Production Tip Tuesday: Reference Tracks

Last month I talked about how to find and develop your own sound. This month we will be touching on some of the things I mentioned in that post, using reference tracks.

Reference tracks are the tracks you love not only because you enjoy listening to them, but because they are mixed well and play well across all listening platforms. Reference tracks might not even be songs that you look forward to listening to, and sometimes this is prefered. You’re not using them for enjoyment, you’re using them to understand every detail about how a good mix should sound on your monitoring setup. Whether you use $100 headphones, $500 studio monitors, or rent out a studio for $1000 a day, you should know every detail of those listening platforms and what a good mix sounds like on them.

Before I go into a mix session I spend a good 10 to 15 minutes just listening to other songs that I believe are mixed well and have a nice balance to them. I let my ears get accustomed to the speakers, the subwoofer, and the room. This isn’t just mindless time spent surfing the web while the music plays in the background to “warm the speakers up”. This is active listening. Listening with the full intention of looking deep within these songs to see how certain instruments and frequencies respond and sound on my speakers and in my ears.

I mention ears separate from the speakers because our ears change everyday. Things like the weather, air pressure, how much sleep you got last night, what you ate, how much water you drank, listening to loud music, all play a factor in how our ears are performing and reacting to what we hear. This is why active listening before every mix session is so important. You might be using the same speakers you’ve used for years now and you might know how they respond to music, but your ears are always changing. It’s best to get a fresh perspective each time you sit down to mix so that you are not second guessing yourself once the mix is done.

In the end reference tracks are meant to be just that, a point of reference. Something that you know is mixed well that you can tune your ears to before mixing your own music. It’s important to have confidence in your hearing when going into a mix session. Take some time to actively listen and understand how your speakers and your ears are responding to the music and frequencies. You don’t want to be caught second guessing your mix after spending multiple hours trying to perfect it.

To help get you started I have created a Spotify playlist containing a few mix reference tracks that I use. They span across different genres to give you a wide range of songs to choose from. I feel that each song is mixed well and is a great representation of a good mix for its respective genre. Enjoy!

Spotify Mix Reference Track Playlist

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