A reference track is a song from another artist that is similar to yours, normally in structure, but also in tonality and in how it is arranged. You can use them for correcting problems in your mix, matching the loudness of the whole song, or just a single element like the bass, the kick, or the high end as a whole. In addition, it can be used as a guide to the arrangement of your song since you can look at how the other tracks are developing and apply the same pace and structure to your track.
Having a reference track is KEY in my music production and my mixing, and you should be doing it too since it can not only improve your skills, but also bring your tracks to new levels!
4 THOUGHTS FROM ME
1. Referencing can be useful to you in many ways: compare the low end levels; compare if you have similar elements or if you’re missing any; compare the structure to make sure your breaks/drops aren’t too long/short compared to what’s in the market; compare if your track is as loud as the tracks in the market. A reference track can be a blueprint of your next moves, but you must have in mind what you’re looking for in that reference. For example, check out how you can use a reference to make sure your low end is at the right spot in this video.
2. Referencing requires humility. If you’re using a reference, keep an open mind and try to understand how your track can become better based on this reference, even if your track is already better than the reference. Avoid going to a reference track in a defensive mode or you won’t be able to take much from it since you’re already trying to protect your song. Always remember that the goal is to make yourself better, not worse, so there’s no need to be defensive.
3. Since there are many uses for references tracks, choosing the best one depends on what you want. Have trouble with how to get better drums? Reference tracks or genres that have amazing drums, like tech-house. At the same time, if you want to have a low end as good as your favorite track in that genre, use that track and compare it to your low end. Always think ‘how can this song help me achieve a specific result and why is it the best reference track for my case?’
4. You only reference what you’ve listened to, so if you don’t expand your listening horizons, most likely your productions horizons will stay confined as well. Listening to genres you don’t normally listen to may spark ideas for balancing your tracks in a new way, or trying to use percussions like you haven’t seen before in your genre. Anything that is out of your normal listening habits since the goal is to expand your horizons
1 QUESTION FOR YOU
1. Do you know what you’ll do for your next project?
If not, put 3 tracks you really like in a playlist and study their structure, how long are the breaks, the drops, and how loud is the kick. Get as much information as you can to then apply on your future track;
If yes, pick 3 tracks and loudness match them (they have to sound at the same level). Are your drops longer/shorter? Is your kick louder/quieter? Is your bass louder or quieter? With the help of a spectrum, you can discover if your track is lacking in any specific region and correct your track to make that region as good as in your reference.