Reference Tracks for Mixing – How to Choose the Best Reference Tracks

By | October 19, 2015

Choosing great reference tracks is vital in order to achieve a great mix. Let’s be honest here: you’re not a master mixer and you won’t magically transform your track’s sound from average to amazing without a little help. Hell, even the pros use reference tracks for mixing, so why shouldn’t you? Read on to find out about how to choose the best reference tracks to aid you in mixing your music to sound the best it possibly can.

Be smart when choosing great reference tracks

Look to the past to find great-sounding music. Photo Credit: thibault.billet via Compfight cc

Look to the past to find great-sounding music. Photo Credit: thibault.billet via Compfight cc

Don’t be cocky and choose the most banging EDM track only because you like it so much – as it probably doesn’t help you in mixing as much as it should. Be smart instead. How to be smart, you ask? Let me tell you.

You go straight to the top, and listen to the work of real professional mixers. That’s right. Mixers aren’t hired because record labels got too much money to throw away (as they probably don’t). Mixers are hired for the job because they can transform a great-sounding track to an exceptionally great-sounding track.

That’s why you need to get your hands on some tracks mixed by pro mixers to your reference arsenal. Do names like Tony Maserati, Mark “Spike” Stent and Dave Pensado ring a bell? If not, hurry and find out about their mixing credits.

Aside from keeping an eye on you favorite mixers, stay on the hunt for great-sounding pop, rock and electronic music. You should also go dig up some of your favorite albums from the past you think sound really great. I promise you, using pro-mixed material as your reference tracks will make your music sound better.

The Rules of Referencing

Setting sonic "limits" to your mixing is a smart move. Photo Credit: Paolo.Sarteschi via Compfight cc

Setting sonic “limits” to your mixing is a smart move. Photo Credit: Paolo.Sarteschi via Compfight cc

Now, of course you should have some tracks done by your fellow producers as references too, to get you in the ballpark of how electronic music is sounding nowadays, but stay away from the pitfalls of badly-mastered amateur music that places like Soundcloud are full of. They’re no good for you.

To nail the whole referencing business, you have to understand why you use reference tracks in the first place.

As the first rule, seek out things that you like in a piece of music, and gather those tracks into your reference folder. For example, you might find a piece of music that has the greatest sounding high-hats, and you’d always want to use that as a reference when mixing and balancing high-hats in your track.

As the second rule, categorize tracks by their frequency content and balance. For example, one track might have a colorful and crisp midrange, and one might have the best low end you’ve ever heard. Those are keepers too.

The third and final rule is, seek for tracks that set the limits for your mixing. What I mean by this is, one track might have the brightest high end but it’s just below the line of causing ear-fatigue, and the other track might have the fullest-sounding midrange, still barely managing to pull off clarity without getting dull. These “limiting” tracks will set the borders for your mixing, which you should always stay inside of, to ensure a quality outcome.

As a smart mixer, you’d naturally want to level-match any referencing source to the track you are currently mixing, so you’ll always be making the right decisions as you progress.

That’s it – Reference Away

Does your reference track collection look like this? Photo Credit: Broken Haiku via Compfight cc

Does your reference track collection look like this? Photo Credit: Broken Haiku via Compfight cc

A smart choice is to keep at least 3 to 5 reference tracks in your project. You can always solo them for real-time referencing, constantly keeping you on the right track.

Listen to the reference tracks closely – what makes them so great? Aim to make proper corrections and decisions while you mix – and you’ll get one step closer to the best mix you’ve ever done.

-JP

How do you find reference tracks for yourself, and do you approach them from an emotional or technical perspective – or both? Leave your comments below.

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