HOLLYWOOD, CA—With season 12 of NBC’s The Voice now underway, Grammy-winning mastering engineer Evren Göknar’s Saturday nights are about to get busy. Göknar, on staff at Capitol Mastering for more than two decades, was initially hand-picked to master the tracks for season 11, so he knows he’ll be pulling some all-nighters in the coming months.
“Every season is about 200 songs,” says Göknar, beginning with as many as 30 per week, tailing off to about a dozen as contestants are eliminated. As the season progresses, he says, “I come in on Saturday night at around 11 or midnight and work all night.”
Engineer Bill Appleberry records the contestants Monday through Wednesday at Henson Studios and has the mixes finished by Saturday. “Those get approved and sent to me by Saturday night.”
The pair have a good relationship, he says. “Bill obviously trusts the process that I’m doing, and I’ve gotten a good feel for Bill and his mixes and levels.”
Downloads of the songs from iTunes are tabulated as part of the elimination process. “The big push is to make sure it’s ingested to iTunes by the time the show goes live. With the live rounds, I get it to them about seven in the morning. Someone comes in to do the final QC and upload it to iTunes so it’s ready for the show on Monday,” he says.
The iTunes format presents a challenge: “If there are loud tambourines or high-frequency stuff in the tracks, it won’t pass the codec. I’ll do a little extra de-essing or things to soften that up.” He also prepares 44.1 kHz/16-bit and 24-bit versions.
Göknar, a guitarist, relocated to Los Angeles from Michigan nearly 30 years ago to play music, he says, and soon found work as a staff engineer at various L.A. studios. Ironically, given his current gig, he sought a mastering job to escape the long studio days: “It’s a consuming work life. I was cool with it sometimes, but I also wanted to write songs and play music. Then I learned about mastering.”
Capitol Mastering was the ideal learning environment. “I’ve had an opportunity that most engineers don’t have—access to a whole pantheon of recorded music starting from the 1940s through the present day. You’re hearing tapes from the label, from the better studios and engineers, and the better-known artists of the day. It’s an amazing education in things like instrument balances, frequency balances, listening experience. I feel very fortunate.”
His first job at Capitol was cloning Sony PCM-1630 tapes. “As the department’s confidence in me grew, I was given opportunities to work on better projects, better clients.” His client list ranges from Lenny Kravitz, Heart and George Clinton to Smashing Pumpkins and Mariah Carey. He won a Grammy for Gathering of Nations, a Native American album.
Such eclecticism has served him well with The Voice. “I receive country, solo instrument/vocal, classic and alternative rock, pop, R&B, dance/electronica and even swing/big band. The mastering treatment honors the production style. For the varied genres to be cohesive, I work to make sure the vocal impact is similar in amplitude and frequency response—barring male/female differences—so that one could conceivably listen to an EDM-style track then a piano/vocal track without adjusting the volume.”
Previously, Universal Mastering Studios mastered songs from The Voice, but the facility is no longer available, he says. So Pat Kraus, Art Kelm, Paula Salvatore and Ryan Simpson, the management team at Capitol Studios (which is part of Universal Music Group) invited Appleberry over.
“Bill and I listened to unrelated singer/songwriter projects I had recently mastered in my studio as we discussed audio,” recalls Göknar. “He then sent over flat—un-mastered—files for a few engineers to ‘shoot out’ on, and he chose the ones that I had done.”
This is The Voice, of course, so Göknar puts extra time and attention into the vocals. “I usually have my Sontec [MES-432C] EQ set to midside, so I’m able to focus on some presence in the vocal without mucking up too many other things. I like to use a combination of EQ and compression in stages to build up a little more present and detailed radio-type of sound.”
Göknar plays out of Pro Tools through a Manley D-to-A and records into Steinberg’s WaveLab via a Prism Sound A-to-D. His monitor chain passed through a Dangerous Music D-to-A and into a pair of Bryston 7B-powered Tannoy System 15 DMTii speakers.
The console houses Manley Labs SLAM and Smart Research C2 compressor/limiters, with Dangerous Music monitor control and routing. “Sometimes I’ll use a couple of plug-ins,” he says, such as the L2 limiter.
“I’m a meticulous meter watcher. I’ll usually have an instance of a VU meter, plus I have them on the console. I always tell younger mixers, if they can’t afford or don’t have a VU meter box, get this $30 VU 3 [part of PSP’s TripleMeter plug-in], which I think is awesome. I’m in the habit of measuring digital levels a lot, too—peak and RMS.”
He can also patch into Capitol’s legendary echo chambers. “I have used the chambers on a couple of The Voice tracks, if it’s more of a Motown track or a Sinatra-style crooner. It’s more of an exception than the rule—but it’s great to have access.”
Capitol Studios and Mastering