Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

4 Rules For EQing When Mastering

Not everyone can afford professional mastering, and it's so easy to do it yourself these days thanks to some great and affordable tools. The problem is that these tools are so powerful that it's really easy to get into trouble and wind up with a product that's a lot worse than what you started with. The process that causes all the trouble is over-EQing.

This is especially true when an engineer is mastering his own mixes. There’s a tendency to over-compensate with the EQ, adding huge amounts (usually on the bottom end) that wrecks the frequency balance completely.

The first rule is a way to avoid this, which is:
1. Listen to other CDs (no MP3s) that you like first before you touch an EQ parameter. The more CDs, the better. You need a reference point to compare to or you’ll surely over-compensate.

The 2nd rule is:
2. A little goes a long way. If you feel that you need to add more than 2 or 3 dB, you’re better off remixing!

Where in recording, you might use large amounts of EQ (+/- 3 to 15 dB) at a certain frequency, but mastering is almost always in very small increments (usually in 1/10ths of a dB to 2 or 3 at the very most in rare cases). What you will see is a lot of small shots of EQ along the audio frequency band, but in very small amounts.

For example, you might see something like -1 at 30hz, +.5 at 60Hz, .2 at 120Hz, -.5 at 800Hz, -.7 at 2500, +.6 at 8kHz and +1 at 12. Notice that there’s a little happening at a lot of places.

Seriously though, if you have to add a lot of EQ, go back and remix. That’s what the pros do. It’s not uncommon at all for a pro mastering engineer to call up a mixer and tell him where he’s off and even ask him to mix it again.

Rule #3 is equally important.
3. Keep comparing the EQ’d version with the original version as well as other songs that you’re mastering.

The idea of mastering, first of all, is to make the song or program sound better with EQ, not worse. Don’t fall into the trap where you think it sounds better just because it sounds louder. The only way to do this well is to have the levels pretty much the same between the EQ’d and pre-EQ’d tracks. That’s why I like to use IK Media’s T-Racks for mastering. It has an A/B function that allows you to compensate for the increased levels so that you can really tell if you’re making it sound better or not.

Rule #4 is:
4. You have to keep comparing the song you’re currently working on to all the other songs you’re working on.

The idea is to get them to all sound the same. It’s pretty common for mixes to sound different from song to song even if they’re done by the same mixer with the same gear, but it’s your job to make the listener think that the songs were all done on the same day in the same way. They’ve got to sound as close as possible to each other as you can get them, or at least reasonably close as to not stand out.

If you must do your own mastering, you probably won't do as well as a pro mastering engineer. But if you follow these rules, you'll stay out of trouble and get the tracks sounding better than you thought possible.

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