Today, we’re going to talk about referencing, but first, I have to admit something… The artist in me is stubborn, and it tends to carry over into my mixing. For the longest time, I refused to reference. Maybe I thought I could handle it or would use the excuse that mixing is art and I wanted to be “led by the music.”
Can you relate?
Don’t get me wrong, mixing IS art, and you should use your ears as you build the vision for your mix. But…
Don’t reject referencing. At least not entirely.
You see, I know you’ve heard to reference, but how? Do you just hit play and start mixing? Clicking back and forth endlessly until trial and error lead you to the perfect mix? No way!
If you’ve lost hope in referencing or you’re still fighting through the pain, I hope this list will help you out.
Here are 10 ways that I use referencing.
Simple, but effective! How’s your vocal sitting compared to the reference? How about the kick? The snare? Clicking over to a track that you or your client has chosen to reference is a great way to double check your balances. Go ahead… Lose your pride and give it a shot. 😉
2. Low End
The almighty low end. Get this right, and you’ll have acceptance from audio engineers around the world. Lol. But seriously, your average listener knows when the low end is missing or if it’s overloading the song.
Fear not, I have a simple trick for you to find out if your low end is right or very wrong. In the video below you’ll discover how I’ve learned to get my low end right in every mix.
3. Top End
This. Harsh mixes leave the listener fatigued and won’t get your songs playing on repeat anytime soon. Use the same trick above from the low end to help you focus on the high end and also on your mid range. You should be able to tell if your mix is overly bright, but then again, our ears can get tired pretty quickly if we’ve been mixing something bright. Don’t forget to give yourself a break every few hours.
4. S Sounds
Sibilance. Harsh and painful if not tamed. Give a listen to a mix that you love and chances are the sibilance won’t bother you. Listen back to your mix and see if you feel the same way.
Be careful here. If you listen to a reference and it’s wider than your mix you may think to slap an imager plugin on your mix buss and spread eagle. Don’t. Instead, try breaking everything EXCEPT your vocals, drums, and low end out to a stereo aux track. I call it ALL MUSIC and I’ll use the imager here. This way, your drums, bass, and vocals won’t get smeared by the widening.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you steal ideas, but I do recommend that you become inspired by them. I encourage tweaking to taste. If you hear a delay throw or some reverb that catches your ear, try to emulate it. Learn from the placement and make it your own.
Compression, EQ, distortion, you name it. You can learn a lot by referencing even if you just pay attention to the vocals. Are the doubled parts down the middle? Out wide? How about the EQ? Thin? Warm? I know I mentioned balances first, but because the vocals are the most important element in most genres of music, you should pay extra close attention to them in your references. How bright are they? Compressed lightly or pushed aggressively and in your face?
8. Radio Ready
IF it’s your goal or your client’s request to deliver a mix that competes with what’s on the radio, you should consider referencing multiple radio hits. And not just from the genre of your song. Sometimes, I’ll open up the Billboard Top 40 and see what’s hot. I’ll buy a few tracks on iTunes and import them as references. Make sure you choose songs across multiple genres.
Before you dismiss this whole article over this one give me a chance to explain. Lol. Loudness, whether we like it or not is a part of our world. Be it clients, labels, or even our desire to compete. Now, I’m not suggesting that you push your mixes or masters hot, but I am saying that you can learn a lot by referencing ones that have been slammed to death. Try reducing the references overall volume to match yours before you go smashing it with a limiter. Which do you prefer? Use your ears and trust your judgment.
10. EQ Match
If you’re not familiar with EQ matching, then I have a video to demonstrate it. I almost didn’t share this one because it’s a little older and I’m critical of my voice and the mix I used in the tutorial, but hey! I hope you learn from it. 😉
So there you have it! I doubt I’ve covered it all so if you have anything to add to this or want to share how you’re using references to help your mixes, please feel free to share with the community in the comments below.