He grew up in the renowned city of Breda in The Netherlands, the place where Tiësto, Hardwell and many other big names in the dance music industry have risen to fame. But it’s not his place of birth that makes Mark Sixma stand out. He’s one of Holland’s most dedicated producers, with a sound that travels from deep, dark techno to classical trance and tasty house beats. Bending the genres and keeping an open mind has seen Mark build a massive following, including the likes of Armin van Buuren, W&W and Andrew Rayel – who Mark collaborated with on several occasions. We hooked up with the level-headed producer and DJ and asked him all about his studio work, life on the road and of course, his personal highlights. Ladies and gents, Mark Sixma!
Hey Mark! Thanks for taking some time to reply to our questions! You’ve been doing quite some heavy touring these last few months, Indonesia, USA, Australia, Canada, China, Japan…and the list goes on. How do you balance your time in the studio and being on tour?
Mark: That’s actually something I’m still learning and it proves to be quite the challenge. I’m used to producing in my own studio with the speakers I know, two big screens and a 49 key controller, but because of the heavy touring I don’t have a lot of time in the studio. So recently I’ve purchased a mobile setup with good headphones which allows me to be productive on the road as well.
Some guys try to sing a melody into their phones, others bring their laptop everywhere and pop out songs on their way to the next gig. What do you do when you’re on the go and a track idea pops up?
Mark: Singing melodies into my phone is something I’ve done a lot. I can tell you it leads to awkward situations on airplanes, haha! I also bring my AKAI MPK Mini keyboard everywhere I go, so I can quickly write down ideas.
Now before we look at the success you’re having these days, we’d like to do a little flashback to when you first got into music. What drove you to dance music and how did you take those first steps into producing your own sounds?
Mark: I think the first time I came across a mixtape was when I was about 10 years old. One of my friends’ older sisters had a boyfriend who was a DJ and soon after that I started a Drive-In-Show with some friends and started playing school parties. I didn’t become interested in producing music until I was 18, when a friend introduced me to FruityLoops (now FL Studio). I wasn’t that serious with it in the beginning, but after a few years I really started getting into it and soon after I had my first release.
So we read that you grew up in the hometown of Tiësto, Breda, and actually DJ’ed at the same place he used to DJ. Did that fact make you more eager to get into trance music as well? Or is it just a coincidence?
Mark: The whole scene that evolved around Tiësto in Breda definitely had a big influence on me. There was a club with residents that played only underground dance music and then there also was Blackhole Recordings and the Magik Music Store where you could get all the latest tracks on vinyl. All this resulted in a strong community and a lot of successful artists from Breda!
When was your breakthrough moment, or song? Was it hard to reach that?
Mark: I think that was when Armin played my track ‘Destination 6’ on his radio show ASOT and named it ‘Tune of the Week’! Soon after that I signed to Armada Music. At that point it was still a hobby so it didn’t feel hard to reach, although it did take a lot of hours in the studio to get to that point. I think that is the most certain road to success, working your ass off to learn your craft!
At some point, you gave up on your day job and decided to go for music fulltime. Was that scary to do, or had you given yourself a certain goal?
Mark: Pretty scary, but the best decision in my life!! At that time I was only working at a ‘regular’ job for 2 days a week and besides that I had a record deal and sound engineering jobs. So it was more of a gradual process.
We’d love to know what equipment can be found in the Sixma studio – and which piece is your absolute favorite?
Mark: My speakers are Dynaudio BM6A MKII. For on the road production and late hours I use the Beyerdynamic DT 880 headphones. For keys I use Novation Impulse 49 and on the road AKAI MPK Mini. I recently purchased a Virus TI 2 synth, but apart from that it’s all ‘in-the-box’. My favourite piece is my chair though! I’ve done long sessions so many times and I’ve never had any back problems.
Which DAW do you use and which plugins do you prefer?
Mark: For producing I’m currently on Cubase 8.5. I use a lot of stuff from Fabfilter and Xfer and synths like Sylenth1, Spire, Massive and Omnisphere. My favourite tool is a discontinued Cubase plugin called Quadrafuzz. It’s a multiband distortion unit that adds a particular sound that I love! Works beautifully on leads, basses and even drums.
Now you’ve done quite a few massive collabs in the past few years, including ones with Andrew Rayel, W&W and Armin van Buuren. Which one was the most interesting, production wise, and actually taught you something new?
Mark: It’s always refreshing to go into the studio with someone else and you pick up a lot of things along the way. That goes for all three of the collabs! Overall I think I learned the most during my studio time with W&W, but we’ve been in the studio so many times over the years it is only fitting.
You’ve had some big tracks out, which makes us wonder if there’s a particular production you’re most proud of? Which one and why?
Mark: That would have to be ‘Requiem’. I’ve always wanted to combine classical music with dance music and that track to me is the best mix of the genres I’ve done to date! It was also the most played trance track of 2013 and it has even been featured in a Hollywood movie!
So what does an average studio day of Mark Sixma look like? Are you the type to work at night, or do you try to keep a 9-to-5 rhythm?
Mark: I’ve been doing the 9-to-5 rhythm for a while, but recently I’ve been moving towards night time productions again. Not much distractions at that time which can help productivity.
Are there any sample packs you like to use, or do you sample a lot of stuff yourself? How do you select sample packs, what’s the criteria?
Mark: I prefer to go for sample packs with one shots. I use them mainly for percussion, hi-hats and fx and always try to look for things which are a bit outside of my genre. For example the Vengeance Dubstep packs are great! Alonso Sound are another household name that I use often.
One thing we saw on your Facebook is that you’re doing a demo drop once in a while, also providing feedback to upcoming producers. What’s the best tip you’ve ever been given by another producer?
Mark: Being talented is nice, but working hard will get you further! And obviously the best is combining the two.
Last but not least, what’s the most valuable word of advice you can give to our clients?
Mark: Listen to constructive feedback, but also trust your own judgement!
With so many good things going on right now, what more can we expect to hear from you in 2016?
Mark: I’ve just released a track with Futuristic Polar Bears & Amba Shepherd. I’ve just finished a new remix for Cosmic Gate and I’ve also been working on a vocal track with Jonathan Mendelsohn! Apart from that a lot of other collabs and solo productions are on the way too.
We can’t wait to hear them, Mark! Thanks for the interview!