Tricks from the Pro’s 8: A Hard Look at Yourself
Salutations and greetings IDMings! If you haven’t started the practice of using another “pro” track to reference your productions with, now is the time to start.
If you produce your own music, I’m sure you’ll have favourite artists or bands which you can simply look to for a reference which is similar to your type of music. You obviously don’t want to be an exact copy (well, maybe you do) and it just needs to be something you can find your “ballpark” with – something that you know sounds good from a technical perspective. In general I try to have the perspective that my track must sound bigger and better than my reference, which is quite a challenge, but it helps my clients get the sound they are after.
I see referencing in 3 phases: production, mixing and mastering.
Pull it in at the very start of your project (which implies you have a sonic goal in mind and not just a creative one) and use it to see what your track needs. Since you’re listening to a final master, you’ll need to pull the level of that track down about -6 to -9db so it doesn’t blow your ears off while crafting your track. You may find that you’ll change your choices for instruments when you reference against it and see how much “better” their choice was. You’re not looking for one that sounds exactly the same, but one of the same quality, perhaps.
Here you’ll evaluate your mix against theirs. Once you have your rough mix, adjust the level of the reference track so it sounds about the same. Take into account that your mix’s dynamics (sharp hits and lower ambiances) will not be the same as your mastered reference, so it’s okay if yours sounds a bit more “live” if you know what I mean.
If you referenced throughout your project you’ll find that your master will match very nicely. Here you’ll pull your reference up to 0db and compare it with your final master. How does the relative feel and level match? Does your track now compare in quality and clarity? You can concentrate on similar equalisation, dynamics and stereo spread. Besides using your ears foremost, in iZotope Ozone, for example, you can compare equalisation and use it as a guide. Here are two tracks (below), white and yellow, that show you slight differences in spectral equalisation:
You’ll want to troubleshoot and spot things you can improve on as you reference and ultimately produce a great product (just remember that pros are employed because no one else can do the same thing… food for thought). Good luck!
Play long and prosper!
Resistance to better sound is futile!
Jonathan Shaw is a professional record producer who has worked with a multitude of artists and record labels in a freelance capacity. Outside this, he lectures music business at the University of the Witwatersrand and provides business consultation to the music industry. firstname.lastname@example.org