One of the best tools for better mixes : Reference tracks
When I first started mixing my own music ,the first thing that I had in mind was to get my mix to the same level with the radio mixed songs I was listening to. I knew that I couldn’t reach 100% of those mixes but I wanted to get as much as closer I could. Although I did a huge mistake ,and my mixes were the same until one day I used a reference track. What is a reference track? It’s a mixed and mastered song and we use it for comparison. To compare what?
As long as we have finished recording our song we are now ready to start mixing. You start your mixing with setting right levels using the faders and LCR panning and after that you want to take the next step, but you don’t know what to do. You’ll need a reference track. An why is that? Let me tell you why. You ears are trained to hear everything right and balanced in your home studio. Don’t forget ,your home studio is a spare room in your house with minimum or zero acoustic treatment and everything is perfect from that point view. What if we could listen to a professional polished mix and fix or even eliminate some mistakes that we may do over and over again? That would be very helpful, right? It’s the same thing when we want to compare our mix to other sound systems. We listen our song in our car , or on a cd player, or everywhere we can so we can get the best result. And here comes in the reference track!
Now, the first thing you have to do is to choose the right reference track .What do I mean by that? You can’t compare your mix if your reference track is a rock song and you have recorded and mixing a pop song or any other genre. The songs must be from the same genre so you can get the most of your reference track. The next step is to import the track into your project.In Cubase you go to menu bar –File - Import Audio file or Import audio cd if your track is on a cd. It’s about the same way on every DAW, so you won’t have any problems.But if you do ,please ask me anything!
How can I use the reference track?
The first thing you can do after importing the reference track is to turn the fader down until you have the same volume with your track. You don’t want to be excited or disappointed from the loudness. You have to stay focus in other things that will help you improve your mix. Take a listen of the song and try to keep notes on volume, panning on each instrument, drums : Is your snare sound like the snare on the reference track? Effects: do they use any reverb on the instruments and if they do,how much? Vocals? What eq did they use?Compressor? What about the bass? Can you hear the bass?Is it too loud?And many other things that will help you get moving with your mix.
This is a very effective way to “build” your mix and start having better mixes day after day.You may ask me “ Do I have to use reference tracks all the time?” My answer is you’d rather yes! With that way you train your ears better and toy always learn new things that inspire you having different approaches to your mixes and through daily practice you will learn to take the best decisions for your mixes. And something last but very important.I suggest that you route your reference track to a different mix buss (output) so you can hear the song as you should.
In the end you may not have a loud song as your reference track but this isn’t after all the main cause of mixing. Mastering will take your mix from there for the desired loudness.
We’ll talk more about reference tracks in the future and with very useful videos too.Leave your comments if you used a reference track and if you had any progress.