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Monday, 7 April 2014

Using Reference Material

Using reference material is a great idea in so many ways. Firstly it helps you identify where your mixdown might be lacking. Your kick drum could sound good in the context of your track, but when you play it alongside that of a professionally produced track does it stack up? Can you push your mix that little bit further to make it match your favourite producer's ability?

Secondly referencing your track can give you clues on how well your track is arranged. Do the transitions sound as smooth as those of your reference material? Or, do the transitions sound amateurish when put under scrutiny? Is the overall length of your track satisfactory? Are you dragging out ideas for too long? How has your reference material dealt with the various problems that you are encountering in composing and arranging? Are there any ideas you can draw from and imitate?

Finally, it can expose things that you may have omitted entirely from your track.

For example, I find myself having difficulty when it comes to writing complex edits to break up the structure of a song, say at the end of a phrase or section. I never really noticed that I skirted around this and basically avoided writing edits and used other means and tools until I began using reference material. Now that this is something I've identified, I can at least consciously address the problem. Similarly, I had a problem once where my track had nowhere near enough percussion and top end. It was only when I referenced the track that I noticed this.

Create a reference folder of the best material in your genre, in terms of ideas, arrangement and execution, that is to say mixdown. Make sure the files are of highest quality audio as possible. Get to know these songs intimately and how they sound on various sound systems. Next time you are writing a track, be sure to reference this material continuously so that you can benchmark your progress, and get your mixes sounding as full as they do. Just be aware of the influence that this is having on your songwriting process and curtail as appropriate.

In the same way you do this, be sure to reference your mixes on as many speakers as possible. I reference in four ways. Firstly on a set of Logitech computer speakers that cost me $20 or so. As well as these I use headphones, my normal monitor speakers and my car speakers. Any problems with my mix should show up in at least one of these listening environments.

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