Listen now on Spotify and read on to follow the transcript.
As I mentioned in the introduction, before I really get underway with this podcast, I thought it might be best to first take a few minutes just to tell you a bit about myself in case this is the first time you’ve come across the show and by its association, me.
So for starters, my name’s Jaimee Jakobczak and I’m from Vaughan, Ontario which is just north of Toronto.
I started playing and writing music when I was a kid, started my first band in high school, and I started working at professional recording studios at 17 years old.
The first studio I worked at was really critical, serving not only as my own introduction into the art of producing records, but really to the industry as a whole. It served as a major stepping stone that would later dictate a lot of the decisions I made in my early career.
The studio was Whirlwind Sound which was also here in Vaughan, not far from where I lived, and it was run by producer/engineer Brian Moncarz who these days you might be more familiar with as one of Canada’s leading mix engineers, working with artists like The Trews, Our Lady Peace, and Alice Cooper.
When I met him though, he was just Brian, a guy working mainly with local independent artists that I otherwise hadn’t heard of until they walked through the door.
But through Brian and through those early sessions I was fortunate to meet and work for the first time with another notable name in music, Grammy-award winning producer David Bottrill. If you’re unfamiliar with David perhaps you’re more aware of the artists he’s worked with: Heavy hitters like Peter Gabriel, Tool… and I could go on for a long while on just his highlight reel, but you can look him up and see for yourself.
When I met David for the first time I was working as an assistant for Brian, which was actually a co-op placement I had gotten through my high school. Once I completed the co-op program, I asked Brian if I could keep working with him at the studio, and luckily for me Brian was happy to ask me back for sessions when he needed the extra hands.
It was about a year later when I got accepted into Metalworks Institute for Sound & Music Production in Mississauga, Ontario, and as quickly as I graduated I was back working with David. Quite literally. I ran into David at Metalworks one day because he was producing Italian rock band Negramaro in Studio 6, and after quickly catching up and explaining I had completed and passed everything, he asked me to join them on the session the next day, a Friday.
That Friday was my graduation, and I hesitated before telling him that, not wanting to miss either, but Dave’s an understanding guy and he said, “Saturday then?”
I had already been offered an internship with Metalworks Studios at that time and was due to begin the following week, but this offer from Dave pushed up my start date and the amount of hours I’d be putting into that studio.
I’ll spare the details from then on, but the next couple years I spent jumping from session to session, working for Metalworks Studios and, once a new partnership between David and Brian began and they opened Rattlebox Studios, them too, and every now and then getting my feet wet freelancing at other studios, like Orange Lounge.
And I’d get calls I’d never dreamed of pretty regularly.
“Jaimee, can you be at the studio at 8 tonight to work with Drake?”
“Jaimee, Justin Bieber’s in and might be here for a couple months, what’s your schedule like?”
I’d take on every opportunity that was thrown at me, even if it meant keeping me up for days straight going from session to session without any sleep.
I wasn’t always in the studio, though. I took on other jobs in the industry, working as a stage hand for festivals and venues like Guvernment and Kool Haus in Toronto, and starting my own label and sourcing my own clients as well as an independent producer and engineer.
The fact of the matter was, that although I was getting a lot of work with a lot of great, talented, and reputable producers, engineers, and artists alike, I largely wasn’t getting paid for any of it, and the bands I was working with myself generally weren’t making enough money to pay me either, but I thought I was making all the right steps to solidify myself within the Toronto studio scene and I always told myself that it would pay off eventually.
Hell, most days people were coming to me for advice on how they could see the same type of “success,” and I did my best to offer any I could think of while trying to make them aware of the reality of the situation; In my mind, I wasn’t anywhere near success.
Some of those independent bands I was working with went on to do great things, getting prime-TV placements before Saturday night Leaf games and opening up for well-known Canadian bands on short-run college tours. By all accounts, we all thought we were on to something and close to breaking through all the noise.
