Mixing With Reference Tracks

On this new blog post I want to show you how a reference track really helped me improve the drums on my song by simply using an equalizer. For the past few days I’ve been mixing a song and was caught up on how I want it to sound like without giving thought about referencing it to any tracks.

I did everything I know about how to make the drums really cut through the mix. It was sounding really good on my speakers, even when I tested it on my headphones.

Not until I took one of my favorite songs and compared it with my track. I’ll add the audio examples of the drums before and after below. So after listening to the 2 tracks I decided to put it in Cubase to analyze the frequency of the reference track.

I realized that mine was way different, so I searched for a track that sounds a bit similar to what I’m working on and found one that has similar sounds and the style was almost the same.

I created a loop section for the reference track to only play the drums and I muted everything on my song and played only the drums. Then I added a frequency analyzer on both my drums and the reference track. As shown below…

My Track

Reference Track

As I looked on both the tracks, I realized that the difference is not that much so this is something I can fix on the drum bus/group with an equalizer without the need to treat individual drum sounds.

The aim was not to make the frequencies exactly the same but at least be as close as possible and still sound good. So I added an eq on my drum bus. First thing I did was to cut out the obvious loud peaks at 262Hz, 748Hz, 5.2kHz and 13.2kHz.

The drums started to sound a lot better but there was still a lot of low-end mud so I analyzed the low-end of the reference track and added a Low Pass Filter just to hear what’s going on. Comparing the reference track with my drums I was able to find the muddiness on my drums at 69Hz and 83Hz. After cutting out the mud, the drums were more clearer and breathing.

This literally put a smile on my face 🙂

Then I removed the Low Pass Filter and did a final analyzation on the reference track and found where my drums were lacking. I boosted those frequencies and everything was sounding good. Here’s a snapshot of the final eq settings.

Eq Settings For Drums

After doing all those eq settings, everything was sounding a whole lot better and was not too different from the reference track. Then I decided to bounce both my drum parts, the one without the eq and the other one with the new eq settings.

What was really shocking is that the new drum parts have a lot of dynamics as compared to the 1st drum mix. Besides the punchy, clearer and warmer sound I’m still wondering how just a few eq settings can add dynamics to the drums.

As you can see in the image below, the 1st drum mix is a “brick” and the 2nd one doesn’t only have dynamics but it’s even louder yet I didn’t increase the volume.

Before & After Wavform

Now for the moment of truth, below you’ll find both audio examples of the drums before I used the reference track and after. Listen to both the drums and you’ll realize that the 2nd one sounds loud, punchy and much more clearer as compared to the 1st one.

Here’s what I’ve learnt and would like to pass the knowledge to you:

– Professional mixes have less bass than you think.
– Sometimes Drastic equalization might sound like you’re taking out too much on a sound but a more cleaner sound will sound punchy and clear.
– Using reference tracks will help you make your song sound good in various devices such as earbuds, home theater, in a car, at a club etc.
– In some cases minor eq adjustments will prevent you from getting the loudness you desire.

I’m not saying go make -10dB cuts on the equalizer but if needed then don’t hesitate to do it. Hope you also learn something on this tutorial. As audio engineers, we sometimes fall into the trap whereby we think our music sounds better than the references not until you play it at a club or in a car.

So try as much as you can to get your music sounding the same as professionally mixed songs. They’re meant to sound that way for a reason, it’s not by fate or chance.

How to Use Reference Tracks w/ Multiband & MS Processing