Referencing / Comparing with reference tracks


Do you do it? If so, how do you do it? Only for specific genres?

I don’t do it often enough in a systematic way, but when I tried it I always had the feeling it helped a bit with improving sound, especially for more modern genres. There are some interesting plugins that allow for specific comparisons of frequency ranges and similar (Reference), comparing specific track parts (Magic A/B) or giving a purely analytical data overview for multiple tracks (Expose). Do you use specific plugins or just compare complete tracks in a media player?

Let’s share some experiences!

(picture from G-Sonique ^^


If I compare my stuff to anything, it is after I’ve worked on it a while. But usually while working on tracks I’m leveling stuff. I don’t even bring another finished thing in to my projects but when I do perform these tasks, i keep in mind they’re also mastered. Unless you’ve found a mix of something.

I won’t say never do it in headphones but I think you’ll have better comparisons over your monitors or even in your car. At least in your car you can even EQ stuffs on the fly. “Ok I only have a 3 band eq but I did lower the bass, and mids by -6 and -3, leaving the highs at 0. And my mix sounds tons better.” “How can I do that again in my DAW?”


That pic in the OP is amazing.

I don’t usually use reference tracks because I doubt that my mastering skills would ever get my tracks to the level of that which has been produced in a professional studio and mastered with hardware.

I do find that when I’m mixing my tracks, that I’ll bounce out versions and find myself A/Bing between versions to see if I lost some important sonic details/tonalities/textures due to ear fatigue.


Agreed on the Pic! It explains why i never use reference tracks… scared of that beast. Also, frankly… I’m so self possessed by my own ideas that I wouldn’t want the influence. I much prefer feedback from the Listening Booth… because at least that is a response to what I’m attempting, rather than me responding to someone else’s track.

Not saying I’ll never try it…

I do make a point of doing the A/B thing, just to make sure I’m not losing my way from original intent…and listening to my track with lots of different setups, rooms, etc.(I like the car idea! gotta try that!) :sunglasses:


Tried it I’ve compared the mastering of some tracks, and analyzed it with eq and the free trial edition of Adobe audition when I had it and I’ve found that the mastered stuff had no headroom, as for the sound design I can probably make something in a similar vein but as far as mixing goes I’m eh…if anything my reference is the music i listen to but then again im mediocre…sooo when creating stuff it’s usually just Jam sessions of me fucking around hence why all my tracks sound like a shit board of Canada breakcore(vsnares) idm glitch dubstep(vaetxh) remix lol…also acid is a big influence on bro step and I’ve never made acid…so anyways the only reason I’ve gotten better is because I’ve actually tried making electronic music covers I tried doing Clark, flylo, enduser, trifonic, hecq, autechre’s hantz graf and aphex twin…it helped me become a better composer…even though I tried remaking something electronically…as far as my own creations it’s mostly just trial and error and seeing what sticks…if you want to use reference tracks it’s okay but I’d say doing electronic covers will help you progress further but then again everyone is different…


I spent a lot of years intentionally not learning to play the songs that everyone was playing around me… my thought was “…you can only hope for second best by doing a cover…” it did help me develop my own style… but it also isolated me a bit… it was a fair trade.

Then I got an opportunity to ply lead guitar, flute, back up vocals and occasionally bass for a singer songwriter guitarist who had a deep bank of originals and an amazing repertoire of covers in folk, rock and country from the 40’s through the 80’s. We played a gig on average once a week for about four years.

I learned a lot… he would (in the middle of a gig) start strumming and humming… look at me and say “…let me play one verse then you join in…” so I would learn two or three new songs almost every time we played … live … on stage. It taught me to listen, to support, and when in doubt , keep it simple!

The point is… playing all those covers taught me a lot about composition that I couldn’t have learned any other way…

I’m still glad I took the time to develop my own style… but I’m even more glad I had the opportunity to learn the Anthology and more.

So… yeah …doing covers is important…:sunglasses:


Thanks for all the input, guys! Lots of stuff to think about, even though nobody really seems to use referencing hehe.

Bringing cover works into the discussion is really interesting. I would not have seen much of a connection, but of course, it can be used or has a similar effect as if referencing the composition, melodies and arrangement of tracks.
What I meant in the OP with referencing was more focused on the sound of specific genres.
This is obviously less important for more experimental stuff or soundscapes, but imho can help people that are trying to produce tracks in hope to be played by DJs, so they see where the problem is when DJs tell them they would like to play but can’t really mix that track ^^

When I used referencing, I made folders for common sub-genre-specific sounds of a few roughly similar tracks, then put some tracks togehter and compared to my sound in terms of compresison and tonal qualities or with Reference in terms of stereo width, compression levels and so on for specific frequency bands. Some tracks sound much better but don’t help much since they have a very difefrent setup of synths and frequency interplay, so that changing into that direction makes your track worse, but by checking a few different track you can get a nice picture how your track compares. With regard to loudness and compression, it’s still crazy in bass-heavy and club genres. The good stuff often hits at up to -4.5 LUFS, crazy levels of complete madness if you adhere to common mastering guidelines, recommending to keep levels at around -12 or -14 LUFS.

