The main purpose of reference tracks is to boost your inspiration and assess the quality of your work. It may sound self-explanatory, but there are many tips and tricks for selecting the right reference tracks and using them effectively. To help, we’ve put together 5 creative ways to use reference tracks to improve your music.
How to select proper reference tracks
Select genre related tracks. If your track is bass heavy, for example, try to select reference tracks that are also low in frequency. If there are a lot of acoustic instruments, find a reference track that is similar in style. Or, if there are a lot of vocals throughout the track, find a reference track that is comparable.
Find quality records. Then you can reference the quality of the record and compare it to your own recording. This is one of the most important factors to getting signed to a prestigious label, so take time to develop a professional sound.
Use reference tracks as a source of inspiration
- Feel the mood and the atmosphere of the reference track. Tune in some of the instruments that have a similar tone, develop similar chord progressions, and then come up with your own unique ideas around them. This will boost your inspirational juices even when you’re on creative block.
- Do some critical listening sessions of the reference track and note the sequence of choruses, bridges and verses. Also analyze specific buildups and the use of vocals. There is a good chance that you will come up with some personally interpreted ideas for the structure and arrangement of your own track.
Use reference tracks to increase quality
- Compare individual EQ frequencies. Solo a specific range on the reference track and then do the same on your own record. You can use EQ plugins that let you solo particular frequencies, or you can use any parametric EQ and then use the bypass feature to enable and disable them.
- Compare the balance of individual elements and the overall feel of the stereo mix. Solo the ranges of particular instruments and try to identify their position in the stereo field. Find out whether they are centered, left panned, right panned or widely enhanced and compare them to the instruments in your own track.
- Compare the levels and dynamics. Check the main peaks of the reference track and then do the same for your own recording. Normally this could be done by just analyzing the master volume gain meter, but if you want to be more specific, use gaining meters with options to zoom in on the peaks and freeze the tops at specific times.
Extra recommendations to increase effectiveness
Be aware that human ears have the tendency to adapt to a particular sound after hearing it over and over again for long periods of time. That’s why it is important not to overstrain your ears. Always start a mixing or mastering session with a fresh mind and well rested hearing.
When mixing and mastering your own record, focus on the details. The main reason your selected reference track sounds so clean, crisp and dynamic lies in professional audio engineering. Most producers spend days, weeks or even months developing single elements to perfection. Learn, be persistent and your final track might even beat the reference track!