Mastering is often considered a mysterious black art, but while there is certainly a lot of artistry involved Evren Göknar’s book, published in April 2020 (Routledge/Focal Press), dispels the mystery in a very readable and understandable way. With 25 years of Grammy Award‑winning mastering experience at Capitol Records, supplemented with extensive participation in college‑level education, Evren is ideally placed to share his extensive practical and technical knowledge of the entire mastering process, with the emphasis very much on developing the core skills expected of a mastering engineer and the practical steps of mastering.
This 180‑page book is divided into five sections, starting with two chapters on the key competencies and understandings in a mastering engineer, and “the 11 qualities of superb audio fidelity” that are necessary to hone listening skills and musical appreciation. Part II looks at the room acoustics and equipment required for a mastering studio, the ‘three zone’ system of connecting everything together (basically the replay side, the processing and the record side), followed by an overview of the typical signal processing tools involved.
With these foundations in place, Part III explains the five‑step mastering process: objective and subjective assessments, the processing plan, material assembly and the deliverables (including CD, vinyl and standard and hi‑res download/streaming formats). Part IV then delves into business aspects such as clear communication with the client, pricing, good working practices, documentation, ensuring client satisfaction and some “session‑saving hints and tips”.
The final section is the longest, comprising six chapters that go into much more meaty technical detail about signal processing, including the orders of processes, dynamic enhancements, side‑chain and multiband compression techniques, dynamic EQ, parallel processing, Mid‑Sides processing, saturation, stem mastering, intercuts (processing sections of a track separately and differently, before cutting them back together), hybrid digital/analogue processing chains, working entirely in the box, audio restoration, and more besides. This section finishes with a glossary of mastering acronyms and terms, and the author’s biography, awards and details of some notable projects.
Every chapter concludes with a list of references to other relevant books and articles (including several from Sound On Sound) for further reading, and some practical exercises to check understanding and/or to develop practical skills. A website linked to the book provides some useful support material, currently comprising before and after versions of three mastered tracks, and links to six videos demonstrating the (Part III) five-step mastering process, and another of Capitol's echo chambers!
I particularly appreciated the emphasis on developing and honing listening skills.
I found the book an easy read and informative throughout. There are good illustrations, and a logical progression of concepts and techniques. Once read in sequence, the individual chapters can be dipped into easily for reference later, too, of course. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on developing and honing listening skills, and on the use of numbered criterion — the 11 qualities of audio fidelity, the three‑zone mastering system, and the five‑step mastering process — since this provides a useful structure that helps you to remember things and focus on the really important elements.
As a reviewer, I should at least point out two disappointments, relatively minor though they are. The first is poor proofreading of the glossary, in which the definition of a microsecond is given as 1/10,000 of a second (I wonder if that’s the base costing unit at Capitol Records?), and the second is how little content is devoted to the whole area of loudness normalisation, both in terms of technical explanations and practical advice. There’s a brief description of LUFS/LKFS in passing, and the mention of target levels when discussing deliverables, but that’s about it; I found that surprising for a mastering book published in 2020. Instead, the continual focus throughout is on VU metering which, although undoubtedly useful and effective in the right context, really isn’t the whole story any more.
Nevertheless, for anyone with an interest in mastering, either for DIY projects or as a potential career path, Evren has crammed a lot of really helpful information and very practical advice into this book, along with very sensible and constructive guides to developing and honing the core skills, techniques and approaches that make a good mastering engineer. It’s well worth adding to the book shelf.