Not so sure about the big hardware advantage these days - but I think in general, even though not the best case, you can reference mixdowns against masters. For instance, if your mixdowns have a completely different frequency or stereo field than your mastered reference tracks, chances are you should “fix” it at the mixing stage.

Haha, yeah, great point! :smiley:

Serves a bit different purposes as mentioned above, but I think cover work is a nice idea for musicians and I can imagine it being helpful. However, my precious music time is getting more and more restricted so I like to use it mostly for just playing a bit for relaxation or some original work or remixes of people I know or from around these parts ^^


Not so sure about the big hardware advantage these days - but I think in general, even though not the best case, you can reference mixdowns against masters. For instance, if your mixdowns have a completely different frequency or stereo field than your mastered reference tracks, chances are you should “fix” it at the mixing stage.

Well, I consider a better computer to be better hardware as well. My computer even can’t properly handle mixing on some of my tracks. So I have two options, complete the track before adding any EQ/compression/imaging/etc and then be annoyed that I can’t hear playback to do any of that, or do it as I go and get a less developed song progression because after the plug ins are there, even if they are turned off, I can’t get playback.

Plus, software mastering plug ins tend to be very pricey. I’ve had cousins or friends who have worked at professional studios, and one of the preamps to the mics cost around 26,000 euros. I don’t expect my recordings to ever be as crisp/clean to begin with… lol


Using reference tracks is a great way of gauging how a mix will translate across multiple systems, especially in a studio space that may be lacking in acoustic treatment or has other elements that can affect ones mix.

I mean, in the live sound world when an engineer gets ahold of the PA in a new room or is working on a new system the first thing they’ll do is listen to reference material to see how the room or the PA is going to affect the sound.

When I am working on mixes (or masters), especially for clients I ask for reference material, so that I know what the expectation of a mix is going to be - especially when working on genre specific mixes.

My approach is to have my stereo bus routed to 2 channels of my console, and then the reference material sent to an additional 2 channels, so at any given point I can solo the reference track to get an idea of where certain frequency ranges need to sit based on a tune either I or the client to find ideal or desirable.

Its just another tool for listening analytically.


I tend to agree with your comment on hardware NOT being a huge advantage.

With how good software has become its really only a matter of minutiae when comparing HW to Software and a lot of the differences come down to preference or what the engineer is accustomed to.

I go down the rabbit hole from time to time looking at HW bus compressors and usually tend to land on - will this $2000 dollar 2 channel dynamics processor make my mixes $2000 dollars better? I dont own one so lets just say… no, i dont believe so. I have some fantastic plugins and the cost of entry for getting HW that sounds better is pretty prohibitive. For that same $2000 i could make more significant upgrades, like monitors or acoustic treatment that would far better benefit my rig.

just my 2 cents.


For myself, if I had $2k I had to spend on a practical mixing equipment I’d probably spend half on monitors and half getting my room treated/buying some of that software that adjusts what you hear according to your room.

There is no way in hell one $2k compressor is going to make anyone’s work sound $2k better. I’m sure there is a “theorem” named after some dude that explains this, but yea…agree 100%

Something that has always confused me about using reference tracks though–should one be listening at the same perceived volume or the same volume according to some kind of measurement system like DBFS etc?

Also, anyone have any experience with master bus EQs that “capture” the EQ curves of a track you like the mix of and it tries to “apply” that math to another track to achieve a similar mix.


TBH I say just get the volumes of the two in the same ball park, I don’t worry about measurement systems pretty much ever…

using ears to do the job FTW.


Good to hear. Im too lazy for that other shit.


LOL, if i had $2k laying around to throw at professional mastering plug ins, then I’d probably get a computer that can handle more than 6-10 tracks in a project without massive latency or even just clipping playback all together.

So, yeah, I have no expensive with non-hardware professional mastering plugins either. Glad they seem to work well for some people.


The closest thing I do to referencing is my loose take on a track that I like. What that means in practice is I’ll do slightly different things in my mix to give it that “x” character without changing too much of what I’m doing so that it doesn’t sound like me anymore.

So, if my reference was Major Tom by Peter Shilling, I might use a bit more delay/reverb send than normal, maybe bitcrush it a bit, and hipass stuff bit stronger than I normally would to suck some energy out of the bottom end. What you wouldn’t see is me trying to find the exact drum samples he used or emulating the exact effects in his track, just the vibe.


Thanks for all the thoughts and experiences guys!

Might have been interesting to mention the genres people commenting are producing. I would be interested to see some opinions and experiences by folks who produce stuff to be played in contemporary genre-specific sets in club settings, since I would expect referencing in the sense of the OP using plugins such as Reference, Expose and Magic AB to be of more use to producers of loud dancey clubbish genres. Would be awesome if @OptimalPrime could give some insight on experiences in the DNB scene, for instance.