Skip to main content

Do you use commercial/pro recordings to reference your mix?

When mixing, do you ever use professional/commercial mixes as a reference?

Is this something you do often at your own studio, or only when you are mixing at another facility, where it helps you adjust to an unfamiliar environment? Or, do you use this method when using new speakers?

Do you choose specific pro releases, and if so, do you use the same songs every time, or do you adjust the reference based on what you are mixing style-wise at the time? Just curious...

For several years back in the late 80's and '90's, I was using Sting's Dream Of The Blue Turtles, and Peter Gabriel's So albums. Those two albums were my "go-to" reference albums for quite awhile.

Other albums I occasionally used over the years for reference ( and sometimes still do) were Steely Dan's Aja', Big Generator from Yes, Michael Penn's No Myth, Bourgeois Tagg's Yoyo, and Toy Matinee's Last Plane Out.

For projects that had a lot of acoustic guitar, I used James Taylor's New Moon Shine ( in fact, I still do), and on that album, I frequently used Copper Line as a reference. That James Taylor album, besides being a great album musically, is also a great sounding album, the fidelity is amazing ( IMO).
I've also used Mary Chapin Carpenter's State Of The Heart.

Do you have any particular albums or songs that you use as a mixing reference?

Comments

pcrecord Tue, 01/31/2017 - 06:39
I do. but I have a hard time finding valid and good sounding albums for more modern Punk/emo/progressive styles. I often end up comparing them to different styles and only concentrate to frequencies and volumes.
I took your list Donny, maybe I'll find someting to add to my list ;)

Brother Junk, post: 447124, member: 49944 wrote: Good question, I'm curious to the answers from the real people.
I hope you are a real person Brother !! :ROFLMAO:

Seriously, you'll get there, it takes a lot of time and practice... what ever you do, do it as often as you can...

Tony Carpenter Tue, 01/31/2017 - 08:27
I'm torn on this topic. A lot of people are like, you have to, my feeling still is, why?, and especially since my songs in general don't have a direct commercial equivalent. I am however starting to listen to music again as a leisure thing which frankly I have done very little of for most of the last 20 years. And of course, not listening to much of anything made in the last 20 years LOL.

Boswell Tue, 01/31/2017 - 08:59
DonnyThompson, post: 447123, member: 46114 wrote: When mixing, do you ever use professional/commercial mixes as a reference?
Yes, but in moderation, and only infrequently when a client says he wants his amateur recordings to sound "just like this CD by XX".

Strangely enough, the times I most often use commercial recordings is to re-calibrate my hearing between heavy sessions doing in-house mixes, usually of my own recordings. I find my hearing reference can stray through over-concentration on a single track, and needs to be brought back to a standard.

pcrecord Tue, 01/31/2017 - 09:00
Makzimia, post: 447129, member: 48344 wrote: I'm torn on this topic. A lot of people are like, you have to, my feeling still is, why?, and especially since my songs in general don't have a direct commercial equivalent.
I'm often in the same situation where no other band have the same style and sound the Customer wants. But I do refer to a commercial source if only to make sure the listener doesn't have to reach the bass and treble or EQ on his listening system. But I will do it only at mastering time.

audiokid Tue, 01/31/2017 - 09:36
From the time I started mixing, which goes 40 years back running PA's for live shows, I've always used reference tracks to help align speakers and ears.
When I am producing or mixing today, I usually use some reference sometime during the evolution of a project that has sonic similarities based on the style of music I am working with. Meaning, if I am working on Bluegrass I doubt I would listen to Metal or my favourite Beatles album. For inspiration, correction or just pleasure I am likely to choose music similar to the direction I am going or need.

I suppose if I was traveling from one studio to the next (a hired gun), I would still use references as a way to become familiar with a room. Simply put, I like to listen to other peoples work , their finished projects to help me get to where they already are. :)
Makzimia, post: 447129, member: 48344 wrote: I am however starting to listen to music again as a leisure thing which frankly I have done very little of for most of the last 20 years. And of course, not listening to much of anything made in the last 20 years LOL.

