When you hear the word Converse, many things may come to mind. Perhaps you’re reminded of how NBA star Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game. Maybe you’re reminded of the hipsters shuffling through the streets of NYC in fashionably beat-up high-tops. Whatever the case may be, the foot and apparel brand is not letting apparel be its end-all be-all. In addition to hosting free concerts, the shoe brand has been progressively adding “philanthropy” to its strong legacy with its most recent musical contribution—a Converse Rubber Tracks recording studio in Boston, Massachusetts.
Converse Rubber Tracks is a multifaceted global music platform that provides emerging artists the opportunity to unleash their creative spirits. The program originated with a recording studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. in July 2011 and has since expanded to include iconic studios like Atlanta’s Stankonia, Los Angeles’ Sunset Sound and London’s Abby Road. Aside from hosting 65 free, engineer-assisted professional recording sessions across the world, Converse has decided to open a permanent location in the Northeast city of Boston for emerging artists to use free of charge.
How can a new independent artist land some studio time in this brand-spanking new lab? During a term of one month, artists were asked to submit an online application, rank their top three studio preferences and enter a brief artist biography via a video or written application. The selected artists will then take part in Converse’s two-week trial period (September 2015), where they will have the opportunity to take advantage of a Converse Rubber Tracks recording studios across the globe.
VIBE had a chance to get a sneak peak of the newest addition at the Converse headquarters in Boston. After taking a tour of the musical lab, we sat down with a panel of speakers: Converse’s Global Music Marketing Director, Jed Lewis; Boston Studio manager, Evan Kenney; and Converse Rubber Tracks alum Stephen Konrads of The Eternals. We dug a little deeper into the free recording program, its recording session logistics and how any artists from any genre can benefit.
VIBE: How did the concept for the Boston recording studio come about?
Jed Lewis: It was a group effort at our previous office in North Andover, Massachusetts. We [at Converse] started getting together and most importantly talking to artists to figure out how we’re going to be useful in the music space and give something back. What is it that we’re going to do? This idea of recording time being very expensive, having to go to home studios or basement studios or recording on a laptop as the answer, that seemed like a place where we could add some value. And that’s the genesis of where [our first] Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn started the whole thing.
Tell us more about the application process.
Lewis: There are some real obvious restrictions. If you’re signed or have a record deal, you won’t get in. If you’ve done a one-off with a small label, that doesn’t really count. If somebody can pay for you to get in the studio, then you don’t really need to come to Rubber Tracks. We’re here to give bands [and artists] the opportunity to use what they otherwise wouldn’t have.
The last thing we do is actually listen to content. We have a really talented small group of people who make the decision of who gets in. Honestly, it’s not based on who’s going to be the next big thing or who they want to work with. We’ve had nothing but talented bands. There are definitely a few that I have not listened to, but they were busting their butt, doing live shows and had a strong social media [following].
Bands are welcome to bring their own stuff. Any genre can come in to use the room however they want.
After an artist is chosen to record at a select studio, what are your duties as the Studio Manager?
Evan Kenney: Whenever we schedule a band [or artist], there’s always a dialogue before over email to talk about what they’re going to accomplish once they get here. We [myself and a team of veteran engineers] get a grasp of what they’re looking for. When they come in that day, we sit down for a second and then we’re off and running. Here at the new Boston location, we’ll have a band every day, we’re looking at 5-7 bands per week, Monday through Friday. For me, it will be just overseeing and make sure everything runs smoothly. Honestly, [I’m] making sure the band [or artist] is happy.
A lot of times the bands want kind of a slick sound, so we have a set up in the live room and then we have some isolated amps there to kind of really bring those through. It depends on the band. We have a soundproof booth where you can do vocals or record the drums. It’s kind of open to what everybody wants. We really work with the band and listen to what they’re looking for. The engineers kind of have it all figured out on how to get things done.
How much time do the select artists have to utilize the space?
Kenney: It’s an 8-hour day. There’s no limit as far as how the day goes. You’re pretty much given that window to do whatever you want. We’ve had bands come in and finish eight songs. We’ve had bands come in, record a good drum sound, maybe some vocal tracks and then take it to their home studio. It’s whatever they want to do. It actually goes very quickly. Our engineers are very skilled to get things moving.
When it comes to recording music, the equipment can make or break the sound quality. Tell me more about the gear and acoustics of this new Boston studio.
Kenney: We’re going to offer a lot of equipment. The mics are comparable to those you find at other professional studios. We’re going to have a mix of vintage guitars, basses and equipment mixed with some brand new stuff. We have a twin reverb amp and a drum set. We’ll have more instruments, but bands are welcome to bring their own stuff. Any genre can come in to use the room however they want. The space gives a great live sound. It’s got a great isolated sound, if you need it. The ceilings are high so it gives a really great drummer sound and makes the vocals sound excellent. We have Ocean Way speakers which are so loud that once bands hear themselves, it’s pretty awesome.
After a session is completed, do you do any mix and mastering?
Keeney: We do mix. We do at the end of the day, if it’s a full recording of a song or two, we’ll do general mixes. What we do at the end of the day is we ask them for their hard-drive. We give them the whole ProTools session. We give them rough mixes and we keep every reference mix, so if they get lost or something they can come back. And it doesn’t cost a thing.
It’s really nice to learn that there are a group of people around here who actually do care about people who are just starting to take the first few steps in their music goal.
A good number of our readers are hip-hop & R&B artists. What would you say to them about the program and why this is beneficial to them?
Lewis: No matter what genre of music you’re recording in, Converse Rubber Tracks is a really valuable and useful platform for emerging artists. You have the ability to come into a state of the art facility with expert engineers behind the boards and get that whole day to do whatever it is that you need to accomplish. At the end of the day, you walk away with whatever you created. Converse doesn’t own any of that content. That is yours. It’s really a no strings attached, win-win situation for emerging artists and hopefully an amazing experience.
Kenney: We have great equipment and the studio is designed specifically to cater to any genre. We can do whatever we want in there and the sound quality for whatever genre is going to be just great. With the dialogue before, we’ll know what you’re going for before you get there, so a lot of that stress is taken off. You’ll do what you do and we [myself and the engineers] will be there. We’ll guide you. We won’t try to change your sound or anything. We’re just here to help and give you a valuable resource.
Is there anything you’d add as a Rubber Tracks alum?
Stephen Konrads: It’s a no brainer, especially if you’re just starting out. There are a lot of places you can go and they’ll just take your money. You’ll more than likely have a very awkward experience. But if you go into the right environment here [at Rubber Tracks] with people who are top notch, they’ll give you a really excellent sound track at the end of the day. For a long time, it seemed like there wasn’t a lot of that going on in Boston. It’s been really inspiring.
For more information about how you can land a free day of recording, visit Converse-Music.com/Rubbertracks.
Photo Credit: Converse