The Magic of Mastering: An Interview with Grammy-Winning Engineer Evren Göknar

For a guy who still has a long career ahead of him, Evren Göknar has built up an impressive resume.

He’s engineered sessions for artists as diverse as Tupac Shakur, Mavis Staples, Carole King, Steve Vai, and The Cult.

As a mastering engineer, he’s worked with such notable acts as Lenny Kravitz, KISS, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Good Charlotte, Mariah Carey, Iggy Pop, Heart, NWA, and the Georges Thorogood and Clinton.

In 2011, Evren was awarded a Grammy for mixing and mastering the “Gathering of Nations” album (Best Native American Music Album).

Audio mastering, the post-production process that converts a finished mix into its final deliverable form (CD, vinyl, MP3, etc.), is perhaps the most behind-the-scenes and mysterious (to us musicians) part of making a record. It involves the application of additional equalization, compression, limiting, leveling, fading, and noise reduction, and it requires an audio engineer with ears of gold to give each mix just the right processing treatment– not too much, not too little.

Evren Göknar was kind enough to answer some questions about how he works with musicians during the mastering process.

Q: How did you get into mastering?

A: I have always been a musician, which is at the heart of great engineering. I had been working as a recording engineer for about 5 years, and had attended two mastering sessions, one with Bernie Grundman for the Carole King album “Colour Of Your Dreams” (which I engineered on), the other was at a place called Pro Sonus Mastering.  These sessions were compelling to me because the mastering engineers were able to handle mix issues or otherwise enhance the mixes, and help the artist and/or producer achieve a higher level of quality and fidelity in the final product.

I had also read an article in one of the trades about an engineer transitioning from recording to mastering. He expounded on similarities and differences in the vocations, and how he applied skills from recording and mixing to mastering. The third ‘ah – ha’ was when a colleague of mine began working post production.  He mentioned that his projects were generally contained to a reasonable work week.

All of these things appealed to me and I began sending my resume and making calls to local mastering houses. The manager at Capitol Mastering Studios accepted my resume and called me in for an interview, which initiated the process of me being hired in the mastering department.  Once there I was able to transition and apply my recording skills to mastering.

Q: What do you think makes a really good mastering engineer?

A: The fundamentals of equalization, compression, limiting and signal path are important. However, listening and noticing are the single most valuable assets that a mastering engineer must possess or develop.  Both with the music, and with the client (producer, engineer, label or artist). You must be able to quickly understand musical genres, and what the fans of that genre expect to hear.

Finally, you must be able to deliver a product that satisfies or impresses the client.  Meticulous attention to detail and keen musical sensibilities are paramount. A great mastering engineer must be a musician, and also understand and appreciate technical details (such as circuit design, signal paths and listening environments).

A client of mine recently said it best, “I like working with you because you have good taste in music, you pick out mix concerns early, you listen and are willing to try different approaches.”

These soft skills are the fundamentals of establishing a career in mastering.

Q: What are the biggest challenges a band faces now when they’re considering mastering their album in an age where their fans may be listening on vinyl, CD, MP3, or streaming?

A: They need a mix engineer who will not over peak limit their mixes.  This way the mastering engineer can create both louder / punchier masters and also dynamic ones for the formats they desire.

They also need a mastering engineer who will address mastering their song or album for each format. Since Compact Discs have less volume and frequency limitations than vinyl the audio can be mastered louder and with greater frequency extension if so desired. A vinyl master should be more dynamic and lower in level than the CD master of the same album.  This suits the sonic charm of that playback medium much better than a peak limited source file that must be turned down to create the lacquer master.

Compressed file formats such as .mp3s are usually created from the CD Master, or even better, from the high resolution files that a mastering engineer can create.  This is important to pay attention to since most consumers will listen from an .mp3 or other lossy compressed file format such as AAC.  How (which codec and bit rate) .mp3s or AAC files are created remains critical to the final result and some experimentation can prove beneficial. For example, I’ve been preparing some iTunes submissions for albums I’ve mastered for Apple’s “Mastered For iTunes” initiative.  Their new iTunes Plus codec is impressive sounding, and raises the standard of fidelity heard on iTunes.

Q: What is the ideal session like? How should someone present files or tapes to you?