Isn't that the truth.
Having 3 young children (my youngest is 10) has subjected me to listen to stuff I would normally not be exposed to, which has been "interesting, painful, revitalizing".
A lot of today's music bores the hell out of me but it definitely sounds better to my moms vinyl recording on the old 33 stereo.Which isn't a good or bad thing either.

Basically I don't have any real set rules but I do like having other examples along side of me for all sorts of reasons .

DonnyThompson Sat, 02/04/2017 - 05:08
Makzimia, post: 447129, member: 48344 wrote: I am however starting to listen to music again as a leisure thing which frankly I have done very little of for most of the last 20 years. And of course, not listening to much of anything made in the last 20 years LOL.
After many, many years of suffering from "Engineer's Disease" ( the inability to listen to and enjoy a song as a "whole", in appreciation of the art - and instead focusing in on certain parts, frequencies, panning, FX, etc.)

I've finally started listening to music for the pure enjoyment of it again, listening to a song instead of what individual parts make up a song. I can remember when I was younger, in my teens, and I'd hear a song on the radio, or put an album on the TT and listen to it as it was meant to be heard, just for the simple enjoyment of it.

It took a long time for this to happen though; I didn't start listening in that way until about 18 months ago, and considering that I've been engineering and producing for almost 40 years now, that's a very long time to not enjoy music for what it is.
The frustrating thing is that I can't even say why or how I began listening to songs this way again; I can certainly point to when I started listening as an engineer, that moment is fairly obvious to me, it occurred the first time I ever sat at a console and began adjusting individual tracks. But there's no obvious touchstone moment that I can point to that allowed me to listen for enjoyment again around 18 months ago... it just kinda "happened".

I wish I knew what happened to allow me to get back to listening to music as it was meant to be heard. I'm still able to focus in on the parts of a recording - as all of us have been able to do as music/recording professionals - but now, for whatever reason, I can switch that perception on and off.

Jeez... sure took me long enough. LOL

dvdhawk Sat, 02/04/2017 - 12:48
Interestingly, I still use a lot of the same songs and artists you've mentioned DonnyThompson.

Some of those artists you've referenced have consistently put out the most sonically interesting albums that are pleasing to my ear too. There's a playlist on my iPod that I take to evaluate a sound system, whether I'm troubleshooting someone else's system, installing a new one somewhere, or looking for music with production values to aspire to as a recordist. I'm looking for songs that are full spectrum with some elevated level of detail, and some air between the parts - but still packing a punch where you want it to. I have a fondness for live recordings, and cut my teeth on rock and blues as evidenced by the playlist.

On an install you might spend a week pulling wire and connecting the dots, and never get to hear the system until everything is all buttoned up and ready to turn on for the first time. Even after the longest, most miserable, install there's nothing more gratifying for me than pushing play on the song Rocklandwonderland by Canadian rocker Kim Mitchell. It is such a beautifully produced studio album, that has a lot of live characteristics. It's a studio recording, and somehow at the same time, exactly what I would strive for if I were a band pumping through that new sound system in a live venue. If everything has gone as planned with the install, I'm making minor crossover / FOH EQ adjustments during Rockland to neutralize the room, and the rest is just ear-candy while cleaning up and loading out.

After that on the Soundcheck playlist, it's:
The full-bodied blues of Stormy Monday from The Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East (Live) - ignore those little feedback squeals, it's them.
The multi-layered detail of Last Plane Out by Toy Matinee That is such an overlooked album, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who likes it.
Red Rain from Peter Gabriel's So (or really about anything else from that stellar album)
F.M. by Steely Dan is a great example of smooth studio slickness.
My Sting reference song is a few albums newer than yours. If I Ever Lose My Faith in You from Ten Summoner's Tales
Money
by Pink Floyd. Like Rockland, it's bass guitar driven but a great example of leaving space for everything around it.
Right and Wrong from Joe Jackson's amazing live album Big World (recorded Live straight to 2-trk DAT in front of an audience instructed to be absolutely silent during the songs, and hold their applause until given the all-clear)
Steamroller Blues from Live - James Taylor album of 93, a dynamic full-bodied blues performance. I know he meant it as a joke, but it's still a cool song.
What Would You Say from the first Dave Matthews album, or Too Much from Crash
You can't go wrong with anything from Let It Roll by Little Feat

The same song list also makes a good reference library for recording production values too.

