Los Angeles-based Mark Needham joined us in 2016 for an excellent Q&A, and here it is in an interview-style article for your reading pleasure! His work with such notable pop & rock artists such as Imagine Dragons, Chris Isaak, Pink, Fleetwood Mac, Shakira and more means that his legacy is assured in the pantheon of prominent producers, but perhaps his best-known work is with The Killers - β€˜Mr. Brightside’ is of the longest-charting singles of all-time in both the US and the UK and it was his sonic magic that helped pushed that floor-filler to wild heights of popularity! We hope you enjoy catching up with Mark’s wisdom, where he touched on everything from the tools of his trade to the business side of life as a top producer/mixer.

[top]Could you specify some of the essential contract stipulations when developing an unknown artist(s) with the intention to get them signed? And/or direct us to what you feel are good resources for outlining such contracts?​​ - Ohgee

A few things would be. Make sure you have your publishing splits in writing. Go for override points on the record if it gets signed so that you don't get blown out by the label, your tracks recut and you end up with nothing. I usually go for a flat fee for every song mixed to get the deal and a bump for those used on the record. Read Donald Passman's books. Make sure you have a Sound Exchange LOD filed.

[top]Any light you can shed on Cake's "Prolonging the Magic"? I am a huge fan of their production and PTM is beautiful sounding.​​ - Ragan

John was really a driving force behind their sounds and arrangements. On that record we decided to record and mix everything DRY, no reverbs at all. Also very little compression is used in that mix or recording. I think those things really helped to set it apart at the time. OH and the great songs!

Audio Ease Altiverb

[top]What plugins do you use on your mixes?​​ - Vintagetones

I use a LOT of plug ins but I would say everything made by UAD is GREAT. I also use the Waves SSL and 1176 as well (CLA) but 80% or UAD. I also use Altiverb a lot.

[top]A couple questions concerning your use of reverb & delay:
1) Do you typically EQ your Altiverb and Echoboy sends? If so, how? Are you using a high/low pass filter on either? Do you have any go-to settings?
2) Do you include any delay plugins after (or before) Altiverb in your FX send?​​ - Caz

On Echo boy I just open it up and make whatever I feel is right for the song. Sometimes I use the filters in the plug in and sometimes I use an SSL EQ or FutzBox. I put it before Altiverb or after depending on what I am trying to achieve. I use the Altiverb EQ, leave it flat and use other EQS. Crap I am not being much help here am I? I stack multiple reverbs or delays as well or side chain the delay send or use Tremolator after reverbs.

[top]Re: Imagine Dragons β€˜Night Visions’ - I purchased the album, saw them at a show here in Montreal. I know that Dan Reynolds plays a lot of percussion. How do you manage all the Low End of the bass, bass drums, and so much percussions at the same time?​​ - MichaelStAmour

There is a lot of low end information going on that I try to control with some sub filters and multiband compression, sometimes individually and on the stereo buss as well

Neumann TLM 170

[top]When tracking live drums, what combinations of mic's do you like best in what positions?​​ - elegentdrum

I use a TLM 170 on the kick with an NS10 sub and a U47 out mic. On the snare I use a Heil PR22 (use to use a Beyer 740 but it has gotten smacked a lot) and a SM57 on the bottom. Over's I use C12As or Sanken CU47s. HH AKG 414 and toms either Heil PR40s or SENN 421s and Rooms a combo of either C12As or Manley refs. I will have a few mono mics center like a 57 for talk back and maybe an AEA ribbon. I also use Shure Beta 91s on the kick sometimes. For pre's I am using NEVE 1081's and Daking's .

I have used pretty much the same set up for a while. I love the Cole's on overs but I would probably just get someone else to hit the drums and try some different mics in different spots and come up with a solution that sounds great in your room on your drums. There are a lot of variables at work and a day of experimentation sounds like it's in order.

[top]Thanks for the reply. So in general you like 47 flavor overheads/outside kick, full spectrum dynamics on toms, and a very phase coherent snare top.​​ - Elegentdrum

I would start with the Coles as LR room mics, the sound delux as a mono room. Heil PR 40 as a top snare and a SM57 bottom, Kick a D12 and your sub, a pair of condenser mics on overs and one on the ride (maybe the Sonys) and see what works best on the toms. Maybe try a couple of crazy room mics to see if you come up with something cool.

