Nothing much stays the same in music or fashion over the course of a couple years, never mind decades, but if anything can be said to have stood the test of time in both worlds, it’s the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star. If that sounds like marketing boilerplate, it is. But in this case it also has the added bonus of actually being true.
It’s a point that Jed Lewis, Converse’s global music marketing director made in the control room of the just-opened Converse Rubber Tracks Boston recording studio. I wanted to know what came first, Converse the brand’s focus on music, or vice versa.
“We got really fortunate in that these creative people—musicians specifically—adopted our footwear, and were wearing our sneakers and taking us on these amazing journeys throughout decades,” he said. “The genres of music changed, the outfits changed, but the Chuck Taylor remained consistent.” This studio is a way to nurture and say thank you to the next generation of musicians, he said.
The recording studio, located inside Converse’s corporate headquarters in Boston, with its views of the soaring Zakim bridge and the iconic Boston Garden, is the third Rubber Tracks facility Converse has opened, following locations in Brooklyn and Sao Paulo. The Rubber Tracks program is a multi-pronged musical initiative started by the brand, including concerts where headliners will hand select local bands in various cities to perform with them, a sampling library they’ve set up online whereby musicians can choose from thousands of royalty-free samples, and studios like this one in which they invite emerging and younger bands to spend a day in a professional studio laying down their music for free. Since the Brooklyn studio opened in 2011, they’ve seen over 1,000 bands come through the door. Including smaller pop-up studios hosted in 16 countries around the world, that number jumps to over 1,600. There’s no catch, and bands retain all the rights to their own music, they say.
Having access to studio time at all, never mind a top-of-the-line one like this, is a huge boon for Stephen Konrads of the Boston band The Eternals, who’d recorded at a previous Rubber Tracks session. The price point for studio time is often one of the biggest hurdles a band that’s just starting out will encounter, he explained.
“It’s hard—it’s really, really hard—to get studio time together,” he said. “The last record I recorded I paid for it out of my own pocket, and I spent $6,000 on it, which was like a quarter of what I made that year!”
Sure, a lot of music can be recorded at home now, but the professional approach makes a difference, particularly when it comes to recording drums, Konrads, and Evan Kenney, manager of the Boston studio agreed.
Kenney had been through the recording process at the Brooklyn studio himself with a former band. “I was in a lot of studios before throughout the years, but Rubber Tracks had this vibe that was so relaxed. The staff was so great, you get in the room and it’s almost like a hang out session, which makes it easy to play. What we’re trying to do for bands that are further along and have recorded before or bands that are straight out of the garage or the basement, they come in here, they see how beautiful the equipment is, but they also catch the vibe that it’s all about them. We’re not going to shape their music it all, just give them the best sound.”
Sometimes hearing yourself for the first time can be a revelation.
“It’s a pretty common takeaway for bands—especially if it’s their first time recording in the studio—to say they can’t believe what they’re hearing when they come back into this control room, and realize that that’s them, that that’s what they sound like. We've had some amazing moments when bands come back into the control room, and are like woah,” Lewis said.
If in the process the bands and their fans come away with a fondness for Converse, that’s just an added bonus. While the earliest bands to pull on a pair of Chucks might not have thought about working with a brand the same way, the reality of the music industry today is a lot different.
I asked Lewis whether or not that question had been settled by now.
“I think the notion of selling out is dated,” he said. “Labels aren’t necessarily behaving as they had been in the past, and obviously the state of the music industry isn’t what it was. And in order to get the help they need, bands need to look to alternative places, brands being one of those.”
Converse, he said, were “fortunate that we were on the feet of so many amazing artists over time. It’s like, we were invited to the party, we got backstage, and we wanted to behave in a way that was useful, and that actually gave something back to culture, something that provided a service rather than just borrowing from culture.”