Get A Creative Edge By Using A Reference Track

Reference tracks can be very beneficial when producing music because of the simple way it can guide you. A lot of producers most likely see it as a way of copying or stealing someone else’s ideas, but in fact it’s not. There have been studies done which show that even though music changes over the years, it’s all pretty much the same. Whether you realize it or not, your beats are using the same chords from other beats that someone else made decades ago. So using a reference track in your productions doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, right?

What Is A Reference Track?

The whole idea behind a reference track is that you pick a song that you like and are familiar with, but also something that you want your beat to sound like. You then use that song as sort of a template to how you want yours to sound. For example, if your style of beats sound similar to DJ Premier’s, then maybe you could grab “DWYCK” and use that as your starting point. The goal is not to copy or replicate that song, but use it as a guide as you create your own music.

How To Get Started

What I like to do is I insert my reference track into my DAW’s project template and put it as the first track, this way it’s right at the top of my project and I can see it as I go along, building my song.

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The way you use the reference track is that, well, you reference it! Create your beat as you normally would, but when you need inspiration or if you’re stuck at a certain spot, then you can solo the reference track and listen to it and get some ideas.

It’s A Simple Idea

I’ve often used this technique but I don’t copy anything, I just like to reference the track solely for ideas. Once you start copying, then you’re essentially sampling it, if you will. Going back to the study about using the same chords as older music, it shows that all of music is influenced by one another, no matter the genre.

Don’t be mistaken – this is not about sounding like someone else or trying to obtain a certain sound. Instead, a reference track should be used simply as a guide.

If your reference track contains a really busy bassline, then that could be all of the influence you need for your own track. You could start by copying the bassline as is then transitioning from there, or you could use the SOUND of the bassline as inspiration. I just recently worked on a beat where I was ready to sample the melody of a song and then apply a lo-pass filter to it, using it as my bassline. Instead, I ended up using the sound of the melody (or the “groove”) as inspiration for my drums. Granted, this was due to me trying to sample something, rather than using a reference track, but basically what happened in my situation was just like using a reference track.

Using It For Mixing

It’s not just about having inspiration, but also for mixing. Mixing should be a simple process, and we all have trouble at one point or another, but with a reference track, it could turn you into a mix master. The one thing you must remember about using a reference for mixing is that you need to use a track that is in a lossless format. So for example, an MP3 won’t cut it – try using the track straight from a CD. The reason is because you’re trying to nail down your mix and use the reference track to help you get the best possible mix. And your mix has to sound good!

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Most likely your mix will sound flat and dull. This is normal, and this is where your reference track will help you. Your mix needs to sound as close as possible to the reference, and it’s very hard to do that since you don’t know exactly what was used in that track. But you need to go over it time and again to try and make your mix SOUND like the reference track. It could be you have a dull or bassy low-end, so you would need to fix that first. I know it’s hard to really compare it to something from a CD, but this is where practice makes perfect.

Use Some Tools

Depending on the DAW you use, there could be some built-in functions like in Logic where you have the “Match EQ” feature. This allows you to apply the same EQ curve from your reference track to your mix. It’s not perfect, but maybe it will really beef up your mix and give you a great starting point.

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