[top]I'd like to ask you what would be your advice to the young and aspiring engineers and producers. What should they focus their efforts on? Study, gear, building relationships? Stay local or dig deep into the world wide web...or a little bit of both?​​ - Diogo C

Play an instrument, develop relationships with local bands and young A&R people in your area or at events like SXSW. It is unlikely that a big established artist will reach out to you to mix or produce their record so I think you need to find and nurture great talent early and hopefully find that artist that blows up and gets you the name recognition. Also read books like All You Need To know About The Music Business and make sure you have your paperwork together. Otherwise you can get blown out of the picture when a band gets signed or takes off and not get any credit. But first and foremost is to listen to and understand what makes a great song! That is where it all starts.

[top]To piggyback on the question from Diogo C...what would be the one nugget of wisdom that you might impart to someone like myself who may never get into a real studio but who is still seriously intent on producing the best possible recordings in that back bedroom in front of a computer screen?​​ - Unclenny

My studio is on my property at home now and I like to think it is a real studio! Get a computer, a good preamp and mic and a set of speakers that you listen to everything on so you know what a great mix sounds like on them and start making tracks. My first studio was a 4 channel tube mic pre /mixer with a bass and treble control, 2 mics and an old Sony 2 track. Just do it a lot and the other stuff will come.

UAD Precision K-Stereo

[top]I noticed all your mixes have great width and depth. How are you achieving that?​​ - Novaaaron

I try to do a lot of hard L R panning and sometimes create parts to help add to that feel. I try to get some of that high end energy out to the sides but with enough difference in doubled parts to really feel the width and not puling back to mono.I also spend time looking for FX that help to spread the field with delays/chorus or reverbs. There are also several stereo expanders out there and I use the UAD KStereo on tracks as well.

[top]I definitely get the feeling that you approach mixing almost as an "arranger" - as you talk about building the vs. in to pre-chorus in to chorus, etc.. Bringing up the good parts when they need to make an impact, making the chorus big compared to vs. or pre-chorus so that it pops, etc.. Is this right? Do you end up doing a lot of "subtractive" arranging with bands by removing unwanted/unneeded parts, or do you even end up adding parts if necessary?
If so, how do your clients take to this?​​ - drBill

Let me be clear in that I don't take everyone's song and try to remake it to my vision. I try to work with the parts I am given and find a place for everything. If I think I have an arrangement idea that works better I will send the band both options and let them decide. There are a lot of artists that come to me and want the option of me helping to rearrange or to help take their tracks in different direction, and then I try to find solutions that still feel like what the artist is trying to achieve but maybe didn't think of. Mixing a song that is well arranged is certainly A LOT easier and I would agree that not as much time is spent doing that now as when we were working on 16 or 24 tracks and you had to commit to sounds and parts. I would not wish to go back to those days though, as the ability to try so many ideas quickly and find the best way to make a song work is so much easier for me now. In either case though the mixer is doing some arrangement work, even if it is just through the choice of sounds, effects and levels.

[top]What record (in your opinion) is the best work you've ever done? What are you most proud of?​​ - Whitecat

This is a question I get asked a lot and to be truthful I don't really rate the mix when I am just listening to a song (unless I am asked to). I hear ideas that I might try to emulate but I don't pay much attention to the "mixing styles". I just listen and like a song or not. I don't really have a favorite genre of music either as I like A LOT of different stuff. As far as my work, I love all of the hits as it is so much fun to know that a lot of people around the world are listening to songs that I played some small role in bring to fruition. Bands like Cake, Chris Isaak, Fleetwood Mac, The Killers, Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees and so many more have taken a chance with me mixing their music and I owe them a big thank you. There are some that not many people have heard like Songs For A Blue Guitar by Mark Kozelek or 60 Watt Silver Lining by Mark Eitzel that I am very proud of, as well as hundreds of other bands throughout the years that I don't have the room here to mention.

