Posted December 15, 2012 by Stephan Earl in Tips and Tutorials

Why Using Mastered Tracks as Reference Can Pump up Your Mixes

Using Mastered Tracks to better your Mix - Home Music Production

One of the indispensable tips in mixing is comparing your mix alongside a mastered track or what is called a reference track. I mentioned this briefly in my last post Mixing Tips to Live By but want to expand on this a little.

There are many reasons why you should continue making such comparisons, and here are some of them:

1. Mastered Tracks End Up on the Radio

Simply put, mastered tracks set the standard in how to make beautiful music that is worthy of cutting a CD for. It’s what ends up on the radio! Mastered songs have gone under the full scrutiny of an expert engineer who wiped away the imperfections until the track became as crisp and clean as a whistle.

And because they were mastered, they sound good on any type of speakers, whether on a car stereo or your living room’s sound system. Mastered tracks offer a study in balance as well. They show you how all elements of the instrumentation and vocals sit well together to create a pleasant sound in your ears. Treat mastered tracks as your textbooks that teach you standards and proper skills.

2. It Teaches You What a Final Mix Should Be

Contrary to popular belief, mastering engineers cannot alter a faulty mix using magic and technical expertise. They need to work with a well-mixed track to make it stand out more. Engineers can’t do anything much with a crappy mix. They would even suggest taking back the tracks to the musician for another round of mixing.

The main goal of a mastering engineer is to put the final touches to a mix to come up with a brilliant product ready for distribution. A great track becomes a chart-topper solely because it sounded good in the first place.

3. Mastered Tracks Train Your Ears

When you import your reference material into your DAW, you’re using its volume levels as peg for your mix. You become better equipped with a trained ear to effectively listen to the EQ balance and pick out each instrument from another. So it’s not really an unjust comparison. It even teaches you to tame down the loudness of your mix to achieve clarity.

4. Flying Solo Is Not a Necessarily A Good Thing

Taking a mastered track challenges you to create the same kind of quality in your own mix. If you have nothing to compare your mix with, you won’t notice the intricate details that give mastered tracks their special quality. Hence, it helps to pick out a recording and use it as your benchmark while practicing your mixing skills. Look for more opportunities to sharpen your knowledge.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and earn that experience through mixing tracks frequently. And if you have more chances to practice, you will eventually reach perfection that will be reflected in the quality of your mixes.

Stephan Earl

Composing, recording and producing music in the home studio environment for over 25 years, musician and author Stephan Earl now enjoys sharing his home studio setup experience with other home studio recording musicians via HomeMusicProduction.com.