INTERVIEW – Jake Disman

A day in the life of Audio Engineer, Toronto’s Jake Disman.

Photo credit: Lou Roppoli

Did you know that alternatively, the term “audio engineer” can refer to a scientist? When I watch Jake Disman in action, I am reminded of Einstein, as they both have things in common. Einstein and Jake’s insight comes, as it does for most artists, from intuition and inspiration. As Einstein once stated, “All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge.” Einstein has attributed his scientific insight and intuition mainly to music and the arts. “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music, live my daydreams in music and I see my life in terms of music, I get most joy in life out of music,” Einstein commented.

Jake is someone who has come to intimately understand the workings of a given technology along with its idiosyncrasies.  His knowledge & experience is used in a practical application of the technology toward a perfect musical outcome. Jake Disman is known in the music industry circles as 1 of the best Sound Tech entities.  Audio is not as simple as it looks.  Jake, is a unique and interesting natural phenomenon who is never idle.  During his night owl shifts, you can usually find him on stage or mastering in the sound booth (his office if you will). He arranges gear, assembles, operates the technical equipment & lights used for a fantastic show, performs sound checks to make you at the top of your game, he records, amplifies & enhances any live concert or special event.  Jake is a not just a soundman, he is an audio engineer, he is a digital lightman & dubbing effects specialist, mixer/master & multimedia recording, technician.  As well, he is a seasoned musician, how’s that for added measure!!

I had the pleasure to ask Jake my usual, here goes.  Good afternoon my friend. Jake, it is a pleasure getting to know & understand your fantastic career thru our interview here today, I am sure your fans will concur, you are stellar.

Q: DEB: Jake, how long have you resided in the metropolis of Toronto?

A: JAKE: I was born in Toronto (York Hospital at Jane & Finch, August 24th, 1970). Though I was born in Canada, I was the first person in my family born here. Even my older sister was born in Czechoslovakia, & I spoke Czech before I learned to speak English. This is due to my parents escaping Czechoslovakia in 1968 after the Soviet tanks had rolled in, ending Prague Spring.  Your parents were very courageous & inspiring, now I see where you get that from.

Q: DEB: Jake, how do you juggle, organize & prioritize on the Audio Engineer Job?

A: JAKE: 1st priority is always to stop that thing that’s about to blow.  Next, is why is that thing not making any noise at all, & make it make (the right) noise.  I guess the most important thing after that is, can the artists hear the noise they are trying to make?  If I am doing lights as well, then my next concern would be, can other people see the people making the noise?

Photo Credit:  Candy Burns  – Phoenix Camerah

I have noticed you deep in thought on the job not just at Rockpile but, downtown Toronto running sound at outside Festivals and clubs.

Q: DEB: Run us thru a typical day (in your office) at a club?

A: JAKE: Typical day in my house gig goes something like: I show up as the bands are loading in, I help them figure out where on stage they should optimally place their gear, anywhere to put dead cases.  After they have got all their gear setup, I go & mic the stage, then pin the cables to the snake, that sends the signals to the mixing board.  The main act then starts sending band members or their techs on stage, one by one, starting with the drummer.  I do sound check for each of the musicians, & then they play a song (or 6, depending on the type of gig) to make sure that everyone is comfortable with their stage sound, and that they are giving me the good signal to mix together.  For most shows, the next & last sound check, being the opening act.  Go thru the same procedure as above.  Depending on the show though, sometimes, many or even all the acts will check, which can make for a long afternoon.  Then I make sure that the venue looks like a venue, turning out many of the work lights, & playing genre-appropriate music, helping to set the mood of the room as the patrons start to enter when the doors are open to the public.  At a predetermined time, the 1st act will start, depending on the gig, it will often be my responsibility to make sure that the act knows when they are getting close to the end of their time, to help keep the schedule on track.  Then it’s basically later, rinse & repeat for as many bands as are on the bill.

A (2) JAKE: A typical day on tour, goes a little different. We pull up to the venue early (between noon and 1, (at least for the last couple of tours)and go scope out the venue. Getting the hands to come out as we open the trailer and unload all of the gear into the venue. Myself, and a couple of backline techs on our crew will then construct the backline amps and drum kit, etc. I mic everything up and house tech runs the lines according to the input list that I give him. The back line tech starts giving me sounds from the stage, as we make sure that all of the lines work, and I get a rough start on the sound of each channel before the band members show up for sound check (which was 4 pm sharp for my last few runs). The band would do 3 maybe 4 songs and then they would be done. I save my mix (if digital soundboard) or take pictures of the soundboard and make notes (if analog). At that point I would go back on stage, and with the other crew we’d “spike the stage” or make thin tape marks at the edges of any piece of gear that was going to be moved out of the way for the opening acts, then move the stuff and give the stage over to the house crew so they can take care of the local bands. Only then do we break for a meal. Between then and when the doors open is typically “me” time, where I would go take a little look around whatever city I happened to be in at the time. I’d usually be back right before the first band was scheduled to start, just to make sure that the locals will be keeping to the schedule. When the direct support is done (sometimes I am paid to mix more acts on a tour than just the headliner, sometimes not). Then I go to the stage with the reset of the crew and get the bands stuff back to as close as possible to how it was at the end of the sound check. At the appropriate time (when I get word that the band is good to go) I start the intro music, and go like hell, hoping nothing breaks! At the end of the set I go back to the stage, and we take everything apart and with the local crews’ help (hopefully) we reload everything back to the trailer. Once the lock goes on the trailer door, we go onto the tour bus to have our first beer of the day, as it pulls off towards the next show.