Soundtoys Decapitator

[top]I'm really enjoying the sound of the Modern Space album. I'm particularly interested in lead vocal processing. Is the saturation coming from the Decapitator? What are using for delay & reverb?​​ - Seawell

Yes, a Decapitator, Echo boy and Altiverb.

[top]You mentioned in another post that you use 3 drum busses? Could you share some info on this and your general philosophy/ methods for mixing drums?​​ - Mr XY

I mixed without them for 30 years and use them now a good percentage of the time but not always. I have 3 different busses, they have varying amounts and types of compression and distortion from subtle to pretty extreme and I can use different combinations for more or less grit and excitement on different songs or sections of songs.

[top]I read that you are now using 45A's but I was curious when you had your 25As where your crossover freq was. BTW. I saw a pic a couple of months ago of you playing pool with my old friend Warren Wyatt. Looked like a good time. Warren always has a good time!​​ - Kellyd

I am at 90 on the ATC sub with the 45s and if I remember right that is where I had the 25s. I just set them by ear to some songs that I know well. I was with Warren and Nick from Mona in that picture!

[top]I was wondering what role you played in Imagine Dragons' success. Were you there from the start, or brought in more towards the end for the mix?​​ Also do you have a system/team/person who puts these bands under your nose? ​​ - Mattkeller

I saw the band at a bar in Las Vegas about 2 1/2 years before they got signed and I loved their energy. I have very specific things that I look for in a band and they had enough of the elements for me to ask to get involved. I mixed songs to help them get a deal and those were used on the record as well. I can't get into the terms of my deal but it was a great project to be involved in and brought in a lot more work as well. I also did that with The Killers and Neon Trees. I know a lot of people who tell me about new bands and I also go out and see them.The main thing about the Dragons that caught my attention right away was Dan's delivery. I do spec deals with these bands so I am fronting the costs of my part of the project until either I or the band get a deal.

Akai DD1000

[top]"Wicked Game" has to be one of the most sublime productions ever. Did you know what a standout it was while working on it? That acappella at the end - was that written in from the beginning, or did it come together in the mix?​​ When Lana Del Rey released "Blue Jeans" and everyone compared it to "Wicked Game", what did you think? Have you gotten a lot of requests since then for the "Wicked Game" sound?​​ - User

That song was very hard for us to record and get the feel we wanted. I ended up programming the drums on an Akai DD1000 and the bass on a Synclavier. That achieved the hypnotic effect we were looking for and left us 16 tracks to do the rest. We needed one track for SMPTE code and a guard track next to it so we did not get SMPTE bleed. The vocals were live in front of speakers which made them difficult to mix as well. You can hear the bleed ride up whenever Chris sings. That ending was always part of the arrangement as I remember and to us the song sounded pretty good when it was done. I don't think anyone thought that a ballad was going to be that successful at the time and it wasn't until the 2nd video that it really took off. I haven't really received a lot of requests for that sound in a long time despite Lana's success with it. I think any great production requires starting with a great song. You have to focus on getting the lyrics and melody correct in pre-production before you start building a track and then see what helps get the message of the song across. That might take 160 tracks or 4.

[top]Re: Chris Isaac Forever Blue - The drums are also so incredible sounding. Vocals. Reverbs. Bass. The whole album is perfect. Was it recorded on 16 track Studer 820, 30ips, sm900...or ADAT? SM57's on guitars? or U47's?​​ - Heyhey

Forever Blue was recorded at 30 ips on A Studer 800 24 track on Ampex tape. SM 57's on the guitars and a Sanken CU47 on Vocals. It is hard to remember all of the mics but the kick was a TLM 170, the snare was a Beyer 740, C12s on the overheads, U47 on the bass. All GML pre's. Thank you for the kind words on the sounds!

