Does your mix still sound like crap? You can have all the equipment in the world, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to fail. No worries, we’ve all been there and we all make mistakes when mixing. That’s why using reference tracks can make the mixing process and production process much easier, especially if you’re a newbie!
Finding the right reference track can not only make your final mix come out much cleaner. It can also help you notice techniques and learn new things while in the process of tweaking your track.
What is a reference track?
A reference track is a recording with a desired clean sound that musicians use to evaluate the track their working on. In the most simplistic sense, it’s basically like comparing your homework to that of one of your classmates’ work you look up to.
Many musicians/engineers have a go-to list of tracks they can always listen to, to evaluate their own work and recognize of their mix needs more work.
How to use a reference track
When mixing, we easily get lost in the process and. After listening to your track back and forth for many hours our ears can become numb causing us to question whether the track actually became worse than before the mixing process.
We use a reference track to recalibrate our ears, when working on a track for a long time.
To use a reference track, you can drag it into your session file and set up a way to switch back and forth.
This will give you a sense for the critical features you need to compare your sound.
You might notice you’ve been overusing your highrange, adding too much bass, or setting your upper midrange too high. Or your drums might sound over compressed, your panning might be off or you’ve been using too much reverb on the vocals.
how to choose the right reference track
You can pretty much use anything that fits into your workflow and can provide a good comparison between your track and the track you’re referencing. When selecting a reference track, you should choose a reference track that’s in the same genre as the mix you’re working on.
It’s also helpful to choose a reference track with similar instrumentation and sound with the mix you’re working on. If you choose something that’s too far off of your track, it will be hard to compare the two. It will be like comparing apples to oranges.
Don’t forget, you also have to choose a reference track with a great mix and an amazing overall sound. Just because a song may have a million plays on spotify or youtube, doesn’t mean it is also mixed properly.
Last but not least, you don’t want to try and match your track with a low quality MP3, always use high quality files.
Here are some basic rules to look for when choosing a reference track:
1. Similar or related genre
2. Professional sounding mix features
3. Similar instrumentation
Our top picks for reference tracks
Finding a reference track is more of a personal thing, and can also be subjective. However if you’re still clueless, here are some of our best picks to start comparing your mix to.
1. Kendrick Lamar – LOYALTY. ft. Rihanna
2. Kimbra – Settle Down
3. John Legend – Used to Love U
4. Black Eyed Peas – Let’s Get It Started
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dani California
One last note
Adding reference tracks into your mixing process can help you grow as a music producer and develop a better ear.
It doesn’t matter which genre of music you operate in or how long you’ve been learning to mix, because there’s always a reference track you can listen to to pull yourself in the right direction.
Now you know what a reference track is and how you can use one, it’s time to get back to the studio and work on perfecting that mix!