In this article, we’ll help you get the right sound and proper understanding of how to EQ the master track.
Briefly, before you start EQing the master track, you have to be completely sure that all your individual tracks don’t have any issues, which later you would have to fix. Any changes that you apply to the master track have to be within the range of 0.25-2 dB. You should split your attention within all ranges, applying changes carefully and only if it’s absolutely required.
How To EQ the Master Track
When you’re EQing a master track, you need to monitor your actions very thoroughly and be cautious because any radical changes can make matters worse. If you feel that you need to change things drastically, it’s better to take a few steps back and analyze where the problem is.
You might use a parametric EQ if you feel the need to fix any resonant frequencies. To do that, you need to apply a narrow bandwidth, a parametric EQ and cut a few dBs of the frequency that causes problems.
You might use a dynamic EQ when you need to affect by EQ only specific places within the mix.
Linear phase EQ means that when the equalization is applied, it will not affect the phase relationship of the source. That’s why it’s more favorable to use this type of EQ rather than others.
When applying any changes, it’s better not to do anything greater than 3 dB unless you’re trying to fix a major issue. So you should stay between 0.25-2 dB of amplification or attenuation to keep you from making any aggressive or noticeable changes.
If you need to make any broadband changes to your signal, you can use analog EQ simulation, but if you need to achieve surgical changes, it’s better to use digital-based EQ.
Another good idea is to use mid or side EQs to achieve more stereo width or to boost the level of specific frequencies.
A good starting point is to eliminate any amount of energy that sits at 20 Hz or even lower. To do that, you need to use a high-pass filter. Sometimes you may want to save the natural-sounding mix and then it’s no use cutting those frequencies out. In other cases, especially if you want the mix to be more resilient, you should cut anything lower than 40 Hz with a small boost of the frequency that you’re cutting.
If you notice that lower frequencies are not that emphasized, you may want to use a small boost somewhere around 100 Hz.
The next thing that you need to address is muddiness in the lower midrange, which is quite a common issue. So if your mix sounds way too boxy or muddy, you should use a gentle cut within the range of 200-300 Hz with a very wide Q. Sometimes applying something about 1 dB or even less of attenuation can do wonders to the mix and make it sound open, clear the congestion, as well as make the lows seem slightly more defined. Also, if you’re experiencing problems with muddiness during the stage of processing the master track, it would be better to take a few steps back and find this problem during the stage of mixing separate tracks.
If you notice some nasal or honky character, you should apply a really gentle cut of no higher than 2 dB around 800 Hz – 1 kHz.
Applying precise cuts in the upper midrange is a good idea of how to get rid of harshness, plastic vibes and stop the mix from sounding rather painful at high volumes. To do that, you need to apply a very gentle and precise cut around 1-2 kHz. Sometimes you may find out that after the attenuation, the sound is rather dull and lifeless, to change that, you need to boost higher frequencies using a high-shelf to compensate.
Applying a high-shelf boost might be the first thing that you want to do if your mix needs more air and brightness. Applying wide Q often is a good choice for full mixes, but in some cases, it may add too much harshness. To avoid that, you may choose to use a narrow Q in order not to boost the upper midrange or apply cuts in the lower range.
In order to achieve a very natural-sounding Baxandall air boost, you should apply a bell-shaped band on 20 kHz and add some boost after tuning the Q to know how far the boost extends into the upper mids. Also, you may apply a low-pass filter on 20 kHz, which results in your mix being broadcasted better on various audio equipment and eliminating unnecessary information. To achieve a fullness in the sound, you shouldn’t apply a lower cut.
To add more brightness, presence, and clarity, you may apply a high-shelf boost around 5-6 kHz.
What else you can do
Before EQing the master track, you have to be sure that you implemented all necessary changes during the stage of mixing separate tracks. As we already mentioned in this article, some of the issues that may be encountered are better resolved on the individual tracks rather than on the final master track.
Additionally, it’s a rather wise choice to calibrate the monitors before EQing in accordance with the room size and keep the loudness between 78 and 85 dB. Use the pink noise and SPL meter while calibrating both of the monitors. If you have an opportunity, play the track on a few sets of studio monitors to be completely sure that it sounds well.
Not only should you calibrate the studio monitors, but you have to work in an acoustically treated room. Working in such an environment will reduce the background noise and chance of other types of noise being present in the final recording. Another way to fix somewhat poor room acoustic is to use a reverb that adds the sound of the specific space. But all other noises and hums that the room that wasn’t treated properly produces have to be eliminated on the mixing stage by applying a lot of cuts. So whenever it’s possible to spend some time and money on improving room acoustics, you should do that.
Calibrate your monitors
There are 3 ideas why it’s important to calibrate your monitors. Firstly, you know that all rooms vary in many parameters, including sound, and therefore, sound differently which is why you have to calibrate your monitors so that they match the way the room treats the sound. Secondly, as the size of the room influences the calibration of the monitors the most, you have to keep the loudness of the studio monitors between 78 and 85 dB. For small and bedroom-based studios you should calibrate monitors at 78 dB and for larger studios at 85 dB. Thirdly, you have to balance both of the speakers in order not to make the mix biased for a particular speaker.
You can calibrate studio monitors with the help of pink noise and an SPL meter.
First, you have to go into your DAW and create a separate channel for pink noise and set the level to -20 dB. Second, you should pan the pink noise which comes out from your monitors to the extreme right or left. Third, you should set the SPL meter’s response time to slow and switch to C-weighted and hold the SPL meter to your ear or in line with the studio monitor. Forth, level the volume to 0 dB, then increase it slowly, looking attentively at the SPL meter till it reaches the required volume level in accordance with the room size. Fifth, do the same procedure for another monitor.
Treat your room
Most likely, it’s no secret for you that you should do everything in an acoustically treated room. To treat your room you need bass traps that absorb low frequencies, thick acoustic panels that absorb midrange and high frequencies, and diffusers that disperse the remaining frequencies. So the first ones that you are going to mount are the bass traps which you place in trihedral corners. Then you will mount acoustic panels at dihedral corners. After that, place acoustic panels evenly on the parallel walls. Lastly, if it’s needed, most likely for larger rooms, place diffusers on the ceiling or the upper range of the walls that are in contact with the ceiling.
You can use specifically designed panels and diffusers to do the job, or if you are on a tight budget, you can do some work yourself and have unique handmade acoustic treatment for your studio.