Working with the world’s top names in the music industry you are blessed.

Q: DEB: Who would you say was the most memorable artist you were the sound engineer for?

A: JAKE: It’s impossible for me to pick one memorable artist out of the many 1,000’s of gigs I have enjoyed mixing.

Q: DEB: Jake, how long have you been a creative force in this music biz?

A:   JAKE:   I started off in music playing in punk/thrash bands when I was pretty young, playing my first show Dec 26th, 1986 as the guitarist for Pig Tumbler and we were opening for Bunch of Fucking Goofs!  I had a note from my mom, saying that I had my parents permission to be in a bar, even though I was only 16. I went down hours earlier than the rest of the band, because I wanted to make sure J was going to be allowed to be there, and  if there was an issue, I wanted to have time for my mom to come down (at that time it was legal to be in a bar with your legal guardian if you were under 19) but, not only did the bartender laugh at that, he got me hammered and I ended up puking a little off the side of the stage, right in the middle of my first ever live guitar solo, but, I didn’t miss a note!  That impressed the older punks, lol !  I went to TREBAS in 1992, primarily because I wanted to engineer my own music, and have complete control over the process, but it turned out that I was particularly suited to the profession and graduated top of my school (Summa Cum Laude) and was already business partners with one of my teachers before I finished the course!  I did start getting frustrated by the tracking process in the studio and tried my hand at doing live sound and I guess the rest is history.

DEB:   THIS WHIZ, Jake Disman, is celebrating 32 years as a musician and 25 YEARS IN THE SOUND BIZ!  CONGRATS my musical brother.  🙂

Photo Submitted.

Q: DEB: What an impressive list of musical masters, Icons, and Legends you have had the honor to have perfected sound for?

A: JAKE: That is a tough one to answer, as it depends on who you consider an “icon”?  I mean I have done sound for bands like Dark Funeral, Sick Of It All, Macabre, Mayhem and many others that are likely very obscure names to most, but in the extreme music scene, every one of those names is truly legendary.  Having been brought in specially to mix bands like DRI when they were at Velvet Underground last year, was literally a “bucket list band” for me to mix, a band I have loved for more than 3o years.  I’ve been very honored to get those calls.  Then there are bands that I have toured with, some several times, that also wouldn’t ring a bell to most people.  But these shows all across the world are very well attended and the fanfare rapidly dedicated like: Cryptopsy, Candiria, Poison. The Well, Origin, God Forbid, Angel Dust, Cattle Decaptivation, Nevermore, The Agonist and Opeth, among others.  I went to China with Agonist and it was simply other-worldly!  Huge crowds at an open-air festival, with so many people waving huge banners and flags, singing along nearly perfectly with lines they almost assuredly have no idea the meaning of, or when in Brazil, with Nevermore, running into lifelong fans, who were just so thankful to have their longtime heroes in finally in front of them.  I’ve also been fortunate enough to do sound for other legends like Pat Travers, Uli John Roth, multiple tours with Michael Schenker and so much more.

Q: DEB: Any advice you can share with others in your field that are just starting out, especially in large cities and largest high traffic venues?

A: JAKE: My advice to others interested in this line of work is, it’s not about you, so don’t be a dick! (unless it’s called for, and there are certainly those times).  I have to admit that I haven’t always followed that advice, though it’s something I strive for every gig.  A little decency goes a long way.  Also don’t be afraid to talk to the band if you need them to do something.  Many musicians understand that the sound person is trying to help them, but have a suggestion ready, and compromise when necessary.  Other than that, try to keep in mind on doing sound, it can feel like herding cats and Mythbusters proved that it is possible to polish a turd, so don’t give up!!

In conclusion, it’s once in a musical lifetime you spot that rare friendly gem, that hard-working, passionate, intelligent, dedicated and creative soundman that loves his chosen profession; loves his artists as well as his audience. Keep making the magic happen Jake, 
never stop blowing our minds.