It’s easy to lose perspective of what state your song is in while mixing. You have no normality to refer to and it’s hard to know what your mix should sound like. Using a pro mix to refer to is the number one key to getting a pro sounding mix. The quality of your monitors or headphones are irrelevant when you use pro sounding mixes to refer to. You can get a pro sounding mix even with earphones. Reference tracks are the key to getting a pro sounding mix.
What Are Reference Tracks?
A reference track is a professional sounding song that you have in your DAW to refer to so you have an idea of how bright, bassy or punchy a mix should sound. Use them to get a good idea of how loud or quiet your instruments should be if you want a good sounding mix. I usually have 2 or 3 reference tracks in my DAW for each song I mix.
What Reference Track(s) Should I Pick?
Pick 2 or 3 reference tracks to use that sound similar to your song musically. If you want to same kind of space, balance and dynamic range, for example, Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, then drag your mp3 or wav or whatever file into your DAW and use it as your reference. Try picking tracks that have a similar stereo image to your mix. So if you plan on having wide drums pick a song you know has wide drums as the track to refer to. Just always make sure you pick tracks that sound absolutely awesome on all the systems you have heard them on. A track, or two, or three, with a lot of power and emotion that you know sounds amazing.
How To Use Your Reference Track(s).
First, I do a mix of my song, nothing too specific, just have all the drum gating, cleaning up of the spectrum, etc. done and dusted. Then I drag in a few reference tracks that sound awesome and similar to my mix musically. I then bring down the level of the tracks to refer to roughly the same level as my mix. I next play through my mix in my DAW, switching between listening to my mix and the reference track. I ask myself how loud the kick drum is compared to my bass guitar, then the snare. Then I ask myself how loud the vocal is, how wide the drum overheads are, etc. I then proceed to match the tracks I am referring to with my mix. You’d be surprised at how overly bright you make your drums sound in your initial mix.
Next, I switch the master fader into mono, and then do it all again. Then, I do it in stereo once again and match the stereo field that I want.
An Extra Tip.
If you, like me often have some subtle processing on the master fader, then you want to find a way to avoid processing the reference track(s) you drag into your DAW also. What I do in my DAW is have all my tracks routed to buses, then have all my buses routed to a ‘sub master’ auxiliary bus, then I have that routed to the master fader. I do all my master fader processing on this sub master bus. This allows me to route my reference tracks directly to the actual master fader without being effected by the occasional EQ or compressor that I have on my sub master fader.
So in conclusion, I hope I have helped you understand more about reference tracks, why they are so important and how to effectively use them too.
Thank you for reading.
Look forward to more mixing tips soon.
Have a nice day.