A: The ideal session starts with mixes that are well-balanced instrumentation-wise, and image-wise, and frequency-wise; genre appropriate, and not too slammed.  Also, they are mixes that everyone involved with the project has approved.  Then, some concept of what is expected from the final mastered album is a nice bonus. I prefer a 24 Bit file at a sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz or higher.  Also, referred sessions, or sessions for repeat clients are more relaxed because those people already understand what your contribution will be, and why it is valuable.  A first time client can potentially transfer some of their trepidation to the session.

Q: Do you prefer artists and producers to be closely involved in the mastering process? Or would you rather not have someone looking over your shoulder? Why?

A: Overall I prefer involvement because I enjoy meeting people and that is a big part of increasing the growth of my business. Close involvement can validate what I’m doing, and can impress discerning ears.  Also, it can streamline the expectations for the album, and alleviate ‘stabbing in the dark’ for a sound.

If there are a lot of questions about what I’m doing, I normally explain that if I disclose too much about my process that I’ll need to kill them 🙂 (joke). Usually they understand that they are there to benefit from my expertise, so most clients are astute enough not to hinder that. If there are time constraints, sharp deadlines, or I’m extremely busy with many albums, I prefer to work alone as it helps with time management.

Q: Without naming names, what is an example of a nightmare mastering session?

A: A nightmare session would be if the project is un-masterable due to mix issues, or if someone is obsessed about artifacts in their mix that naturally come forward in mastering. It’s also troublesome if the client is nervous about the process or the cost. I am able to nip many of these situations in the bud these days, even to the point of explaining that I shouldn’t master a project.  I’ve had to ‘fire’ clients simply because I realize it is not a good fit, and we will mutually benefit, and the project will benefit by seeking other options.

Q: How do you feel about the fact that digital downloads are disconnected from production credits?

A: Hopefully production credits embedded in meta data will become more standardized in the future so that people’s playback software or mobile devices are able to access it on demand.  That is a concern since credits are how a career in mastering, engineering or production is established. Ideally, the artist’s website or wikipedia will have complete credits so that the information can be accessed elsewhere if not directly from the file.

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Evren Göknar’s Bio

Drawn to music early in his life, Evren Göknar devoted himself to developing his talents as a singer / songwriter and guitarist. In his early twenties, he sought to adapt his musical background into recording. He began his professional audio career as a recording and mixing engineer. As a staff engineer at Paramount Studios (Hollywood) and Guess Recording (North Hollywood), he recorded and engineered sessions for Tupac Shakur, Tone-Loc, Mavis Staples, The Cult, Steve Vai, General Public, Carole King, and Montell Jordan (RIAA Platinum “This Is How We Do It” album). Building on the skills he honed as a recording engineer, Evren shifted his focus to mastering and in 1995 he joined the team at Capitol Mastering.

Over the last seventeen years, Evren has established himself as a top-tier mastering engineer, and was awarded a Grammy in 2011 for mixing and mastering the “Gathering of Nations” album (Best Native American Music Album). He has mastered such notable EMI acts as Lenny Kravitz, 30 Seconds to Mars, Good Charlotte, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimmy Eat World, Iggy Pop, Heart, George Clinton, Eazy E, N.W.A and George Thorogood. His remastering credits include the entire Grand Funk Railroad and Queensrÿche catalogs, as well as new collections by Poison (RIAA Platinum) and Pat Benatar (RIAA Gold).

Outside of the EMI family, Evren has mastered thousands of records by a wide range of artists including KISS, Mariah Carey (“Loverboy” RIAA Gold, Billboard #1 Single), Keri Hilson, Greg Laswell, Carey Brothers, The Weepies, Airborne Toxic Event, Reel Big Fish, Five Finger Death Punch and underground hip hop group Living Legends.

Internationally, Evren has established himself as the preeminent mastering engineer for elite recording artists in Turkey (Morve Ötesi, Sebnem Ferah, Sezen Aksu, Tarkan and Teoman); Cuban artist Luis Conte, and songwriter Laura Jansen (platinum in the Netherlands).

Evren’s mastering philosophy remains to understand and solve pre-release issues for recording artists, producers, engineers and record labels; thereby increasing their confidence and the audio fidelity impact of their releases.

To see if Evren would be a good fit for your mastering needs, contact Capitol Mastering at (323)-871-5003.



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