Reference tracks in the age of spotify

I was advised on another thread that a good way to better mix my own stuff was to get a reference track and compare/contrast.

I used Soundflower to record Daniel Avery’s “Lone Swordsman” into Ableton Live 11, and put Swiss Army Meter on the track. Integrated LUFS -15, peak -5. Well UM, isn’t that exactly the mumber from Massive Attack’s Inertia Creeps?

OK, so Spotify normalizes volume, does that effect using a track for a reference? Probably not, as it is the relative balance of elements that I’m looking at, right?

But it made me wonder, so I paid for the AIF of “Lone Swordsman” from Band Camp (which I should’ve done anyway, cos I love that track) and dropped that In Ableton. Immediately it LOOKS totally different. LUFS at -8 integrated and > 0 for peak. It sounds way dirtier too, and the kick has more resonance and more release(?!) A lot of sonic differnces.

EDT: I also tried chucking a Utility on before and after a loundness meter to get the volume about the same as the Spotify version (couldn’t manage to get Peak and Integrated to match) and it still as a different character (to my ears.)

I guess my question is, how do you mix/master when the end product will be consumed sounding so different from your own finished version? (I admit this is moot for me, cos I’m still learning how to even make a basic track, but it has me thinking all the same.)

Is sound design itself different in the age of normalization? Cos the kick on Spotify and the one in the AIF are quite different sounding things.

Cheers
Russell

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…ableton is not the right thing for such comparison jobs…

reference tracks are a good thing just for a basic guide line…
u listen to that track, not within ur same mainframe daw lined up to ur mix in progress…
that’s way more irritating than helping…as u are about to find out right now…
don’t bother here…it’s for the better…

once u really wanna go down to details and REALLY wanna see what made the trick in that mix and u wanna get as close as possible THERE to match up…

u gonna need proper gain compensation…and by no means additional inner daw gain and pan laws or even further warp modes again…
especially not rerecorded stuff…of course ur lufs end up all over the place…
and lufs is final treatment exclusively…nothing to keep an eye on during mixing…
leave somer overall headroom and ur always good to go…
otherwise ur brain will endlessly play tricks on u again and again…an endless playitagain sam desaster…DON’T!

and that can only happen in one of this masteringsuites sofwares…
most common these days to name a few…ozone or finalizer…

while i always recommend…finsh ur mix first…
and yes listen to ur favourite example to see how u get along…
but DON’T try to match for real here…it’s just ur reference guide line over the thumb for now…
so finish ur mix…
take THAT final mix to master…don’t do both at once…
that are two different things…
and THEN go for a STAND ALONE mastering suite…drop ur mix there…drop ur reference there…switch on gain compensation!!!..and take it from there all the way to the finish line…

ozone is most common…but it’s fooling a lot again…give finalizer a try…that’s stand alone ONLY for too many good reasons…

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Using reference tracks is normally advised to evaluate your speakers and listening room and is mainly useful when you are interested in translation (i.e. your music sounding good on a wide variety of playback systems/environments).

If you play a professionally mastered track (preferably a CD) and compare the sound to the sound of your own music it can help to identify any problems with your system and listening environment which have to be compensated for.

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Thanks. I am doing it wrong. I only really have headphones at the moment. I guess then listen to a refrence track on headphones, listen to my track, try to level match, make notes, comparison?

in the age of spotify

that’s the problem.
but the solution is easy — i never use anything modern for reference.

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Reference tracks are good from two perspectives:

A. To match the tonal balance of a professionally produced piece

B. To match the loudness of a professionally produced piece

However you don’t do the two things at the same time.

When mixing, you go for A, not giving a flying f about anything B related.

When mastering you go for B, and if you did your job during mixing, not giving a flying eff about A

Now, in order to do this successfully, you have to think of the routing so that you don’t process the reference track, so you make sure it bypasses the master channel. An easy and convenient way to use references is by using a plugin called metric AB. It is the best solution I’ve found, you just place it at the end of your chain, it takes care of matching the loudness (you’ve noticed that peak and loudness aren’t equal and you either match one or the other during mixing. I say not to bother matching either, just get on the ballpark on the loudness and stay under 0dbfs true peak and you should be good) so you can focus on the other qualities and can compare the two in a more efficient manner.

Any questions about mixing and mastering, just hit me up.

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Oh yeah don’t use Spotify, get the lossless files and use that for referencing.

Ah, that is a really clear explanation of the difference, thank you.

Thanks! I have so many questions :smiley:

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