Reference CDs

I have been starting to rough out mixes on one of the current recording projects in the studio. This process begins with rather tedious editing activities: removing extraneous noises from recorded tracks, pitch correction, aligning bass guitar hits with kick drum hits, consolidating audio regions, documenting the session.

And I have started to flesh out rough mixes. Mixing has become quite an iterative process. I like to start rough mixes as the finish vocals are committed to the project. We still have a fair amount of recording left to do on this one project. Getting the rough mixes started will save a lot of time once tracking is finished. I am not sure if we will get this project done before September. And we have two more projects waiting in the queue.

Delays are never received well by those who wait.

To get my ears in tune I listen to reference CDs before, during and after my mixing activities. This allows me to get as close as possible to some of the finest mixes in the industry.

For this project I am using the following CDs to bracket the mix:

Alison Krauss + Union Station: New Favorite

Excellent dynamics, clear transparent engineering, astounding musical performances and arrangements. A work of art.

Beck: Sea Change

Great production, incredible vocals, awesome kick drums. Excellent dynamics, excellent apparent level and a great reference for many mixing projects.

Sarah McLachlan: Surfacing

The production is rich with great arrangements and originality, not to mention great vocals. The levels, the tonal balance and musicality will present well for years.

Vertical Horizon: Everything You Want
Vertical Horizon: Go

Very smooth with very even mids, yet still sounding clear. Although I have used Everything You Want as a reference for a couple of years, the artist I am mixing on this project highlighted Go as a reference CD. Interestingly enough, Vertical Horizon used the same mixing and mastering engineers for both projects.

4 replies
  1. Rob Haskell
    Rob Haskell says:

    Hi, Richard,
    – As I am in the process of mixing and creating songs without vocals, e.g jazz guitar instrumentals, do you have any suggested CDs that can be used for reference that have no vocals at all?

    Instruments used typically include at least 2 different guitars, bass, drums and keyboard.


  2. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    Hi Rob,

    I have one recommendation: Dave Grusin – Migration. This CD is an excellent example of a great instrumental recording effort. The recording features piano quite strongly throughout however the overall mix of instruments provides a reference quality CD for mixing. Not too many “gimmicks” in the recording process itself so it should be somewhat easy to hear what is going on in the tracks.

    Do bear in mind that your current recording setup may not get you very close to that quality of sound. However, learning to mix towards a reference is not only great training for your ears but also a great way of getting towards a portable mix.

    There is a finish step after mixing and, candidly, there is some magic in what a mastering engineer can do to polish up a high quality mix.

    Good luck on your project!

  3. Rob Haskell
    Rob Haskell says:

    Richard, many thanks, and I agree with the statement about my current set up – my intent was to walk before I run, within my funding envelope.

    Having worked with a colleague who uses Cubase and then Wavelab to master my work, I have immediately seen the need to upgrade to PC based tools.

    Your thoughts though, of my using reference CD’s is exactly my train of thought – I always strive to achieve what has become commercially acceptable and the standard. I do have a number of personal selections I use to benchmark my work, however am constantly disappointed I cannot achieve the same results. Larry Carlton”™s recent work is an example – I try to mimic the tone, quality and range of Sapphire Blue. If you don’t have this in your collection – it is a must buy!

    I will go out and get the CD you suggest and again I thank you for your opinions. All the best, Rob

  4. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    Sapphire Blue was recorded at Sound Kitchen studios and engineered by Csaba Petocz. Sound Kitchen is a legendary studio and Csaba is an amazing engineer.

    No home recordist can achieve that class of recording unless they make a significant investment in infrastructure and a similar investment in learning the craft of audio engineering. Obviously, world class musical talent helps a little bit too.

    I like to watch Tiger swing as a model for me to improve my golf game. I do not worry that I cannot achieve the same results as Tiger. He is a highly gifted player. And when asked what advice he had for the casual recreational golfer Tiger said this: “There is no shortcut in golf. It takes hard work and years and years of practice.”

    The same is true in recording. It takes hard work, years of practice and high quality signal chains and great acoustics. However, with a bit of focus and some good role models, you can always get better 🙂


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