December 5, 2018 – We recently published an article outlining the importance of reference material in the mixing process, and with it we asked the community to give us their favourite reference tracks. We thought it would be a great idea to create a universal reference track playlist, and break down some of the more popular choices.

To make things easier, we’ve categorised the tracks into two categories – those with a focus on traditional instruments and those with a focus on electronic instruments such as synthesizers, samplers, drum machines and audio workstations. We know it’s tough to divide music into small categories, so you may not agree but we tried to make it easy to reference when you have a specific project in a specific style.

Traditional

Traditional music spans from Pop to Rock, essentially anything with the use of traditional musical instruments such as Pianos, Guitars and Drums.

Balance

This category exemplifies sonic balance in a mix. The following tracks stand out amongst others for their impeccable use of space, whether it’s placement of the instruments in panoramic space or in the frequency spectrum.

Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean is a great example of balance in a mix, the track was recorded and mixed by Bruce Swedien who has outlined some of the extreme processes he went through with Billie Jean. Swedien recalls disassembling the entire drum kit to achieve perfect sonic isolation, the clarity and separation of the drum track makes it quite hard to believe that the drum kit in Billie Jean is acoustic. At a time when electronic drum machines didn’t quite have the energy and acoustic drum kits never sounded as good on a record, Billie Jean truly set a new standard in mixing.

Mr. Mister – Broken Wings was mixed by Mick Guzauski, a Grammy Award winning engineer whose name came up a few times in credits on this list. He is widely regarded as having excellent use of space in his work, and it’s quite evident that he is a big fan of reverbs. He is also credited on Automaton by Jamiroquai and Fragments of Time by Daft Punk which also made it onto the Community Reference Track List.

Here are some other community picks:

  • Marillion – Power
  • A Perfect Circle – Talk Talk
  • Chris Jones – Long After You’re Gone
  • Poolside – Kiss You Forever
  • George Michael – Jesus to a Child
  • David Bowie – Modern Love
  • A Flock of Seagulls – I Ran
  • The Olympians – Sirens of Jupiter
  • Hollie Cook – Stay Alive

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is the space between audio material’s highest peaks and lowest dips, the human ear is particularly sensitive to changes in amplitude whether its fast transient peaks that make percussion sound more natural or a gradual crescendo of an arrangement that comes to an emotive climax. Both the dynamic range of the overall material, as well as much shorter individual parts need to be taken into account. Using tools such as compressors, limiters and gates, often referred to as “dynamics processors”, can aid in creating the desired effect. The following examples have a particular focus on dynamic range.

Peter Gabriel’s Darkness makes incredible use of dynamic range, the track featured on Gabriel’s 2002 “Up” album which is an incredible journey through sonic space. The arrangements move from spacey ambience to chaotic and groovy crescendos seamlessly, the album involved the work of almost 20 different audio and mix engineers.

Michael Jackson makes another appearance, this time for his track Speed Demon which is another great example of dynamic range, the sudden increase in energy in the chorus adds to the pace of the track. The way the kick drum and bass guitar almost juggle back and forth, fill up the low end spectrum, while still leaving enough space for the groove to “breath”.

Tina Turner – Steamy Windows is another classic, the focus here is undoubtedly the call-and-response style arrangement between Turner’s vocals and the sharp horn section that explodes in the chorus. The track was mixed by the legendary Chris Lord-Alge, who is widely known for his creative use of dynamic range.

Here are some other community picks:

  • Lukas Graham – 7 Years
  • Trevor Hall – Good Rain
  • Poolside – Can’t Get you Off My Mind
  • Modest Mouse – Autumn Beds
  • Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
  • Counting Crows – Anna Begins
  • Nnenna Freelon – I Say A Little Prayer
  • Supertramp – The Logical Song
  • Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good
  • Bad Company – Bad Company
  • Paul McCartney & Wings – Maybe I’m Amazed
  • Boston – Foreplay / Long Time
  • Foreigner – Feels Like The First Time
  • Scandal & Patty Smyth – The Warrior
  • Air – How Does It Make You Feel
  • Evanescence – Going Under

All-Round

This category sums up tracks which embody all of the above indicators rather than shining in a certain aspect, from wide dynamic range to excellent overall balance.

The Alan Parsons Project – Eye in the Sky was recorded and produced at the legendary Abbey Road studio, and this is a particularly interesting pick as Alan Parsons, one of the vocalists in the group was an audio engineer and producer by trade. The Alan Parsons Project is a great example of both balance and dynamic range.

Here are some other community picks:

  • Jamiroquai – Time Won’t Wait
  • Wilco – Open Mind
  • Wilco – I Might
  • Oasis – Wonderwall
  • Dave Brubeck – Take Five
  • Steely Dan – Black Cow
  • Steely Dan – Jack Of Speed
  • The Tubes – She’s a Beauty
  • Mott The Hoople – Ready for Love
  • Patty Smyth – Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough
  • The Hooters – Where Do The Children Go
  • Brenda Russell – Piano In The Dark
  • Air – Parade

Electronic

This section features all the reference material with heavy use of electronic instruments such as synths, samplers, drum machines and digital audio workstations.

Balance

Following on from a very successful early career and recent launch of his chart-topping solo album, producer Dr. Dre knew what it takes to take the audio quality in hip-hop to new heights. Dr. Dre’s beats are simple but engineered to perfection, an artist like Eminem who uses a lot of sound effects and adlibs needs a sparse mix to stand out. Eminem’s Kill You made the list, but I think anything produced by Dr. Dre is a good start for referencing a Hip-Hop project.

Here are some other community picks:

  • Blackalicious – You Didn’t Know That Though
  • The Qemists & Enter Shikari – Take It Back

Dynamic Range

Noisia are highly regarded in electronic music circles for their tireless dedication to sound design and pushing the drum and bass genre to it’s boundaries. You can hear an evident focus on dynamic range in all of their productions, Noisia – Square Feet being a particularly good example.

Deadmau5 – Polaris made the list, however I think anything by Deadmau5 is a great start for referencing for dance music. His productions make good use of dynamic range, from the energy in his hard-hitting basslines to the tension and release he creates in the arrangement.

All-Round

Here are some notable mentions that exemplify both balance and dynamic range:

  • Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
  • Astrix – Deep Jungle Walk
  • Shpongle – Tickling the Amygdala
  • The Chemical Brothers – Under The Influence
  • Beyonce – Naughty Girl

 

Check out the Community Reference Track List on Spotify here:
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3A5ezGAdL5feJjp6mXHPLO

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