[top]1) What's your view on mix bus compression? Do you like to set one up on the 2 bus and mix into it, do you never do that, or does it change based on circumstances?
2) What are some of your favorite or go-to compressors for different instrument tracks that could use some compression (e.g., vocals, guitars, drum buses)? ​​ - Rosewood123

Right now I have kind of a complicated stereo bus path and I am mixing through it. I change this up sometimes so just to keep things interesting or to get a particular over all feel. Right now I usually start with this and use more of one or another depending on the song:
  • Shadow Hills compressor
  • SSL G buss
  • K stereo
  • Maag EQ
  • Precision Multiband
  • ATR 102
  • Varible Mu
  • Curve Bender
These are all UAD plug-ins. For vocals I usually use a combo of a silver face 1176 and silver LA2A. Electric guitars I use the SSL G a lot. Acoustic guitars I like the silver 1176.

My drum buss is kind of crazy with 3 different parallel compression buss's and distortion FX and I am using a few different drum compressors on the individual drums. And sometimes I don't use any at all. I guess it depends on what I am going for on any particular song.

[top]Do you find yourself processing more on individual tracks opposed to groups, especially as it pertains to effects? Do you treat each sound more on its own? This used to be an elementary approach but I feel with the advent of limitless instances of processor/plug-in, it expands possibilities and gives infinite control.​​ - ericmixer

I lean more to individual processing rather than group bussing.I rarely buss tracks to a sub group and try to have my FX change from section to section (i.e. different fx on a vocal from verse to pre to chorus) and the EQ, compression and saturation as well. I didn't use sub groups when I was analogue either and I use them less now as it is so much easier to have independent FX for anything I want with out running our of faders or patch cables. I actually had a studio owner come in once when I was mixing analogue and tell me I was using to many patch cords and I had to take some out and give them back to the other rooms!After that I just brought my own patch bays and cables. I cut up tracks a lot between verse's and chorus's so I can have more dramatic changes between sections. When I mixed before there was automation I would stop the 2 track at the chorus, readjust all of the levels and sounds for that section, and then splice it, or mix the verses, chorus's and bridge separate and just edit it together.

[top]Re Chris Isaak. Any insight on those, the recording themselves (techniques), the mixes and reverbs used?​​ - Neil Pickles

We spent a lot of time on the drum and bass tracks on those records and I think that having that solid foundation makes the rest of the process easier. When I first started working with Chris I don't think anyone in the band was a fan of the big reverb's. That sort of grew organically as we started working on the early songs. I had two big live chambers I used on the first records but by Wicked Game the "signature" reverb was a 480L snare plate reverb with some tweaks (longer decay, more top and some delays). The guitar sound on a song like Wicked Game was a SM 57 on a 64 Delux to that same plate but also riding a delay through a TC 2290 feeding an Eventide 3000 Big Chorus setting and back to the plate and then riding that send so the guitar FX would swell from mono to stereo. There was enough space in the production to really be able to hear all of those cool reverb trails on the vocals and guitars. I also used a Publison sound hoarder program to get some of those long vocal notes going off into reverb.

TC Electronic 2290

[top]What revision/s do you get asked for the most, and how many average per record, if you had to guess?​​ - Jimmydeluxe

That can range from zero to 15 depending on the band. I find though that even when the band thinks they have a lot of notes it only takes 30 minutes or so to do them. I probably average around 4 or 5 but those might only take 15 minutes or so to do. I also find it very helpful to stream the mix on occasion to the band using NICECAST so they can hear the changes live or identify a part they are looking for.


[top]Just curious how monitoring plays into your decisions. Like...Do you need/prefer to hear subwoofer frequencies? Are there any tips for mixing in not so great monitoring environments?​​ - heyhey

I REALLY want to thank everyone for asking such great questions! This would be very dull if I was sitting here talking to myself. I use ATC 45s with an ATC sub right now and ALWAYS listen to everything on the same speakers.I also mix at very low levels now as I work 12 plus hours a day and take a lot of short breaks to keep my ears fresh. I find that just picking one set of speakers and listening to everything on them helps keep me keep my perspective.I have had several different monitors over the years and change it up sometimes just to shake up my world. I used NS10's with a sub for about 15 years and ATC 25s for 4 or 5 years.

