Reference tracks allow for a comparison to be made between your mix in progress and a professionally released track, to compare levels, effects and general mix quality. Since virtually every released track has been mixed and mastered in a high-end environment, is it worth using reference tracks in a home studio setting?
Reference tracks set the standard of your mix against a professional track, which provides insight and an indication that your track is heading in the direction necessary to ensure your track fits in with other professionally mixed songs.
Picking a reference track that suits the genre of your song is critical to having a successful comparison, it would not be as effective to be mixing a dance track and using an AC/DC track as a reference track as it would be using another dance track. This will offer insight into loudness, effect & volume levels, general EQ and the aesthetic of your track compared to a reference.
It's important to note that a reference track is exactly that, a reference for comparison. It should be used sparingly to guide your decisions, but it should not be copied exactly as you'll end up with an imitation, the producer of your reference track almost certainly didn't make all of their decisions based on another song. They may have used a reference track alongside their instinct and experience to make something great, which you can too.
As mentioned previously, if you're using a professional song as a reference, it'll be mastered and therefore significantly louder than your mix at this stage. It's pretty straightforward to match the volumes to give a more fair comparison as our ears often perceive louder as better. Alongside this, it may be beneficial to select more than one reference track to have an in-depth and varied comparison between your track and the best in the business.
I use reference tracks frequently as a yardstick of what I should be aiming to achieve as a producer, I'd highly recommend using reference tracks, do not be discouraged if there is a large difference between your track and a professional song, use this as inspiration to make actionable steps to make your mix stand with those of your favourite producers.