Instant Mix Perspective [Video]

| Audio Example, Mixing, Plugins, Tips, Video

Mixing in isolation can lead to bad mixes. No one wants to hear it, but if you don’t compare your current mix to something that’s already mixed, mastered, and certifiably awesome then you have no idea if you’re really in the ballpark. Bringing in a reference track to your sessions in either mixing or mastering can give you instant perspective. With a few quick adjustments you can get your mix back on track to mixing success!



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25 Responses to “Instant Mix Perspective [Video]”

  1. Kern

    I have done this, with a song that I know well, ever since you talked about it on the Simply Recording podcast! You rock!

  2. Greg

    Great tip! I used this idea a few months ago on a track that, when rendered, sounded very bad through iTunes or any system other than my DAW/monitor set up. I chose a relevant reference song and used one of the EQ plugins to literally watch what was going on with frequency spectrum of the two songs. The reference mix was ruler-flat, mine…no. Like your example, I mix way bass-heavy, and the graphical info showed me exactly where the problem areas were. Once I fixed those, it sounded great.

    Another application of this technique is for “calibrating” your monitor system. I’ll admit it: I don’t have good reference monitors yet. So I was able to cobble together some reasonably good shelf speakers and an old stereo graphic EQ and, by using a reference mix, I was able to tweak the system so that what I hear through my monitors is a little more reliable. Not ideal, I know, but it really helped.

  3. Larry Green

    Using a frequency analyzer helps too. Compare the frequency curve of the reference track with your track. Blue Cat has a free analyzer you can download.

  4. joe

    i think this is a fantastic idea.
    seems like it would help with those of us who havent treated our rooms.
    my concern is if your using something that has been mastered how should we
    compensated for the increased volume and compression that mastering introduces.

    • Graham

      Joe, you simply turn down the mastered reference track to be a similar volume to your mix. Simple fix.

  5. Vad

    Graham, thanks for another great tip. I’ve always felt lazy to do this, but whenever I made myself do it, it helped a lot.

    I have a feeling that the vocals on both tracks are identical. Is that true?

    • Graham

      Well the vocals on one track are the original artist, the vocals on another are me.

  6. Alessandro

    That’s scary at first, cause you realize your song doesn’t sound quite good as you thought! but you can play this in your favour to improve the song 😀

    • Graham

      The band is called Ghost Ship. They lead worship at one of the Mars Hill Church campuses.

  7. Opz

    Before getting to the part where you let us listen to the reference track I really thought the reference track was vertically zoomed. It sounds ok though, but what is the deal with the mastering? The track looks like it ‘fills’ the entire PT track and has lost most of it’s dynamics. I should emphasize the word ‘looks’, because the waveform looks like a big single colored filler in the track (apologies for the strange description, my native language isn’t english). Is this due to the so called ‘Loudness Wars’? I’m new to the mixing game, just recently started off using PT for mixing. Maybe I should use more reference tracks though, nice video!
    Could you advise me on some good reference tracks?
    I’ve understood that for instance M. J.’s Billie Jean is considered a very very good example of excellent mastering. But is it ok to A/B my own mix that hasn’t been mastered yet to something that has been mastered by a professional? Wouldn’t it be better to compare a mix to an other mix, instead of comparing it with a professionally mastered track? Because one might try to bring it to the quality level of the mastered reference (without having the skill yet to do so). Thank you (and/or others) for sharing the knowledge.

    • Mike

      Opz, it’s no problem comparing your mix to a mastered track. As long as you turn down the mastered track to the same volume as your mix you will get a fair comparison (though your mix probably has better dynamics than the mastered track if it has been crushed for loudness). The main thing you are fixing is the frequency response of your hearing to undo the compensating your brain has been doing.

      I have created a CD that has a bunch of tracks adjusted to similar loudness. It includes Bob Marley “Exodus” (sublime microdynamics), Police “Every breath you take” (good for auditioning speakers because detailed speakers let you hear the zing of Sting’s strings), and several others. I do play other CDs but I find just a second or two from this CD resets my hearing. Generally I leave it running continuously from the player so that I can just switch to it and luck will determine which track I get to hear.

    • Devon graves

      Opz, my input would be to use a reference that is targeting the ballpark sound you want to approximate. In other words, something in the genre of your track that you already know sounds excellent. Billy Jean would not be a good model for say, a thrash metal song. Many genres have different standards regarding frequency content and there are important reasons why. The kick sound on Seals Human Being is very fat and nice, but it would be too much bottom end for hardcore, fast double kick metal. That kick sound would end up a cluttered mess in that case. Pick songs with similar instrumentation and even in the same key and tuning if possible. In fact, it is a very good idea to use a reference model during the recording process as well. This might help you get closer to the mark even before the mix so you can make better mic placement judgments. Otherwise, some targets may be way too far off to get where you want them in the mix. Try to match your sounds as close as possible from the get go.

  8. Jason Green

    Excellent tutorial. I must say, while listening to the two tracks on a pair of MDR 7506’s, your mix (to my ears) sounds WAAAY better than the mastered version. Granted I haven’t listened to both tracks on my not-so-good car speakers. The toms on your mix punch through the mix and overall has much more depth and body than the mastered version. The mastered version sounds thin and hollow. Just my opinion.

  9. Rob

    One problem I’ve always had with using a reference CD is I can never find anything similar to my own stuff which is kind of genre defying. It’s a mixture of vintage country/bluegrass/folk/honky tonk twang. I usually find something that is roughly in the ball park genre wise but it’s never a really good match.



  1.  Why You Should Compare Your Mixes To Mastered Tracks » The Recording Revolution
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  4.  Why You Shouldn’t Compare Your Mixes To Others | Home Recording Resources Blog
  5.  How To Never Fail In The Studio » The Recording Revolution
  6.  Confession: Thought My Mix Was Better Than A Pro Mix [Video] » The Recording Revolution

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