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 core of this article, let us first try to get an understanding of what equalization really means.
What is equalization?
Equalization simply referred to as ‘EQ’, is referred to as 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 to a deceiving source.
This could be your headphones, or home theatre and CD player speakers.
The reason is that sound interprets differently across certain musical instruments, that is why the studio monitor speakers were manufactured to interpret the sound accurately as it is.
So when using equalizers to master your tracks, make sure you listen with studio monitor speakers.
2. Make sure the room is acoustically treated.
As sound bounces off the walls, they sometimes reproduce other sounds which get mixed up and cause a listener to get another picture of the actual sound.
That is why it is very dangerous to attempt to use equalizers during mastering music in a room that is not acoustically treated. Because the sound it will interpret for you might 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 are the kick and bass, and should you allow any other instrument to 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 the mastering 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 listen.
Once you’re done with the meditation, 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 a 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 poor set-up of instruments 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 identify the bastard frequency or frequencies and 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 choose to add a second EQ plugin to your mastering chain and use it mainly to add character to the mix.
You can oftentimes 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 a 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,
This kind of EQs 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 the only way to tackle this problem is to add an equalizer before and after you use 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 end 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 have space because it is what most people will be listening to.
In other words, the 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 me, I will immediately skip any track am not hear 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.