We all know how important a good solid reference track can be. But just because you have a reference track doesn’t mean you’re using it correctly.
That’s right – there is a proper and a not-so-proper way to use reference tracks.
In order to maximize their value on your mixing or mastering process, be sure to use these two methods:
1. Set the level of your reference track to the exact level of your mix.
This is an important one that we sometimes forget about. But it’s absolutely crucial if you want to truly compare your mix with the reference mix.
If the reference mix is louder (as it has oftentimes already been mastered), you’re going to have a skewed perception of your mix. You might hear the vocal of the reference mix and try to match your own vocal to it, leaving the rest of the track at too low a volume.
2. Switch back and forth fast.
This is another extremely important step in using a reference track effectively. You need to be able to switch between your mix or master and the reference mix in a split second.
Why is that? Because the average human “ear” can only remember a sound for about 2 seconds. That’s it. So for every second that passes after that, you’re going to have a much less clear vision of the sound, ultimately misleading you. It will just be harder to compare the two mixes or masters.
So how can you fix this? With a solid workflow. You’ll want your reference mix in a different application (Spotify, iTunes) that responds to a space bar. You’ll want the space bar to play and pause that application.
Then, you can used Command + Tab on a Mac (Alt + Tab on PC) to switch between your DAW and your other application. The workflow looks like this:
Listening to your mix in your DAW – [Space bar to stop it][Command+Tab to get to next application][Space bar to start it] – Listening to your reference mix.
All in all, it takes about a half second to switch.
Try these techniques out the next time you’re mixing or mastering with a reference track!