WILLIAMSBURG: Inaugural sessions at the brand-new Converse Rubber Tracks recording studio in Williamsburg kicked off last week where, as previously reported, the century-old footwear company, outfitter of rock musicians from Sid Vicious to Karen O, is now outfitting the music community with studio time – free studio time.
Lifestyle brands and music go hand in hand, we realize. But lifestyle brands operating recording studios? Recording studios being free? These are still fairly new concepts and we had questions.
So a couple weeks ahead of opening day, we jumped at the opportunity to walk through the new 5,200 sq. ft. recording, rehearsal and performance space with Converse Chief Marketing Officer Geoff Cottrill, the man with the answers.
“We are at a place where we can help facilitate art, where we can help to make a contribution,” Cottrill said of the venture.
“We’ve been lucky that artists in the music industry have adopted Converse over the years, and taken our brand into places I don’t think anyone at Converse expected it to go. We feel a responsibility to the creative community to say thank you, and to give back.”
With that larger community in mind, Converse reserved the majority of the 5,200 square feet as open, multi-use space with a stage at the far wall, loungey couches and ample standing room for live music events. Rubber Tracks has a minimalist industrial interior that feels raw, comfy and clean, giving it a garage-like gallery vibe, kind of a blank slate.
Built up around the main space are a small rehearsal studio, Studio B mix and overdub suite, and the main-event Studio A control and tracking rooms.
As studios go, Rubber Tracks is the real deal. Studio A features a 32-channel API 1608 analog console, Pro Tools HD system, Allen Sides Ocean Way mains, LA2As, 1176s and appropriately fleshed out racks, mic cabinet, amps and instruments. The tracking room is large enough for live band tracking, with two isolated booths. Tie-lines to the stage provide alternatively gargantuan sounds.
The facility was built by Chris Harmaty’s Audio Structures – the contractor-builder behind Downtown Studios, and many of the Walters-Storyk Design Group facilities – with technical design and installation by Matt Marinelli, of Coral Sound. With Guitar Center and GC Pro as technology sponsors, this facility wants for nothing in the way of musical and audio gear.
“The idea is that we should have everything you need to record,” says Cottrill. “You’re welcome to bring your own stuff, even your own engineer, but we should be able to provide you with anything you’d need.”
Converse hired NYC-based Cornerstone to help plan, publicize and now run Rubber Tracks, which will be booked via an online application process. Cornerstone alum Brad Worrell, a producer/engineer and lifelong musician, is the studio manager. Worrell will be coordinating the sessions – starting pre-production talks weeks ahead of time so that bands come prepared with some achievable goal for the day – and assigning one of a stable of established independent engineer/producers to the dates.
“We’ll have half a dozen guys who we hope to be able to match up with the artists, and I’m really happy with the guys that we’ve gotten so far – Jason Goldstein, Matt Shane, Alex McKenzie,” Worrell notes. “Having rotating engineers rather than a house engineer allows us to keep the talent level extremely high. And these guys are excited to work outside of their normal call.”
By offering gratis recording in a professional facility, Converse aims not only to deepen its connection with up-and-coming musicians but also to help spread the experience of professional recording and sound within this community.
Whether totally intentional or not, this is experiential marketing for both Converse and professional studios: artists have a positive recording experience they associate with Converse, becoming fans for life, and leave with a better understanding of why a professional studio and engineer are worth the investment. It’s a win-win. Right?
It seems so. If Rubber Tracks runs as planned, local commercial studios should not have to worry about their artist clients booking time at this new, free studio. For one, you cannot simply call and book time at Rubber Tracks. You have to apply and wait to hear back. Also, artists who are accepted will generally be granted one-day-only sessions.
Big picture, Worrell expects the program to create more work for local commercial studios than it could possibly take away.
“I think there’s a very good chance that Rubber Tracks being here could actually increase business for commercial studios,” he posits. “Not just because we are raising awareness of the professional process and sound but also because let’s face it – we are going to try to finish projects with these artists, whether it be a song, or drum tracking for an EP, but we’re simply not going to be able to finish them all. And where are they going to finish them?
“I think about it like when you get a coupon for a free coffee, from Starbucks or wherever,” Worrell continues. “You go in and you’re like ‘whoa, this is good – it’s so much better than what I was making at home.’ You suddenly start going to Starbucks. Not all these bands are going to suddenly be able to pay for studio time, but I honestly believe that if we have any impact on the local studios, that it will be positive.”
Also, success for this venture seems to hinge on booking the highest volume of acts who fit the bill – as Cottrill qualifies, “artists who really can’t afford to get into the studio for the first time” – rather than necessarily the bands with the most buzz, potential, or commercial appeal.
“As long as you’re serious about your music – if you look like you’re trying, you have a Facebook page and you’re playing gigs – you’ll get in,” says Worrell, assuring that the curatorial aspect of bookings will be almost nil beyond that. “It’s not going to be based on whether or not anybody here likes the music.”
On top of the most basic criteria, diversity is on order. “We are purposely going outside of what we’ve been normally associated with in terms of music,” says Cottrill. “We want it to be diverse. That will keep the place fresh, and also give the engineers opportunities to work with different kinds of acts.”
And Cottrill is very quick to point out that unlike a number of other lifestyle brands who’ve entered the music space, Converse will not be dabbling in the business side of the music created at Rubber Tracks.
“We are purposely staying out of the business side of this,” he states plainly. “We are not starting a record label. We’re not getting into the music publishing business.”
Converse saw a different opportunity, perhaps, than Mountain Dew did in starting its Green Label Sound, or Red Bull with its studios and record label – one that leverages and builds on the brand’s social media equity without officially aligning with any particular artist or style, or scene.
“We have 38 million Facebook fans,” Cottrill points out. “And we are going to create syndicated programming out of here that artists can opt into if they want to. But there are absolutely no requirements to do so – no one has to sign anything.”