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Mixing/Mastering tip: Why use reference tracks?

Referencing is a very useful tool when mixing or mastering any track. Here are a few tips on why and how to compare your track to a reference.

It helps you making the right decisions.

After hours and hours of listening to a track, your ears get used to the sound of your mix. With the complexity of today’s music, it’s necessary to spend a lot of time on drum patterns, melody writing or sound design. By the time you get to the mixing stage, your ears have already gotten used to the sound of the mix - and that’s where referencing is useful. By comparing your track to a quality recording, you can spot the issues in your mix which otherwise you wouldn’t notice. It’s an efficient way of closing the gap between amateur and professional mixing.

It helps you monitor the loudness of your track.

With all the mastering tools of today, it’s easy to make a track loud. But how loud should it actually be? To find the answer to this question, simply put a track in a similar style to yours in your DAW and compare its loudness with an RMS or LUFS meters. Then compare it to your track with the mastering chain applied. You’ll easily see and hear what the difference between your track and the reference is and by how much you should increase it. 

Ableton tip: Switch quickly between your track and the reference when mastering

The quicker you can switch between a reference track and your own work the more obvious the contrast will be. To be able to quickly switch between your track and the reference, select a different output for your reference track. Instead of going through "master" choose "ext. out". Now the effects on your "master" channel won't effect the reference track. Take the "solo" button to toggle between the tracks. 

Take your time to find the right reference track for your mix or master, as there are many differences between the styles. If you’d like to learn more about mastering your own tracks, check out our new mastering course.


Good luck with your mixing and mastering. See you in the next articles!

k pizza author soundcloud


I’m a music maker who likes to share his experiences with other producers. I’m regularly going to show up with music and content at PML.

Listen: https://souncloud.com/k-pizza



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Keywords: Mastering with Izotope Ozone, LUFS vs dbFS, Fab-Filter Saturn, Mastering with Fab-Filter only, Mastering with Ableton only, Fletcher-Munson Curve, Mastering Chain Blueprint

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