6.10 Using Reference Tracks

In this module we will break down a few ways in which we can use reference tracks to improve our productions.

What are reference tracks?
Reference tracks are any piece of audio that you can use to AB (go back and forth between two songs) your song against. It is a standard for comparison with other songs of perhaps the same genre or instrumentation. It could be Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off’ or could be a finished song of a friend of yours. It doesn’t really matter.
The point of a reference track is to give us a different point of view on where our track is up to.
There’s a multitude of reasons why we would want to do this.



Arrangement ideas
Sometimes in creating a track we can run into a dead end. We aren’t too sure what needs fixing but something needs to be fixed.
When this happens, try this.

  • Pull a track that inspires you into the DAW you are working on.
  • Write down the arrangement or make notes within your DAW.

This can give you some fresh ideas on where you’re struggling.
Not sure what to do after the chorus? What happens in the reference track? Does that idea work on your song?
The aim is to get some fresh ideas.

Production Ideas
We can also get stuck when it comes to creative production ideas.
Do the same trick! Drag in a reference track and listen to what’s happening.

  • How are they using time based effects?
  • Do they start the song off in an interesting way?
  • What elements are being brought in at different sections?

Write down the creative things that you think are going on and do some research. YouTube is full of tips and tricks to help find solutions.

Mix Ideas

Even the most successful professionals use reference tracks for mixing. Though you may think that your song sounds quite good, you need to compare it with other tracks that you like.

What are the differences?

  • Does the ref track have more low-end than yours?
  • Does the vocal have more clarity?
  • How is the sense of space in your mix compared to the ref?

When comparing your song, it’s imperative to be as objective as possible. Pretend that this is not your song and it’s someone else’s.
It’s a great way to alleviate your personal bias.

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