We had the good fortune of connecting with Nick Poortman and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Nick, why did you pursue a creative career?
I can still recall the moment I walked into the control room of the small studio at my school at the age of 12 and stated “this is what I’m going to do”.

Coming from a non-musical family, there was some rogue gene that pulled me towards music. I began playing guitar and saxophone, using music as my creative outlet, and I had a natural draw to tech. Career interests bounced between graphic designer to architect, animator to pilot, but none that really stuck. Discovering a room filled with equipment that allowed me to record and manipulate sound was the perfect blend of my more nerdy technical side with my creative musical side, leading me to discover the roles of audio engineer and record producer.

In my early teens I had a summer job answering phones at a courier company call center. Dealing with irate customers and making mere dollars per hour, I could barely see myself making it the month there – let alone the thought of doing it every day. It was a great experience to show me where I didn’t want to be, and pushed me to work harder in an area of passion.

I began recording our band as a teenager and experimenting with early digital production. This rapidly became an obsession, resulting in me visiting commercial studios and sitting in on recording sessions. My 17th birthday present to myself was enrolling in School of Audio Engineering, and shortly after graduating I landed as an intern in a major studio before working my way up. Through the following years I moved from New Zealand to the UK and back, before arriving in LA in 2017.

There’s a feeling in the studio that I’ve never felt anywhere else; it’s this humbling warmth and feeling of potential energy, fostered by everyone striving for the common goal of capturing the song the best it can be. The studio is our safe bunker, closed away from the troubles of the world, and for that moment in time the song is the only thing that matters.

The emotional investment into these tracks is immense from everyone involved. Some songs I’ve recorded still give me goosebumps upon the first note. Sharing the experience of recording creates extremely close friendships, partly as we spent 12+ hours a day in the studio. Case in point; all of my closest friends are musicians, engineers or producers that I have been on multiple recording sessions with.

Waking up each Monday and being excited to work is such a privilege. It was certainly hard work to get to where I currently am, but I continue to strive for what’s next.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Before I began studying audio I was already well aware of the realities of it being a long and difficult road. Having decided on my path early on, I was able to complete my studies before my year level had completed high school, and was working as a studio intern before my peers had begun college. It was rare to have an 18 year old working in one of the top studios in the country.

I considered my unpaid studio internship as my second year of studying. The chief engineer left six months after I began, so I was straddling the intern role (cleaning toilets, making coffee and rolling cables) and the assistant engineer role (setting up the studio, assisting with recording, providing for the producer and engineer). Working 13-16 hour days unpaid certainly took its toll on personal life, friendships and finances.

I gravitated towards two people; producer Greg Haver and engineer Clint Murphy. They had such a solid process, a great dynamic, and were great fun to be around, so I focused my efforts on being the best assistant engineer I could for them. Later in the year they expressed plans to move to the UK to base themselves out of a residential studio in the British countryside, but spoke of their struggles with that studio’s assistants. Eager to stay alongside them, I immediately expressed interest in moving to the UK too. Clint and Greg connected me with the studio owner – who received dozens of work requests weekly – and they vouched for me as I pitched my case. After a brief Skype interview, I was offered the role of assistant engineer, and within a matter of months we were all together again working on sessions at a studio over 11,000 miles away. Any studio position is highly sought after and very competitive, so receiving an offer for a studio on the other side of the world is an extremely rare occurrence. Being 19 and moving across the world to work almost exclusively with my chosen mentors marked a pivotal time in my career.

Years later, after returning to New Zealand I was trying to find my place in the industry again. There had been a crossover point where technological advancements significantly lowered the barrier to entry for recording, opening the door to the possibility of people recording from home. I asked myself: “what is my point of difference?”

Late one night while recording the vocalist in a major studio, I took a moment to objectively look around. I realized we were paying a significant figure to have access to a wide range of microphones, a large console and racks of outboard gear, but were only using a single instance of each of these items. We had a huge recording room, but the vocalist was baffled away in a small booth. It just seemed so inefficient – equipment-wise and cost-wise – which served as the inspiration for my point of difference.

I took it upon myself to source these pieces of gear, and compile it all into a mobile rig (including acoustic panels). This enabled us to record drums in a large studio (as drums require a lot of equipment), then could record bass, guitars and vocals in vacation homes in desirable locations – significantly reducing the budget and achieving the same, if not better, results. Not only did this offer great recording flexibility, but supported bonding time by all staying in a house together – reminiscent of our times at the residential studio in the UK. We’d share meals, go to the beach and play games, utilizing the flexibility of our own schedules to start and finish as we felt inspired.

Throughout my career I’ve always searched for creative solutions to reduce costs and stress for the client. Providing a range of options allows me to approach recording as a client-centric experience.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I generally alternate between restaurants, hikes, beaches and long drives.

One essential stop is my favorite restaurant; Lal Mirch in Studio City. It’s the only Indian restaurant I’ve found in LA that has great flavors and quality ingredients without overbearing sweetness. It’s one of those places where we’re known by name, and they even added a dish to the menu as I ordered it so often! Everyone we’ve referred there is a return customer.

For our weekend mornings, Lou The French On The Block in Burbank/Toluca Lake. It’s a small french bakery making genuine french pastries and quiches. Lou is often around greeting and chatting with customers, bringing a community feel not often found in large cities.

The Vital Link trail is a great hike, and is much more strenuous than renowned hikes. It’s a 3.8 mile hike in Wildwood Canyon Park, and ends in a lookout point up by a radio tower at an elevation of around 3,000ft. On clear days, you can see Catalina Island and everything in between. My dog sets quite a pace, so it’s a great workout.

Following a hike, I like to head out to Malibu, which is home to so many great memories and I have a list of favorite stops along the way. The drive out there is such a great reset, and you can spend the day driving up the coast. Returning from day trips, I’ll often take some time off the freeway to enjoy the side streets of Beverly Hills, around Mulholland Drive, across to the Hollywood Bowl overlook, and back down through Studio City.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Unfortunately, in mid 2018 I had to deal with a particularly awful person, who caused such disruption to both my professional and personal life that I was on the cusp of quitting the industry altogether.

I was on a weekend trip out of town and had planned to reassess my options upon returning. On the Sunday morning before leaving, I received a friendly, thoughtful and intriguing email from Corbin Dooley expressing interest in working on sessions together. I trusted my instincts, and decided to meet that evening. He greeted me with such a warm welcome, and was radiating joy and enthusiasm. We just seemed to click immediately, and two days later we began working together. To this day – over four years on – Corbin remains a close friend and collaborator.

Corbin is someone who genuinely believes in me, both in and out of music. Throughout these past four years we’ve created such a diverse range of music, shared so many great stories, laughs and experiences, and have created so many unforgettable memories. He’s a great mentor personally and professionally, and a solidly reliable, generous and honest friend.

So Corbin, thank you for your eternal support, optimism and positivity.

Also, to my wife Alicia, who consistently shows endless support, love, and understands me like no one else. Her strong and decisive honesty keeps me grounded in reality while expressing unwavering encouragement in my pursuits. She’s fiercely loyal, passionate and talented, with strong discipline in honing an incredible skill set of her own. Thank you for all that you do!

Additional shoutout to Greg Haver and Clint Murphy for believing in me, even as a fresh 18 year old. They shaped the way I approach music production, provided such a solid foundation for me to grow from, and continue to provide support and friendship 15 years on.

Website: nickpoortman.com

Instagram: instagram.com/nckprtmn

Image Credits
Photos 3, 6 and 7 by Christian Tjandrawinata

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.