In this article, we are going to look at the top 12 tips to effectively EQ during music mastering which entails the final stage every high quality song must pass through before getting to the ears of its listeners.
Before we go into the cre of this article, let us first try to get an understanding of what an equalization really means.
What is equalization?
Equalisation simply refered to as ‘EQ’, is referred to an act of dealing with frequencies of sound; either by boosting or removing them, during recording, mixing and mastering.
However, EQ can be very difficult for beginners, especially as an artiste or producer running your own small home recording studio.
1. Listen through studio monitor speakers.
The biggest mistake you will make while trying to equalize is listening with a deceiving source.
This could be your headphones, or home theatre and CD player speakers.
The reason is that sound interpretes different across certain msical instruments, that is why the studio monitor speakers was manufactured to interprete the sound accurately as it is.
So when using equalizers to master your tracks, make sure you listen with through studio monitor speakers.
2. Make sure the room is acoustically treated.
As sound bounces off the walls, they sometimes reproduce other sounds which gets mixed up and cause a listener to get another picture of the actual sound.
That is why it is very dangerous to attempt using equalizers during mastering music in a room that is not acoustically treated. Because, the sound it will interprete for youmight be clearly different from what the sound really entails.
3. Instead of boosting, cut.
So many sound engineers vote for putting a high pass filter across everything that goes beyond 50Hz, which is also interpreted as cutting everything below that frequency, but leaving only your kick and bass.
Of course the only parts of your song that needs the low end is the kick and bass, and should you allow any other instrument step into that spectrum, then you will come out mastering a very dull track.
Another benefit of allowing your bass elements to sit on their own in their frequency range, is that it will help you introduce more space for the whole mix.
4. Be subtle.
You need subtlety during masterin of a song.
Professional mastering engineers seldom cut or boost any frequency area beyond 1.5 dB. They do this because they understand that even a little change can have a big impact on the resulting audio.
So even if it is in your small home recording studio, you just need to stick to the same principles.
Don’t cut more than half a dB or less, 0.25 dB is preferable, if you have to.
5. Watch your tones.
The very first step in every mastering session is to just listen.
Yes! you need to just close your eyes and liste.
Once you’re done with the mediatation, begin by putting all your focus on the overall frequency spectrum.
Look for the relative balance between lows i.e., bass and kick drum, mids: vocals, guitars, keyboards, and highs: high-hat, cymbals, percussion.
Check if the mix is thick and muddy, or just thin and anemic?
Can you find good definition between instruments – that is, the ability to spot the differences between the guitars, keyboards, and the vocal?
Because these are all problems you need to tackle during the mastering process.
6. Look out for the problem frequencies and fix them.
Sometimes, problem frequencies, caused by improper recording or poorly set-up of instrument might occur, and if it happens ensure you identify and fix them.
You can use the following technique to achieve this:
(a) Go to your EQ plugin and set the approximate frequency band to a narrow width (“Q”).
(b) Use 5–10 dB to boost your band.
(c) Toggle the frequency control to listen and listen again.
(d) When you notice the problem frequency, narrow the Q a bit and continue to tweak the knobs until the sound is at its loudest.
Immediately you identifiy the bastard frequency or frequencies, apply a small notch-like reduction.
Be tactical while you apply the cut here; half a dB at a time or less is preferable, do this until you are able to reduce the resonance; but make sure it doesn’t affect the entire mix.
If you however spot the problem frequencies in certain isolated areas of the song, you can use a dynamic EQ to suppress it.
7. You can use more than one EQ.
Apparently, equalizers are fond of causing phase anomaly which is also known as “smearing,” This happens most when you cut or boost multiple bands at the same time.
But notwithstanding that, in many cases that sound can be very important to you; after all, most of the vintage analog EQs we fear using today smeared the phase too.
Sometimes you need a little analog-like warmth to do wonders by adding color to your mix.
For that reason, you may chose to add a second EQ plugin to your mastering chain, and use it mainly to add character to the mix.
You can often times get good results when you use both a linear phase and standard equalizers – for instance, you can use a standard EQ plugin to color the low end and low-mids, and then use the linear phase to tweak the mid, upper midrange and high end.
8. Use mid/side processing equalizer to bring out specific sounds.
If you want to bring out specific elements of a mix, try and use an EQ plugin that has a mid/side (MS) processor,
These kind of EQ’s will allow you to separate out those parts you pan to dead center: i.e., the lead vocal, kick drum, snare drum, and perhaps one or two other components; from those you pan to the sides (i.e., everything else.
9. Use equalizers before and after compression.
Compression usually seems to make the whole song sound muddy or fall back into space.
And theo only way to tackle this problem is to add an equalizer before and after you use a compression.
Here you will be using the equalizer to add back the brightness of the song the compressor tried to push back in.
9. Don’t equalize every track independently.
This will have you ending up with too many equalizers on your mastering chain.
One equalizer is enough long as you have your highs, mids and lows to deal with on it.
10. Give the vocals more space.
Make sure your vocals has space because it is what most people will be listening to.
In other words, majority of your listeners will want to hear what you sing word for word, and for that reason never let your vocals wound to a little corner while other instruments are hitting out so hard.
If it was myself, I will immediately skip any track am not hearing what the singer is singing.
11. Give some space to your final master.
To give space to your final master, you have to add a stereo effect or pan your instruments, except of course your kicks and bass.
12. Lisen, listen listen.
Never think it is over at this point, all you have to do now is to listen to your final master again and again.