Reference Mixing with Voxengo SPAN

Do your mixes lack depth and character? Today I’m going to show you how you can use the CAR principle that I’ve created which will skyrocket your mixing skills, especially when it comes to reference mixing. Let’s dive into it.

Prerequisites

Throughout this tutorial I’m going to be using SPAN spectrum analyser by Voxengo and Youlean Loudness Meter.

First and foremost, pick a reference track from the same genre as your track and pick a low listening level so you can hear the depth of the mix. Next, we are going to use the CAR principle to match the reference track. CAR stands for Calibrate, Analyse and Replicate.

Step 1: Calibrate

Let’s look at SPAN. First, we need to adjust SPAN’s curve slope in order to better understand the frequency distribution of our reference track. Some reference tracks sound dark and bassy, other are bright and crisp. We need to be able to see the frequency distribution of the reference track in such a way that we know what we are aiming for. The easiest way I found is to load the reference track in your DAW and adjust SPAN’s Slope setting until all frequency bands look like an imaginary horizontal line on the main display. This way you will know how loud the instruments in your mix should be.

Voxengo SPAN Slope Settings

Use the SLOPE knob to align all frequencies horizontally

Another thing we need is to match the loudness of the reference track. You can easily do this using Youlean loudness meter. However, I find this to be slightly inaccurate, because perceived loudness is a complex parameter. That’s why I like to isolate a frequency band (usually the kick) and match my kick to that level first. Use your favourite multi-band plugin (e.g. Multi-band Dynamics in Ableton).

Step 2: Analyse

Once kick levels are matched, it’s time to analyse the reference mix. Try to notice every distinguishable layer of sound across the spectrum of the reference track and make a note of the following: frequency range, placement, space. Frequency range pertains to the slot in the frequency spectrum that an instrument (or a sound) occupies. Notice what frequencies it has and what it doesn’t have. This will help explain the next step – placement. Instruments with plenty of low-end will sit low in the mix. High frequency content will sit a little higher, etc. Sometimes instrument placement is around the listener and this is achieved by wide stereo separation (stereo width). Make a note of panning, too. Lastly, analyse the space around the instrument – room, hall, plate, etc.

Step 3: Replicate

The fun part :) Start matching other instruments’ levels accordingly while you keep an eye on SPAN and the imaginary horisontal line between the kick and the highs. Listen on low volume and carefully adjust reverb levels of each channel, stereo width, panning. Remember that the goal is not to copy the reference track 100% but to imitate the levels of the instruments and their placement in the virtual stage.

The mix below needs a boost on everything above 600 Hz.Voxengo SPAN Frequency Matching

P.S. You could set up SPAN in a way that you see both spectrums – that of the reference track and your track. Although this may be a  preferred method for some, I believe that analysing the ‘ingredients’ of the reference mix first works best. Check also my other tutorial on matching reference tracks using noise.

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  • Nicol Volt

    I found the link to here on youtube, I think with a comment of yours on some Mr Bill tutorial, and was automatically interested :D

    I’m on my DAW with a reference track loaded, SPAN displaying the frequency spectrum. I managed to find the spectrum mode editor after some errance, and then I just realise I’m lacking some intermediate knowledge to be able to follow you. I’m adjusting the slope, but the spectrum of my reference track (Rob Clouth’s Shedding Layers track from Transition EP) is allways moving, mids and highs seem to have a wide dynamic range here… some frequencies can vary from -55 to -30db at least… how can I try to get this (very too much) imaginary horizontal line here?

    And then I’m also stuck on the next step, calibrating the kick, I don’t really understand here, do I have to match my own kick to some freq range I ‘think’ is the good one for the kick on the reference track?

    Hope you could elaborate more on these points, or if you have some links to the knowledge I’m lacking here?

    Anyway thanks for the motivation, I never did the effort of learning the use of spectrums and analysis jobs to get better mixdowns, but thanks to you I’m right now just doing it :D

    Cheers

    • liveracks

      Hey mate thank you so much for locking on, music is art and variations matter so we can never be too precise with the outcome (it’s possible tho!) so here is what I feel is right to do about the points you mentioned above:
      1) measure average levels (RMS) rather than peak levels — in the settings panel of SPAN you can select the type of measurement you want (in this case you need AVG). This will give you understanding of the overall frequency balance of the track.
      2) kick level — find the fundamental frequency of the kick of a reference track and see what the RMS is then switch to your own track and adjust your kick level to that. You may need a few takes for precision. Kicks usually reside within the 50-110Hz region.
      I hope this helps :) Cheers!

  • Tom Bar

    Thanks Rubik, this technique really helped my production a lot. Unfortunatelly the room where I have my studio monitors is very small, which distorts the precieved frequency characteristics and using SPAN and this technique helped me to balance out my mix.