BOSTON – Standing in the middle of a room overlooking Boston’s historic Lovejoy Wharf, I’m surrounded by new guitars, pedals, amps and mics; afraid to knock something over and end up owing someone more money than I could ever imagine.
For me, this is a fear. For a band? A dream scenario.
Converse has decided to make that dream happen for so many bands with their new Converse Rubber Tracks Boston studio. Since 2011, the Converse Rubber Tracks program has allowed unsigned musicians to come in and record a full day’s session in their state-of-the-art studio for free and retain the rights to what they record. They opened their first studio in Brooklyn a few years ago, then went international in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and they’ve now expanded to Boston for their next project, opening July 1.
Jed Lewis, director of music marketing at Converse, talked about the origins of the Rubber Tracks project and eliminating the problem of expensive studio time:
“We wanted to build a studio, a state of the art facility that any emerging artist can apply to and come to and record for free and leave with all the rights to their music, no strings attached. That was really the genesis of what happened when we opened doors in July 2011 of our studio in Brooklyn.”
In addition to the Converse Rubber Tracks studios on the East Coast, the company has taken over recording studios in 16 countries all over the world, serving as pop-ups to provide free studio time for emerging artists. But it’s not just the opportunity to record a session that’s enticing about the opportunity. As an artist who records at the studio, you also have the chance to play shows with bigger, established acts.
Up-and-coming indie rockers Eternals were one of those smaller acts that were chosen to join the program. Stephen Konrads, vocalist and songwriter for the group, said it wasn’t just about the gear and production they had access to, but also about the experience.
“It’s not just a bunch of people who were like, ‘Oh cool, this is just another band.’ The people who were working were piping in and helping us… there was one moment actually with the Mellotron (keyboard) where I was playing it, because I really wanted that sound, and it sucked. It was not the right sound for it, and one of the engineers came out, and he brought out this string synthesizer and said, ‘This is the synth you need.’ You have people who are not only absolute professionals, but they’re also very interested in what you’re doing, and they care… We released the song we recorded at the Rubber Tracks pop-up as a single in April and got some of our first press coverage from it.”
Eternals was selected by critically acclaimed dream-poppers Wild Nothing to play at their Rubber Tracks Live show, and Konrads said it basically kept them going as a band. “A lot of times when you’re an independent artist, you feel like you’re making music in a vacuum,” he said. “To see all of these channels of support around you that had never existed before, it makes you feel like, ‘Cool, I should keep doing what I’m doing.’ ”
Plenty of bands can record without expensive equipment, and many have. Bedroom pop is a genre created out of its own necessity. The additional allure of a place like Rubber Tracks is the experience of recording and ability to hear what your sound can be.
“In a way, it’s a service to them because we’ve had bands come in, and they may be on their third album, and they’ve done it in piecemeal. They’ve done it in a basement, with a couple mics, and then record the drums and the bass,” said Brad Worrell, Studio Manager of Converse Rubber Tracks Brooklyn. “When they come into this room, we got them playing all together like they do live, and they come into the control room, and they literally hear themselves for the first time, I think. I’ve had bands even say that they look at each other and say, ‘Oh, so this is what we sound like?’ ”
Konrads echoed that statement, saying, “Once you have an experience under your belt, you learn a whole lot from it in how to handle yourself as a musician.”
Speaking about the application process, Worrell said all genres and styles are welcome to apply; it’s actually the last thing they look at. He even said he may not like some of the musicians’ music personally, but it’s all about their hard work.
“We’ve had nothing but talented bands, but I’ll confess, we’ve had a few that I will not listen to,” he said. “But they were busting their butts, and they were playing shows, and they’ve got strong socials, so they get in. They get a chance.”
While they’ve booked 30 bands into Converse Rubber Tracks Boston so far, there’s still more to come. But even for those who still aren’t confident enough or are too far away to get to the studio, Converse wanted to provide something for them in the way of a sample library. With more than 20,000 samples recorded by the likes of Vernon Reid, members of The Roots, Jack White’s drummer Daru Jones, Nicki Minaj and Justin Timberlake’s Musical Director Adam Blackstone, the Rubber Tracks Sample Library is free, royalty-free, and anyone can use it to make their own music.
“The sample library is the thing that’s been the biggest amplifier that we’ve been able to touch the most artists with,” Lewis said. “At this point in time, we have over 22,000 subscribers.”
While Converse says there are no immediate plans to build any more brick-and-mortar studios, they’re still going strong with pop-ups all over the world, and bringing a full studio’s worth of samples to your doorstep.
“I think it’s a chance for us to give emerging artists a chance to have maybe their first time recording. It’s a chance to make things go easier for them,” Lewis said. “We never claimed that we were the start of anything or of any band, but it might be the first time they put themselves on record and hear themselves back the way that they really are meant to be heard. It really is that chance for them.”