reference track

Today, we are taking a step back from music marketing to look at your reference track. I am trying to open this blog to all music creation interests. Therefore, reference tracks will be a part of that. It is also the first time we have featured the official iZotope channel on However, it is high time that iZotope got a look-in here, so I am bringing you a post on ten things you need to know about reference tracks.

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What Are Reference Tracks?

Reference tracks are comparable tracks that are already published. For instance, if you want your track to sound like Cafe Del Mar by Energy 52, you would have that as a reference track. You would then compare your track to Cafe Del Mar so that you can adjust the EQ, effects, frequency and spectral ranges. You could also adjust the panning. Therefore, the reference track here is Cafe Del Mar, and you are trying to match your track as closely as possible to what you can hear from Cafe Del Mar.

There Is No Perfect Match

It is no point trying to make a perfect match. Your reference track will be different, and it is that difference which gives your music its quality. Therefore, you should not concern yourself with perfectionism. There is no point in trying to get a perfect match. There are a lot of choices to make, which means that your mix will be different.

Automated or Additional Dialog Replacement

The Automated or Additional Dialog Replacement is an audio shot after a scene has been filmed in a TV program or film. In such media, mistakes can be made, so it is patched up with post-shoot replacement audio clips.

What Do You Need to Understand About Matching Your Reference Tracks to Your Tracks?

The important thing to remember is that you should not get fixated on matching your track to your reference track. Your tracks deserve to be unique. Therefore, treat them as though you are looking for something that is unique. There are ways to use reference tracks for mastering your music. These will be explained in this post and in the video above.

what you need to know about your reference track

Understand What to Reference

You need to understand what elements of your music you are attempting to reference with your reference track.

If you are working for a client and mastering their music, you need to ask them exactly what it is about the reference material they want you to work towards. They might want to reference a single instrument in the mix. They might like the beefiness of the kick, the reverb on the snare or lush pads in the break. It could be about the EQ, the master reverb, volume, etc.

It is so important and meaningful enough to the artist that they included these reference tracks. Therefore, you must understand what it was about the reference tracks that they appreciated and wanted you to replicate in their work.

When mastering your own music, you must understand what you love about the song. It will be helpful if you can put the song on continuous playback, listen closely and take some notes about what you appreciate about this music.

Have Some Respect For the Rough Mix

Sometimes the client will send you a rough mix of their song so that you can understand what they appreciate in the reference material. Some mixing engineers will follow closely what the client wants. However, some will only make what they think the client wants to hear without following the rough mix. This is ok, but it is a bit hit-and-miss. It is easy to get it wrong and just come up with a mix that you “think” is good. This might not be what the client is looking for at all.

There are two ways that I recommend you reference using a rough mix…

The first way is to load the music into your DAW and refer to it often while working on the whole track.

The second way is to use REFERENCE 2. This is a plugin that is available from Plugin Boutique, and it will enable you to reference up to 12 reference tracks simultaneously. You can purchase that by clicking “Learn More” below.


and Reference up to 12 Reference Tracks Simultaneously

Quality Matters

As an audio engineer, you are paid to get the best quality out of the music possible. Similarly, if you are mixing your own music, you will be much more successful if you can make a higher quality standard of recording.

You will also need a better reference track as you make better music. Therefore, you should make sure the settings are configured properly. This means that the quality of the recording is also higher because it will be compared to a higher-quality recording.

CD albums are known to be a better standard. Finding the right physical CDs cannot be easy, so I recommend you use sites like Beatport. In fact, I class Beatport as the best place to source your reference track for one simple reason. They give the artist a fairer deal. Your artist will be paid more if you purchase the music and music available from Beatport, which will do a lot to support the work of your artist. If I really like a song, I will always search for it on Beatport.

If you are sourcing your music from a streaming service such as Spotify, I recommend you get to know your settings. You should ensure that the highest quality settings are selected and in operation when using the reference track. If you don’t configure the settings, your reference material will be a lower quality. In that case, your final output will be lower quality too.

Using AudioLens For Referencing

Audiolens allows you to source reference tracks from anywhere. This could be online, streaming, etc. You can literally capture any sound on your computer. You could be looking for the tonal balance, width or dynamics. Ideally, you would be capturing just 8 seconds. You can use Audiolens in conjunction with iZotope Ozone 10 and iZotope Neutron 4 on your DAW to get the right sound and the right mix you are looking for.

Buy iZotope Audiolens

Reference Audio From Anywhere

Using iZotope RX With Your Reference Track

iZotope RX will allow you to get even more information from your reference track so that you can get as close as possible to the standard of the reference track you are working from. These iZotope tools make your life as a mixing engineer much easier, and you can work to much more professional standards.

Buy iZotope RX 10

Reference Your Tracks to a Greater Degree of Accuracy

Using Insight With Your Reference Track

isotope insight will show you where the key volume changes in your track occur. This could be at the start of the chorus of a rock song. However, in electronic music like trance or synthwave, it would be around the drop or break. In such genres, this happens right in the middle of the song.

Buy iZotope Insight

Get Insight Into Any Mix

One More Plugin For Your Reference Track

I just wanted to show you one last plugin I always use for my reference tracks.

This one is called Expose 2, and it is another that is made by Mastering the Mix. I find it very helpful for getting my levels exactly right. It uses AI-assisted technology to help you to set everything for maximum potential on each platform. Therefore, there is a mode for Spotify, a mode for YouTube, SoundCloud and even a mode for playing your mix in a club. Furthermore, it will also tell you how much you need to change your settings by on your limiter. It’s a great plugin and I highly recommend it.


Release Your Music With Confidence

iZotope Plugins For Use With Your Reference Track

iZotope has an excellent and established name for making quality plugins. Therefore, you can’t go wrong with the iZotope plugins in this list. However, I personally use Expose 2 and REFERENCE 2 in my work. The same company makes these two (Mastering the Mix). They are also exceptional plugins but don’t carry the steep price tag associated with iZotope. It is up to you which route you take. I am only just suggesting the route that I take myself. If you are flash with cash, you should opt for iZotope’s plugins.

If you purchase through the links on this post, I will make a commission. Therefore, I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to you in advance. You make this worth my time and effort.

Please also feel free to grab your free copy of The Complete Guide to Music Marketing from either the box towards the top of this post or the box below. This includes 83 pages of expert advice, cutting-edge resources, strategies that work in today’s music business and aha moments that will really benefit your music career.