[top]Are there any sources you don't put Compression on? Like guitars? Or do you find most things need at least a hair to smooth out? - Greenfields

That depends on the song and the style of mix I am going for. On most of the ALT ROCK stuff I am doing there is some amount of compression on most of the tracks, although some of that is a very small amount. I have done a lot of records that had almost none, i.e. Songs For Blue Guitar/Red House Painters or Cake/Prolonging the Magic which also has no reverb at all. I guess my rule of thumb is does it help me achieve the sound I want.

[top]Could you share any thoughts on how you coax that energy out of your mixes? What about your mixing method do you think helps achieve this the most?​​ - Eggsmack

I'm not sure if I'm just pissed off all of the time or if I drink way too much Tejava! I really just try to dig in to those little parts that I feel bring energy to the track and bring them out with either compression, EQ or distortion or a combo of those. Also I try to get as much dynamics from section to section while also dealing with the constraints of modern "elevated levels".

[top]What is your approach if you think production has unnecessary useless tracks that will clouding the mix?​​ - alex_danilov

That depends somewhat on how the band or clients have defined my role going in. I get songs a lot with 4 or 5 guitar tracks (different mics or cabs) all with varying phase issues and then I just mute the ones I don't like. If a band wants everything in I try to find a place for what is there to make it work but a big percentage of the time people want my production sense as well. Then I just take parts in or out or move things around to get the dynamic that I want to keep the song interesting and building. Sometimes that means creating some new parts as well or rearranging a song.

[top]With the amount of affordable outboard gear and the plethora of plugins on the market now, do you feel mixers get too stuck on minutiae and don't spend enough time just mixing on instinct?​​ - Midnight Oil Audio

Everybody has their own path and some mixers who really focus on the minutia do great work. I move along faster and just go with what my vision is pretty quickly and try to look at the big picture. I go back and get into the small details with the band and they put their stamp on it. As far as the gear versus a great artist I don't really care that much if all I had was DBX 160 and one great pre. I have made some cool records with almost nothing (I started with a 4 channel tube mixer with a treble and bass knob, two mic's and a 2 track recorder). For me it is (hopefully!) about the song but there is really no right or wrong way to do this.

Steven Slate Raven MTX

[top]How are you finding the touch display to effect your mixing? Does it feel more immediate and 'analogue' in terms of workflow?​​ - robmoles

I LOVE MY RAVENS! I use a combination of touch , mouse and faders on the Avid S6 and couldn't be happier. I have pretty much everything I need to interact with the faders and plugs.

[top]Mark as someone who has had the awesome pleasure of mixing records that you have also mixed songs on, I always hear about how you mix really quick. Like three hours top to bottom is what I hear. How do you get this kind of speed? Is it a great session setup from your assistants? Do you have a template that you tend to use? Is there anything that you feel like helps you get to where you're trying to go easier? Such as speakers or monitoring level? Have you always mixed this quickly?​​ - Rick Carson

I have always laid out my tracks in the same order for 40 years so I always know where parts are. I have an assistant who organizes the tracks for me and then right or wrong, I make decisions about sounds and levels pretty quickly. I don't spend much time second guessing myself and MOST of the time that is OK. Not always though.

[top]You are credited with mixing Moons single "We're So Close". Can you tell me what it was like working with those guys and maybe give some insight into how you achieved such a massive low end on that track?​​ - Empire Prod

I have worked with Dan on a few projects and the band is just great to work with. I guess to get that big low end I just turned that Moog up LOUD. I am using a couple of multiband compressors, one on the stereo buss and one on that bass to make sure the sub doesn't get out of control.

[top]When would you say your big break happened? Advice for young engineers trying to make their mark in the industry?​​ - doom64

I have always spent a lot of time helping to develop new artists and have had several that have really helped my career move forward. Chris Isaak, The Killers. Imagine Dragons and The Neon Trees to name a few. Find great artists and get in early.

[top]One aspect of your mixing that I really enjoy is your ability to enhance and add to the energy and momentum of a song. When listening to your mixes I never really find myself checking out for a section of the song, and you really do a good job at making a chorus feel like a chorus. What techniques do you use to achieve this? How can I, as a young mix engineer, develop a better instinct for song energy?​​ - Skycaptain

I try to find things that I can change FX wise from verse to chorus, lines in the verses to build from the 1st to 2nd verse and to leave enough room so that when the chorus hits it sounds big. I usually am doing master fader rides from a verse through the pre and into the chorus as well. Find the cool stuff and turn it up loud!

