Mixing engineers and producers alike have long employed reference tracks to guide the sonic structures of their music toward desired results. These tracks, often professionally mixed and mastered, might be referenced to achieve a certain hip-hop kick drum sound, to shape the high end of a rock record, or to achieve balance across the full frequency spectrum of songs across many genres.
We built track referencing into Ozone 8’s workflow as well developed our Tonal Balance Control plug-in to help you identify and address tonal balance issues during mixing and mastering, especially working in non-ideal monitoring environments like home studios. And today, we’re sharing four songs selected by iZotope staff members to consider using as reference tracks.
Song: “The Rainbow” by Talk Talk
Genre: Post Rock/Jazz/Prog
Selected by: Geoff Manchester, Lead Product Specialist
Produced by: Mark Hollis, Tim Friese-Greene | Mixed by: Phill Brown | Mastered by: Denis Blackham, Phill Brown
Song: “Mortal Man” by Kendrick Lamar
Selected by: Jon Simmons, Senior Content Marketing Specialist
Produced by: Sounwave | Mixed by: Derek Ali | Mastered by: Bernie Grundman
Song: “Mojo Pin” by Jeff Buckley
Genre: Alternative rock
Selected by: Sean Greenhalgh, Community Manager
Produced by: Andy Wallace | Mixed by: Andy Wallace | Mastered by: Howie Weinberg
Song: “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
Selected by: Will Hunt, Marketing Specialist
Produced by: The Killers | Mixed by: Mark Needham and Alan Moulder | Mastered by: Brian Gardner
“Mr. Brightside” is a huge inspiration to me as a mix engineer, but not because the mix itself is technically amazing. On its release, “Mr. Brightside” stood in stark contrast to other big budget rock songs of the day, with blown-out low end, roomy drums and vocals that sat flat in the mix as opposed to popping out in front, and major instrumental earworms that are buried by masking, hard panned into oblivion, or otherwise barely audible. Even the band’s performances, while solid, aren’t exactly virtuosic.
However, all these little details of the song combine to form a truly monolithic sound—a bouillabaisse of synth, guitar, and grit. These elements work because they sit so cohesively against the rest of the mix that they form something greater than the sum of its parts. There are tons of subtle touches that make this track transcendent, but no one would ever call The Killers subtle—the song just sounds so huge that none of those details seem to matter even when they’re so important.
If you are mixing rock songs that incorporate synth pads and melodies alongside layered guitars, this track is an essential benchmark. It’s an easy target to hit but a tough approach to truly perfect, as it requires the mix, the arrangement, and the attitude to come together just so. My mantra is, if it sounds at least on the same level as “Mr. Brightside,” I’m doing something right!