For those unaware of the challenges involved in being an independent recording musician in 2015, Eric Siblin’s new memoir does a fine job of laying out the studio part of the equation. The book charts the Montreal writer’s admirably determined year-long attempt to record an album of original music, something he’d wanted to do since first picking up an acoustic guitar in his teens. The challenges include self-doubt in one’s musical creations, difficult collaborations, taking a song in myriad directions until all of its elements cohere and satisfy, learning to use equipment like effects pedals and distortion for the first time. And that’s all before Siblin ever steps foot into a studio.
He records in three very different spaces, a compare-and-contrast technique that makes room for discussions about “authenticity” and the pros and cons of the digital revolution. The professional studio Hotel2Tango is expensive and cool, with analogue capabilities, vintage gear, and Arcade Fire connections. The attic studio in a rich friend’s mansion includes a laptop with software for recording and YouTube for distribution. Then there’s the humble basement studio of a former wedding-band drummer.
We’re introduced to all three locations, and the characters who go with them. Practical Siblin, whose penchant for unwieldy historical lyrics is comical, keeps the pace brisk, deftly interweaving backstory and small allusions to a broken heart. Only when his wide-eyed curiosity causes him to delve too deeply into explanations of dull technical matters – like what kind of cord is plugged where and why – does the narrative slow down.
The author also wisely gives time to fledgling musicians other than himself. There’s the sassy, single-mom singer-
songwriter trying to regain her footing, whom Siblin often turns to for writing advice; the polished R&B vocalist playing the circuit but making few inroads; and the rich friend’s teen daughter, who’d like to become a pop star.
Amusing throughout, the book gains weight as the album – there is a companion CD available – nears the finish line. All the effort, time, and money (a subject the author mostly avoids: like, how much is all this costing and how is he paying for it?) prompts significant questions about why we make art at all, especially with so little chance of financial compensation or “making it.”
Yet the drive to create still remains, as does the drive to discover and share one’s unique voice. In an ideal world, Studio Grace might at the very least make a reader reconsider downloading music for free.