Use References For Mixing Clues

Here’s a cool mixing exercise for you: Go and put on your favorite song and really listen to it. But don’t just listen to it and enjoy it, listen to it with reason. So in this article, I’m going to give you a few things to focus on when you turn up those tunes. You need to investigate these music recordings like you were Sherlock Holmes. So once you feel like you have the problems solved, you can include them into your own recordings.

Where Are They Placing Things Between The Speakers?

An important thing you can do is to try and determine what type of panning verdicts were made in the song you are listening to. You can do this while you are listening on headphones, then just jot down what you are hearing. Where are the vocals? The Delays? The Drums? How close and far away are things from you?

By going back to songs that I have loved for a long time, I am often surprised that the panning decisions are not what I thought they were. A perfect example is the RHCP album Californication. That album was done really well and is both fun and energetic but to my surprise, almost all the tracks were panned to the centre. Yep most of the sounds were in mono most of the time.

How Wet or How Dry is It?

Just like fashion, musical trends will come and go and as an engineer, it’s important to try and take note of the amount of reverb and delay is being used. During the 80’s, it was quite common for things to be very wet and sometimes artificially so. But in the decade before, things tended to be more on the dry side. All of that is cool but what’s more important is to find out the styles and trends that you yourself enjoy.

You should try and focus on two things, if you can help it – the vocal and the snare drum. Try to listen to how wet they are. Does the vocal sound like it’s in a small space? Maybe a large hall? Is there any delay on it at all? This is pretty important because they can sound extremely different. Investigate the reverb in a mix and then try to take note of it for your own use. This should help you make better decisions when you use reverb in your mix.


Without a doubt this is the most helpful thing that you can learn from a professional song. You need to really focus on what instruments they used throughout the song to make it pop. Can you notice any pianos, guitars, tambourines, strings?

As you investigate further, you might be surprised to hear certain rock songs that use heavily distorted guitars, actually also have acoustic guitars. You also might shocked to hear a hip hop song with a piano or pluck on the outro. There’s a lot to be learned from the professional recordings to see how they make songs interesting from beginning to end. These should all help in your future recordings.

Get Investigating!

So I’ve done my part, the rest is up to you. Slap on some headphones and listen to your favorite songs. Grab a pen and pad and jot down all the cool and interesting things you hear. Take notes on what you are hearing and then copy it and use it on your own projects, you will see some noticeable improvements.

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