The reality of it though was that I was putting more money into other artists or just filling the gas tank than I was my own pockets and it didn’t take long for my bank account to dry up, even though I’d take on other generic jobs when I needed to, working retail, grabbing more freelance gigs, working as a teaching assistant for Metalworks Institute running a weekly study group; I even spent 2 years in the events department at Canada’s Wonderland.
I was working all the time, exhausted, and getting nowhere with it, all the while watching other people I had graduated with start to see some real success with well paying jobs in the industry, awards, public recognition, and great portfolios of their work.
I had no idea where I was going so wrong, especially when so many of the “high-profile” producers I was working with spoke so highly of me.
So eventually, I had to opt out. I was frustrated with spinning the wheel and dealing with a lot of personal problems on top of it all, like anyone else is at any given time.
Around when I turned 24, I just couldn’t keep up with it all.
I left the industry for a while, but I keep finding myself coming back to it.
I’d join new bands, take up new instruments, start doing little mixes here and there for friends. At some point, I’d settled on, “well, if it’s just going to be a hobby, that’s better than nothing, right?”
Fast forward to February 2020 at the height of the pandemic here in Ontario and just about to enter lockdown, I found myself for the first time in years sitting down and pulling out my guitar and a pad of paper. Suddenly I had some things on my mind and I was drawn back to my preferred medium for letting it out; songwriting.
I was living in King City then and commuting every day to Toronto for work, with the one benefit of that being the train ride gave me a lot of time to think. At the time I was also taking another stab at sobriety, having whittled myself down over a few months to only 1 or two drinks a week, which I was proud of but I’d find myself stressed out every time the opportunity presented itself, so I knew I was close to the next step – kicking it entirely. At the same time, I was dealing with my failing marriage and I was about to opt out of that, too.
It wasn’t something I took lightly or a decision I wanted to rush. It also wasn’t something I was prepared to talk about with anybody close to me; we had only gotten married in June 2018 and I knew, ultimately, other opinions wouldn’t sway me any which way, it had to be one I made for myself, just like my sobriety.
And I’m not saying that lockdown is the best time to try and tackle these types of things on your own, but once my work told us we’d begin working from home in March and I knew I’d no longer have the same pressures of meeting friends out at bars or at parties, I thought for me personally, it made the most sense.
And then I had one other truth to face: I’d spent years telling people, “If only I had the time to put into music again, I think this time I could really figure it out.”
So now, here I was, with more free-time than I’d ever had in my entire life at my disposal – it was time to put that theory to the test.
At this point, the one thing I hadn’t accomplished in all my years working in the music industry was putting out something of my own. I had all the necessary tools, but none of the confidence to put it all together and promote it.
I started writing music again with the intention of, after lock-down, putting together a band, but I had spent years trying to work with other people on various projects and I knew that would come with its own challenges. Plus, I had something to prove to myself.
I’d worked on great records from start to finish with other artists, why had I not given myself the same time and care?
Making the decision to give myself that same opportunity is why I started Crooked Forest, and why now, almost 2 years after that, I finally have a physical CD with my name on it, that I produced, recorded, wrote, played, and mixed.
This is a goal that I dreamt up at 13 and took me 18 years to accomplish.
So that’s how we got here today, now with a podcast because, in thinking through all of these experiences, all the challenges that I faced personally, and those that I know so many others have faced as well trying to accomplish these same types of goals, either as industry members or artists, I realize that my story is not exactly uncommon, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
Especially now as we look toward the future of the music industry and all the new challenges we’ll all be facing as we adapt to new restrictions, new technology, and make way for new voices, the Side Barre exists to amplify those voices, share new ideas, and come together to carve better pathways for new artists and creatives than the ones we came from.
These podcast episodes will be supplemented with blog posts, interviews, and whatever else that comes to mind as relevant on an episode-to-episode basis and if there is something in particular you want to hear about, or you yourself want to speak about, there’s a place for you here.
Thanks for your attention as I tried my best to keep this episode as concise as I could to help better explain why I put all of this together and hopefully it’s helped shed a little light on what you can expect to hear as we move along with the series.