Your mixing/mastering A-B reference track(s)

In connection with the superb Mixing/mastering thread, I was thinking about what tracks you view as the ‘goal’ when you’re mixing and/or mastering your releases.

I’m currently wading through literally hundreds of tracks that I started but didn’t do anything with over the past 5+ years. It’s an absurd process, but fun. The thing is, though - whilst doing this I’m entirely in a different creative space to when I’m actually creating music.

One of the key areas I’m struggling with is finding reference tracks which achieve what I’m looking to do with my own music. It’s heavily drum based, coming from hip-hop background, but features lots of field-recording and ambient noise textures with various analogue synths (either out of the box or, depending on the era and my gear setup at the time, virtual/simulations/samples of analogue gear) providing the main tonal and melodic elements (all with varying degrees of processing on them).

I tend to look at much of the more modern dark instrumental funk/psych releases as being the closest touchpoints - Beak>, Chop, Natural Yogurt Band, Drumetrics etc. but I’m also using less “faithful” tools such as sidechain compression which takes it largely out of those sort of groups. As a result, finding mix options is tricky so I tend to look for engineers whose work I love - Dave Cooley, Mike Burnham, Daddy Kev, Joey Raia - even though they’re often working with things that aren’t especially similar to my own productions.

How do others approach this? What’s your go-to A-B track, artist or engineer & does it matter to you that the genre is identical to yours?

I’d say don’t worry too much about reference tracks, if your music is slightly outside an easy genre label. Just make it sound the best you can and if it’s being mastered, have good communication with the engineer about what you are trying to achieve.

I used to have a couple of CDs worth of reference tracks of well recorded/mixed/mastered releases in various genres, but I haven’t used them in years now. These days clients sometimes send me reference tracks for the kind of sound or level they are going for, and they can be very helpful, but not really necessary if the communication is good!

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Thanks, that’s really helpful. My biggest issue at present is mixing tracks so that they have a uniform sound across any potential release. They’re all relatively similar in terms of their style, to a broad extent, but it’s so easy to push one track too far and another too little. I’m working on 4 tracks at present, just as a learning process, moving between each of them to try and secure a consistent sound. It’s proving quite a challenge, though! Analogue synths especially are proving a beast to accommodate because they seem to want to spread out and occupy the entire spectrum, leaving no room for anything else!

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Mezzanine by Massive Attack has always stood out for me as being an impeccably mixed electronic/beats type album.

It has a bit of everything (beats, bass, guitars, samples/ambience fx, synths, vocals etc.) so is an all round handy reference IMO.

Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus might be worth checking out; plenty of beats and side-chaining and also quite high production values (released on Warp).

For mix engineers, anything by David Wrench is worth checking out (he works in a range of genres).

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It’s funny, I picked Mezzanine up for £1 on CD after listening to it loads when it came out but not having heard it for years. I completely agree - the mixing/mastering on that album is incredible. Flying Lotus is another excellent call (and there’s an extent to which I mentally connect Massive Attack & Flying Lotus as being almost the equivalents of one another for the time period in which they mainly operate(d))

I shall investigate David Wrench now - thank you.

Uniformity is over-rated… :wink:

Yes, analogue synths can easily eat up a mix, don’t be scared to rip things out with the EQ. I’m recording electronic music for the first time in about eight years recently, and am finding the Moog Grandmother’s HPF section very helpful in getting stuff to sit better.

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For me Mezzanine always fell into the ‘so wrong it works’ style of production… and as such I would never use it as a reference as it’s one of those anomalies that just works for some reason, but any attempt to recreate it’s sonic imprint (and many have tried) tends to just sound rubbish.

Reference tracks for me have always been tracks that truly do invoke an emotional response from you wherever/however they are played. Bob Marley, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Queens Of The Stoneage, Kraftwerk, Fennesz, Bjork, Bowie… etc. This is music that really does not require a spectacular soundsystem to get you going. You can hear any of these coming out of a crappy clock radio or a mobile phone speaker, playing off an incredibly poor quality radio station, and still find yourself grooving with it without thinking, without a single care for what the frequency content is like, or how compressed it is or any of those concerns we get hung up on when mixing.

David Wrench is an excellent mix engineer. Had the pleasure of being there for a few mastering sessions of albums he has mixed, and the FKA Twigs album has been a solid favourite of mine since it came out.

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