How to choose the right reference track
The purpose of a reference track is simply to compare your own music production to professional music production. Whether it be for creative purposes, or for mixing purposes. During this process, you learn new techniques that help you achieve that professional sound.
5 tips on how to choose the right reference track:
- Pick a reference track from the same genre
- Choose high audio quality reference tracks
- New releases make the best reference tracks
- Pick 2 or 3 reference tracks for one song
- Google who mixed and mastered your reference track
Reference tracks are like training wheels on your pushbike. When your learning to ride you need them to help you stay upright.
A reference track is the same principle. It helps to keep you heading in the right direction and learning what works best. After some time, you will develop a set of skills that allows you to listen more deeply and analyze your own songs without using reference tracks.
Choosing the right reference track is a very important thing to get right. Choosing a reference track that matches your direction as a producer can help you understand your genre and speed up your learning time.
Why not learn from the best music producers in the world? They spent years honing their skills so let’s capitalize on that.
1. Pick a reference track from the same genre
What is your favorite genre? It’s very important to pick a reference track that suits the genre of music you want to produce.
If you are making a dubstep song, then chose a dubstep artist that you like. If you are making a future bass song, then chose a future bass artist you like.
Every genre has specific traits that only exist in that genre. You want to learn what these are, and the best way is by listening to other songs that use them.
You don’t want to compare your song to something that is completely different to your desired direction.
Its also super important to pick a song that has a similar vibe to your own song. If your song contains vocal chops and layered of synths, then a reference track with vocal chops and layered synths will help you understand how it all fits together.
I used ‘Flume – Sleepless’ as a reference track when producing my new single ‘Sati – Down Stream’.
2. High audio quality reference tracks
Choosing a reference track in its highest possible sound quality is a must.
WAV files are the ideal format for your reference tracks because they cover the full audio spectrum, meaning you will hear the reference track exactly as its meant to be heard.
If you use an mp3 that’s been ripped from YouTube, then you will be copying a file that’s low quality. Never use anything that has been ripped from YouTube or Soundcloud as these platforms always add their own compression resulting in a lower quality sound.
MP3 and other such formats add compression to the file in order to shrink the file size. Doing so results in a loss of quality and not giving a true sound over the full audio spectrum.
3. New releases make the best reference tracks
Most electronic music today is far different from electronic music from the 80s so its very important to pick a reference track that’s up to date. Mixing techniques and technologies are constantly evolving and this means electronic music is also evolving.
New releases like ‘Kendrick Lamar – Humble’ or ‘Billie Eilish – Bury a Friend’ are artists who set musical trends. We can then learn from these trends and implement those techniques into our own songs.
4. Pick 2 or 3 reference tracks for one song
Generally, we only choose one reference track to use but its always a good idea to have 2 or 3 ready to go just in case you want to try something different.
Some reference tracks will really stand out in certain areas of the song. Some songs might have a really good high-end brilliance or a perfectly balanced mid-range, while other tracks might have a punchy sub and bottom end. If you like a specific part of a song and want to then learn from it, consider using it as your reference track.
I have a playlist on my computer containing at least 3 reference tracks from each genre I produce. This way when you want to use a different reference track, you can simply drag it into your DAW, and you are good to go.
5. Google who mixed and mastered your reference track
When you have decided on a few reference tracks your happy with, do some googling and find out exactly who mixed and mastered them. See what other artists they have worked with. This will give you a good representation of their reputation in the music industry.
You will quickly discover they probably have worked with a vast array of artists that would be perfect to use as reference tracks.
If the artist you admire mixes and masters their own songs, it’s probably a good idea to not use it as a reference track as it has not been professionally done
I find the best way to find who mixes a song is to search Wikipedia. I really loved the mixing of ‘Flumes – Skin’ album and found all this information easily in Wikipedia.
My favorite reference tracks
Here is a list of reference tracks I regularly use when producing different genres:
- Billie Eilish – My Boy (TroyBoi Remix)
- Childish Gambino – This Is America
- Hermitude – Everyday
- Flume – Drop The Game
- Fischer – Losing it
- The Presets – Martini
Picking the right reference track is a very important step and something that I highly recommend everyone does from the beginning of learning music production. It can greatly help improve the time you spend learning your craft.
I hope this information has been useful and you follow these simple tips to help you chose the right reference track.
Good luck and happy producing.