar, the global concert industry lost roughly $30 billion in 2020, but streaming services boosted revenue for a music world in disarray. As Like Water and other musicians independently produced and released new music while in quarantine, their fans followed suit, passing idle time exploring stripped-back tracks and new genres of music introduced by COVID-19 pandemic seclusion. In the midst of her isolation and uncertainty about the future, Like Water remains hopeful and driven as she continues to pursue her dream from the confines of her home.
When did your love for music first develop? How did you turn your passion into a career?
I grew up singing harmonies with my brother while my mom practiced for performances. I remember loving the magic that happens when sounds come together and layer in such a way that you get lost in them. It was a feeling that I had no words for at the time. I just knew it felt right. I feel like music called out to me even when I wasn’t thinking any further than just needing a release. When my younger brother died, I wrote songs to heal. A beautiful human who is now my wife heard them and told me that the world needed to hear it. That was the first step that propelled me into a career in music. Honestly, I turned my passion into a career by saying yes and surrounding myself with people who truly believe in what I do.
How long have you been working in the music industry and how would you describe your style of music?
I have been working in the music industry since 2014, and it has been quite a journey. My style is constantly evolving. At this present moment, I would describe it as Indie-Soul-Electro-R&B-Ambient-Feel Good music. My process is creation first and label later, so the possibilities are endless.
I can imagine that the tumultuous year of 2020 brought its fair share of challenges to artists and creators alike. What were some of your plans and goals pre-pandemic? Did they come to fruition?
I, like so many artists, planned to tour. I was going to revisit some of the cities where I played on my 2017 cross-country tour and reignite that connection. There’s nothing like going back to a city that showed so much love, and for those fans to be able to bring their friends along this time would have been even more exciting. In addition, I planned to create an album with a group of my musician friends. It was going to be a whole lock-in documentary creation vibe and I couldn’t wait. As we all know, those plans were the exact opposite of what was possible in 2020 and even now at the scale that was originally envisioned. But in true creator visionary form, the plans shifted, and the work continues.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced as a musical artist in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? How did you adapt to this strange period in your career?
As a Black woman, the pandemic was only one layer of all that was 2020. My little brother was killed by an off-duty police officer, so the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement brought up intense emotions that I wasn’t prepared to revisit. That, in combination with the effects of COVID-19, left me in a space of radical truth, self-reflection, and clarity. The challenge I faced most was an extreme lack of balance. Trying to hold it together emotionally and mentally while wanting to use the pause as a time to dive into music and self-development was exhausting, to put it simply. This time pushed me to see myself and the direct connection that exists between my life and my art. The shift in my career was a direct result of my shift in perspective. My priorities changed, my values were amplified, and I saw how imperative it is to honor my needs. My value is no longer dictated by my accomplishments, which has created a space of endless possibilities. I am now creating, performing, interacting, and living from a place of seeing the potential in all that comes my way. That has manifested in ways I would have never imagined- private concerts, live streams, healing summits, virtual school assemblies, panels, and conferences are just a few things that now fill my calendar and I am truly grateful.
Were you able to be more creative or productive during your time in quarantine at the peak of the coronavirus spread? How did you and other artists acclimate to writing and producing music from home?
I started quarantine filling my day with guitar, Spanish and production lessons, creating new music, reading, and working out, but it left no room for me. I found myself needing to recharge more frequently and didn’t fully grasp the weight of all that the world as a whole was experiencing and my personal reaction to it. I am finding a balance that prioritizes my needs over perceived productivity. How that shows up in my artistry is quite similar to my normal creation process. Give me a closet and a microphone and I am good to go. The biggest challenge was living in a 1-bedroom apartment with my wife who is also working from home. Sounds travel in our apartment, so trying to produce studio quality recordings with the sounds of life in the background was something I eventually gave up on for the sake of my sanity. I decided to write the songs and map out basic production with elements that I loved. I then sent out the tracks to my incredible musician friends to record from home and send back to me. I recorded scratch vocals for everything to get a feel for the harmonies and vibe but decided to cut the official vocals for most of the songs in the studio. Artists are resilient and accustomed to figuring out how to make things work. This time showed me how many dope creatives I have in my space and when we collaborate, so many doors begin to open.
How do you expect the industry as a whole to inch its way back to normalcy after the pandemic? Can we ever expect to go back to concerts or festivals? Will artists be able to tour in the near future?
Normal is no more. I think the path forward is to imagine how things can be better with new information, with new regulations that will be in place, and with artists seeing the power they hold. I think we are all longing to experience that in-person energy exchange, so concerts and festivals will definitely happen. The question is when, and will it be safe? The vaccine will create a feeling of safety that could speed up the return to these types of gatherings, but I don’t think I’ll be looking to play the first one. Touring could definitely return sooner. Thinking of events like Sofar Sounds shows where the spaces are more flexible and don’t have extreme overheads could be a great way for artists to slowly and safely get back to playing live. With that said, I don’t think virtual shows will disappear and many artists have cut out the middleman and gone directly to their fans for support during this time, so the old structure will shift for sure.
What else do you have planned in the coming future and where can people find you online or on social media?
I am releasing an album on my birthday, March 23rd called “She Called It Noise”! It has truly been a labor of love for all involved and I can’t wait for you all to hear it. You can connect with me at christenbmusic.com.