[top]I was wondering if you could share any insights you have regarding getting the best results while mixing in the digital realm.​​ - Eggsmack

This is a tough one for me to explain sometimes. I mixed songs for 30 plus years on consoles and tape, then started a half digital/analogue format for a while and have been fully in the box for the past 7 or 8 years. I don't know that I approach mixing a song in a different way just because I am working in one or another of those formats. I do keep the level at my Master buss with no pug-ins activated at a lower level than I would on analogue. With all of the master buss plug-ins deactivated my level will be around -9 to -6dB and I bring up the level with a combination of plug-ins. When the Master gets too hot to me it feels like it collapses a bit in the stereo field to me. Other than that my layout is almost identical to what I would do on a console.

p.s. I used A LOT of patch cables and outboard gear!

[top]The interesting question for me is…what's your motivation to work ITB? ​​ - Livebox

For me with the amount of mixes I do every year (about 400+) I just couldn't make it work in analogue as the recall time alone would kill me. As long as I can get the sound I want and am able to get it back quickly, it doesn't really matter to me what format I use. I will probably work with Fleetwood Mac again this year mostly in analogue, but we will have a studio locked out so I don't have to worry about recalls as much.

[top]RE: The 1975 'Sex' EP
1.) What did you do to get that big snare sound on "Sex?"
2.) What was the vocal chain, including inserts/fx for those dreamy moments, like on "Undo?" Not sure if you'll know it since you didn't mix the other tracks! I'm also interested in the vocal chain for "Sex."​​ - _Mark

The snare chain on that is my usual combo of stuff and two additional snares added in lightly behind the live one. I started with a Wave SSL G for some bottom at 200 and air at 8k, an SPL Transient Designer for a little more attack and sustain, a UAD Neve 1081 with a boost at 100 and 1.8k and a Decapitator at 3 for some crunch.

If I remember correctly the vocal chain was a de-esser to a silver face 1176 mid attack and fast release. UAD Neve 1081 for some bottom at 100 and a Waves SSL G with a slight boost at 8k , 4k and 2.5k to a Decapitator set at 3. I also used one of my Dolby vocal stressors on that track. The FX chain was an Echo boy and an Altiverb 140 plate.​​

UAD Neve 1081

[top]Who are your musical heroes? ​​ - Rockshamrover

That is a long list. Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Kinks , NWA, John Coltrane, The Eagles, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Mozart. I like a lot of different stuff.

[top]I just watched the Puremix video you made and I was hoping you would describe your workflow around having multiple master faders in the project?​​ - DaveNJ

I am running two mixes, one at an elevated level and the 2nd 6dB lower so parts for mastering are already printed. I like to be able to mix and hear what the elevated level is going to sound like.

[top]I would ask you first if you're usually involved in mastering engineer choice, and in this case what are the most important qualities you look for? Do you usually prefer to always choose the same or change from a project to another? And in this case is the choice based on style, similar jobs done or something else?​​ - Karibu

I would say I am involved in the choice about 65% of the time. I use a few of the same people a lot mostly because we have done hundreds of records together and I know it is going to come back without any issues. I am really just looking to see if mastering can add that extra 5% to what I have already done and not remake my mix.

[top]Can you give us a bit of detail around the recording and mixing ofThe killers album "hot fuss"? Was it tape or PT/Daw? How did you approach the mixing, especially the drums as Ronnies drums really punch!​​ - Wiggy Neve Slut

Hot Fuss was recorded at a small studio Jeff Saltzman and I had in Berkeley and also at my place in Los Angeles. It was recorded to Pro Tools with a couple of Neve sidecars for pre amps. Most of what I mixed was done on an SSL G except for Mr Brightside, which was mixed on an eight channel Neve sidecar right after it was recorded in less than an hour. The production is fairly sparse on these tracks, which allows the drums to really cut through. Other than that it is pretty close to what I do now in the box with multiple EQ and parallel compression buss's.