If I'm going to record a genre outside of my comfort zone, I'll listen to something similar BEFORE I do the session. Sometimes the client has some recordings that they will be using as a yardstick, and sometimes that can be helpful - if they're at all realistic. I try to go into the session with a fairly good idea where it's (ideally) going to end up and what the client wants. The soundstage we're shooting for on the finished product can influence the micing technique and mixing quite a bit.

audiokid Sat, 02/04/2017 - 14:56
thatjeffguy, post: 447130, member: 38103 wrote: Never do!
You've done a lot of beautiful work, Jeff. You have me curious as to why not?
I'll guess before you answer.
Would it have to do with not wanting anything to effect the organic bloom of it all? Keeping it real and as natural as possible within your space, who you are etc?

audiokid Sat, 02/04/2017 - 15:22
All time favourites for me is Night Fly, Kim Mitchel's Rocklandwonderland. and a lot of Bob Rocks work.

There is a lot of stellar sounding british mixes (during the best years of analog) that was pre released on long play vinyl that sounds absolutely awesome, nothing like the same tracks later released on CD's to the public. I used to DJ and was given a wad of money to buy new music each week. Hearing those long play tracks was a real ear opener to sound for me. Made it hard to go back to playing through a Peavey system lol. There is so much excellent music, incredibly recorded, mixed and mastered that most of us never experience. Makes me sad to think of how controlled the radio stations are. Same 40 songs being played over and over for 4 months, all mp3 crap.

DonnyThompson Sun, 02/05/2017 - 03:56
dvdhawk, post: 447181, member: 36047 wrote: Red Rain from Peter Gabriel's So (or really about anything else from that stellar album)
F.M. by Steely Dan is a great example of smooth studio slickness.
audiokid, post: 447184, member: 1 wrote: All time favourites for me is Night Fly,

For as great as those albums sounded ( and still do IMO), I've often thought how cool it would be to be able to listen to the 1st Generation 2-Mix Masters of those wonderful sounding records.

I'd add Aja in there as well, along with James Taylor's New Moon Shine. I'm sure I could come up with even more examples of stellar fidelity, but the ones mentioned above by Chris and Dave are the ones that really stick out for me as well.
(I'll have to check out the Kim Mitchell album).

Years ago, I remember my instructor telling me that music consumers never really got to hear what the people in the studio did... that there would always be a generational loss that would effect the fidelity.

If we had the opportunity to hear those classic, great-sounding albums from the original 2 track mix tapes... listening to them being played back on the original Studer ( or Sony, or Ampex) machines that they were originally mixed to, that is something I'd love to be able to do.

My bet is that - for as wonderful as they sounded ( and still sound) to us on the commercial release mediums we all bought - they would sound even more incredible than the albums/tapes/CD copies that we bought... as if it was even possible to sound better than they already did.

FWIW ;)

thatjeffguy Sun, 02/05/2017 - 08:56
audiokid, post: 447182, member: 1 wrote: You've done a lot of beautiful work, Jeff. You have me curious as to why not?
I'll guess before you answer.
Would it have to do with not wanting anything to effect the organic bloom of it all? Keeping it real and as natural as possible within your space, who you are etc?

