I do tend to listen to the stuff I produced to really understand what’s happening. Sometimes I got lucky with a good-sounding record, so I listen to them—records like eels Beautiful Freak and Mike Watt’s Contemplating the Engine Room.
When I first assisted Steve “Coco” Brandon tune the rooms at Aire LA, he always listened to Steely Dan and true to that music, a lot of FOH engineers who come into mix at the Mateel Center in Redway, CA, use a Steely Dan Song, even if they are mixing reggae.
Next-Gen Reference Track #1: “400 Lux” by Lorde
This track has a consistent low end that pushes the song along. I can tell if the room is off if the D note (72hz) pops out too much than normal.
The vocal is very friendly in the upper mids, so if the system has too much 2-6khz, then her nicely-rounded vocal turns harsh fast. Plus it’s a nice love song.
I like how the reverb tails out in the break before the “And I like you” vocals come back in. This is a post-loudness wars recording so I enjoy the feel of it on my body.
Next-Gen Reference Track #2: “Ride” — Twenty One Pilots with MuteMath
This record has the punchiness and low subs that really remind me that if the drums pop, then the rest is easy.
The keyboards and dub effects are clear and great. The vocal track is consistent and the tones change throughout the song.
After devouring the record, I YouTube’d the videos of what I presume are the live recordings at the Sound Kitchen—definitely an analog vibe, and a tip of the hat to the engineers.
Classic Reference Track #1: “Picture Me Rollin” by 2Pac
Besides the Wicked Groove by the late Johnny “J” it’s all about Pac’s Vocals. Clear and in your face, but still feels lower in the mix than the instruments.
His flow is so tight with the groove and you can see him smiling throughout the song. Definitely explicit, so it’s my guilty pleasure when the hall is empty
Classic Reference Track #2: “Sad to Know Your Leaving” — Gregory Isaacs
Classic reggae sound. Crisp hi-hat and kick and snare, balanced with the bass using an octave pedal. Percussion is big and blends into the rhythm.
Gregory’s voice has minimal effects but is right behind his dry track in the center. On a great system you can feel yourself behind the drum kit or playing the skank on the keys!
One more mention is the entire Meshell Ndegeocello record Comfort Woman mixed by Bob Powers in 2003. Solid lows and highs with emotion and depth.
Role in the Studio: Producer and mixer.
Credit Highlights: Shakira, David Crosby, JLo. Currently working with Doc Gyneco, Eliades Ochoa from Buena Vista Social Club, Shady Brothers, Andre 3000.
What He Listens For: Punch without too much compression, power without too much limiting and a fat bottom without bleed or masking the rest of the track.
When producing records quickly, it’s useful for me to reference something that I know is fat and clean and has not been abused. It helps make sure that I do not overdo it even when monitoring levels go loud in the heat of the moment. It’s a great reality check.
For mixing, refs are good to make sure you’re not tripping on your own stuff and keeping it real. When the artist does not provide any refs, I use my own. Often not in the style of the track so I can bring different inspirations to everyone’s record.
Next-Gen Reference Track #1: “Hands to Myself” by Selena Gomez
It has everything mentioned above. The bottom is perfect, the vocal is present without eating the rest of the track. It never loses energy even when the bottom drops out. And the production is great. Song is great too. A perfect pop music track.
Next-Gen Reference Track #2: “Johnny” by Yemi Alade
Just because the groove is oh so nasty, it’s unique, and it resets everybody’s mood to ‘sunshine’ in any session . The video is particularly badass.
Classic Reference Track: “This Is” by Grace Jones
Perfection on too many levels to mention.
Role in the Studio: Mixing engineer.
Credit Highlights: Stephen Marley, P!nk, Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Blaise Moore, Mavis Staples, Dawn of Midi, Quincy Vidal, Mono. Currently mixing Alborosie, The Gloomies, Locals Only, Blaise Moore
What She Listens For: I listen to references for both technical and creative purposes.
I like to have a track with extended low end to check the sub situation; a track for vocal sibilances and how they translate; a track for tape hiss; a track for stereo imaging; a track that was mixed in the box. Whether I’m doing an old school tape mix or a modern pop track, I like having all this information to be comfortable to work.
I also listen to my favorite albums to hear how the room feels. If something about the speakers, acoustics, and/or combination of the two doesn’t feel right for me – it’s just not possible to get a good mix.
Next Generation Reference #1: “Pilot Jones” by Frank Ocean
I reference this track to hear how far the low end extends in a room, and how the low end is responding (or not) in general. It’s also good for stereo imaging and vocal EQ curves. On a practical note: It’s also helpful to rattle packing peanuts out of new speaker ports.
Next Generation Reference #2: Daptone Records. (Anything.)
Daptone Records are consistent from performance to master and translate well to different systems. I also have a heavy tape background, so I always want a “tape check” on new systems: How am I hearing the tape saturation, harmonics, mastering EQ curves (which for Daptone are usually Golden Mastering), etc…?
Next Generation Reference #3: Serban Ghenea mixes. (Again: Anything.)
Similarly, Serban Ghenea’s [Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, DNCE, Pitbull] mixes are consistent in quality and translate well to different systems. This also is just a personal reference: Serban and I were in a similar Philly scene circa 2000/2003-ish. There’s a vibe in his mixes reminiscent of the engineer who taught me how to mix, Shelly Yakus, that I always want to check in on.
Classic Reference Track #1: “Voodoo” by D’Angelo
This is just one of my all time favorite albums, so I know it really well. Even when a room isn’t perfect, if Voodoo comes up feeling right I can usually make it work.
Classic Reference Track #2: “Come Together” by The Beatles
Again, off one of my favorite albums so I know it well. Obviously a good tape check. Also — with the bass mixed left of center, it helps check for frequency separation between the speakers.
Role in the Studio: Founder of Germano Studios, NYC; Founder of Studio Design Group
Credit Highlights: Clients that have recently recorded and/or mixed at Germano Studios include Desiigner, Sheryl Crow, Big Sean, Lorde, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Frank Ocean, Diana Krall, Nicki Minaj, Elle King, Chance The Rapper, J.Cole, Beauty And The Beast soundtrack, and the Hello, Dolly! Broadway cast album.
What He Listens For: I listen to full-range recordings that allow me to properly balance our monitoring systems for an accurate reference. And above all the track’s energy must be impactful!