What to listen for in a reference mix

what do you listen for in a reference mix?

I had a question from a MixCoach Member wondering what he should be listening for in a reference mix.

Here is his question:

What would be a list that you could give me to be mindful of when listening to other songs. I was watching a Dave Pensado video and he was interviewing someone (can’t remember who) but he told them that he learns a lot from their mixes. What is it that he’s listening for so he can learn something new and apply it?



The first thing I would listen to in a reference mix is “how does it translate to other places?”

Does it sound good in a car?  On your stereo at home?  On your home entertainment center?  If you can find a mix that you are happy with on all of those places, you definitely have a contender.

The next thing I would listen for is, “Does it make your ears tire after listening for a while.

Songs that you can’t get enough of are usually not limited too much.  There is a fine line between “loud-enough-to-hang-in-the-ongoing-loudness-wars” and “that song is so distorted and it makes my ears tired”

One of the last things I look for in a song is kinda silly, but still relevant.

How does the song make you feel?

I think the best response you can get from a listener is physical movement.

I was in the studio with a producer and we were tracking.  There was a short turnaround before the last chorus and the guitar lick that he had the guitar player play reminded me of a good old fashioned western movie.  Every time I heard the lick, I acted like I took off my pretend hat and said “yeeeeeee haaaaaa”.  I couldn’t help it.  That experience has stayed with me because it was a tribute to the producer’s arrangement of that song… it MADE me move.

I can’t speak for Dave, but I know that mixes that I “learn from” are usually mixes that fit these criteria… especially the last one.

Question:  What do you listen for in a reference mix?