Hi Chris... While your last sentence is true, the main reason that I don't listen to reference material is because it hinders my originality and intuitive sense of how music sounds to me. I always want to be looking forward, not back and to tap in to my innate sense of musicality which I have learned to trust completely.
An analogy: I enjoy acting in plays with our local community theater group. Many of my fellow actors, when cast in a role, will rush to Youtube or such to find either the movie version of the play (if there was one) or video of another group's production, in order to find a footing for their character. I never do. The character must be a blending of the scripted work and my own individuality & acting sensibility.
Of course in my earlier learning years I did listen to much music and dove into its production values to help me learn the range and ability of my tools, but for the last 15 years or so I have not.
~Jeff

DonnyThompson Sun, 02/05/2017 - 13:57
thatjeffguy, post: 447207, member: 38103 wrote: I enjoy acting in plays with our local community theater group. Many of my fellow actors, when cast in a role, will rush to Youtube or such to find either the movie version of the play (if there was one) or video of another group's production, in order to find a footing for their character. I never do. The character must be a blending of the scripted work and my own individuality & acting sensibility.
Of course in my earlier learning years I did listen to much music and dove into its production values to help me learn the range and ability of my tools, but for the last 15 years or so I have not.

I understand what you are saying, Jeff, and for your analogy, I completely agree.

My using reference material isn't so much to gain artistic ideas or impact, or to even sound "just like" that which I referencing, but more as a way to tune my ears to recordings that I know sound exceptional, and I find that doing so gives me a kind of "fidelity bar" to shoot for.
For example, it doesn't necessarily mean that I'll listen to an acoustic guitar in an effort to copy the sound, but more about putting my head ( and ears) into a particular place that "warms me up" for the mix that is to come. It gives me a certain standard to shoot for and adhere to. I don't always succeed, but there have been many times I have found this method to be greatly beneficial in the overall scope.

I suppose it could be called a "warm-up exercise" of sorts; in that I'm listening to what/which elements I feel make up a great-sounding recording, and then attempting to put myself into a frame of mind to accomplish the same quality of fidelity - within the context of what I'm working on at the time.

Honestly, it doesn't even need to be a song that I particularly like all that much - although I'll be honest and say that the recordings I mentioned earlier in this thread are songs I do enjoy a great deal... but I've occasionally used songs that I don't care for as a musician, or as an artist or songwriter, but that might happen to have a particular excellence in fidelity that strikes me in a certain way, or that perhaps has many tracks that work together cohesively, where everything has a beautiful overall sound, but that also has great clarity and definition to the individual instruments as well.

IMO of course. ;)

-d.

audiokid Sun, 02/05/2017 - 14:11
Nicely said, Donny.

I find that my ears get used to things quickly, including bad things. So, I make it a habit to have some respected CD variations in my perspective so I don't get used to my own good or bad habits.
There used to be a time where I didn't want to listen to anything, just follow my instincts. I have since discovered ear fatigue in myself..When I feel that coming on, or I feel I might be questioning myself, I will often pop in a CD and listen for a bit.

bouldersound Sun, 02/05/2017 - 17:53
If you've got a room and monitors you can trust, and you really know what you're doing, you can live without references. It might even be advantage. But in a challenged room or if you're not absolutely sure of what you're doing references really help. I use them when I check mixes at home, mostly to calibrate my ear to relative bass/mid/treble levels. I would rather get that right in the mix than in mastering. Compressors work better when tracks are not tonally skewed.

bouldersound Sun, 02/05/2017 - 19:11
Lately I've been mixing some 70s style music. It's reminiscent of The Band, The Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd etc. But I haven't made any attempt to listen to any of that stuff. I've heard it enough. I'd rather mix to the generalized model of that music that I carry in my head rather than to any specific example.

Smashh Tue, 02/07/2017 - 07:36
I find it hard to A/B until after bouncing track , and then I use something modern to reference with the latest production, even if the style is different.
Getting material played and enjoyed by others is my aim , and the tracks of today are mixed mostly digitally with more detail in the filtering to make
use of the digital harshness/clarity .IMHO. I guess because I record into and mix ITB, it forces my hand.
I do love the material / artists mentioned above and would be happy to have something sound close to them , but I feel I should shoot for today , no matter what style .
I guess being a hobbyist and at home I don't have time / client pressure like most of you, so I can form my own workflow and make heaps of mistakes ...lol

I do listen to music for pleasure and it is 95% 70s -80s music , So I guess subconsciously that affects musical / mixing decisions.
So much variety of music in the 70s and 80s
(y) Glad to have come up during those times.
x

Register