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Essential Rules To Follow For EQ When Mastering Your Own Recordings

Mastering your own recordings might not sound as good as the final product from professional mastering engineers, however, if you follow these rules you'll stay out of trouble and get the tracks sounding better than you likely expected.

By Bobby Owsinski April 25, 2011

T-racks plug-in.
This article is provided by Bobby Owsinski.

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.

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.

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 professional mastering engineer. However, if you follow these rules, you’ll stay out of trouble and get the tracks sounding better than you thought possible.

Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blog.

About Bobby

Bobby Owsinski
Bobby Owsinski

Music Industry Veteran and Technical Consultant
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. To read more from Bobby, and to acquire copies of his outstanding books such as The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, be sure to check out his website at


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Adam says

Bob, you say “the idea is to get them to all sound the same.” It’s a common misconception, when the idea is actually to get them to sound *right*, within the context of the whole.

Of course it also goes without saying that the better (read: full range and unflattering) your monitoring, the easier and simpler it is to EQ for a result that will translate elsewhere.

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