A Playlist of Reference Tracks

Marcus dePaula

Reference tracks are an essential tool for any audio engineer.

In live concert audio production (aka sound reinforcement), I would use these tracks to help me “tune” a PA in combination with speaking into a trusted SM58 or the microphone the the lead singer would be using. My familiarity with these songs and their mixes along with the sound of my own voice using a microphone I have a lot of experience with helped me to EQ the sound system so it would sound just like I would like it to sound.

In the recording studio, reference tracks are used to compare your own mix to something you know that sounds like you want it to sound. It’s not just about tonality, but also overall energy, stereo imaging, and loudness.

Reference tracks also help when it’s time to test out new studio monitors, new headphones, as well as when repositioning or setting up a new mix location and dialing in speaker placement, acoustic treatments, and speaker EQ settings in a studio environment.

I encourage you to find your own tracks and learn them inside out on all sound systems you have access to: headphones, studio monitors, generic earbuds, car stereos, bluetooth speakers, and even built-in laptop speakers. To me, a good reference track has not just a familiar sound, but an overall balanced tone using the full frequency spectrum without emphasizing one particular frequency range too much (I have yet to find a rap track that does not accentuate both the low and high frequencies).

I also like to include a variety of genres so I get a spectrum of instrumental and mixing styles. A couple of the tracks in my list - Shawn Colvin and Michael Bublé - have singers whose voices have almost a nasal tone, but that are mixed well. So if I hear an unpleasant nasal tone when I’m testing a system, I’ll know that I need to tone down the upper-mids. On the Tom Petty if the high hat is too harsh, I’ll what I need to do. And on the the Alison Krauss and Bob Moses tracks I know if the low end is super boomy that I’ll need to tone that down or move the speakers.

I’m always looking for new reference tracks to add to my playlist. So please send the tracks that you like to use my way!

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