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What is a reference track?

A reference track is an example of the type of music you want on your recording

A reference track is a song from another artist that is used as an example when mixing elements in a new production. For example, you might use a professionally recorded song to compare balance and timbre. Sometimes, it can be a rough draft that the songwriter gives to the final recording artist to guide them.

An interesting controversy involving reference tracks happened in 2015 with Drake. Funkmaster Flex, host of Hot 97, leaked reference tracks by Quentin Miller that were clearly used to guide the production of four songs on Drake's album If You're Reading This It's Too Late. This led to Meek Mill accusing Drake of using ghostwriters and online beef ensued.