Tucked next to Converse’s new headquarters on the Boston waterfront is 1,970 feet of acoustically pristine space that has nothing (and everything) to do with sneakers. Rubber Tracks, set to open July 1, is a state-of-the-art recording studio where young bands can record their masterpieces gratis. (Converse opened its first Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn in 2011.)
The premise is simple: deep-pocketed company spends a chunk of its marketing budget to create goodwill with the cool kids, who, in turn, bring cachet to its product. Of course, Converse already enjoys considerable street cred thanks to the Chuck Taylor All Star, footwear of choice for artists from Kurt Cobain to Ariana Grande. It’s those cheap canvas sneakers, rather than high-end sports shoes, that brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy 14 years ago.
But while Boston’s Rubber Tracks may be great news for musicians on a shoestring, it’s a chilling development for recording businesses decimated by the explosion of cheap home recording equipment and the slashing of major-label budgets. “Every studio is already holding its breath, every month, because we’re all just holding on,” says Richard Marr, who caters to punk and indie bands at Galaxy Park, his Watertown studio. “But maybe it will stimulate these young bands to step up.”
Jed Lewis, Converse’s global music marketing director, counters that Converse was concerned from day one about Rubber Tracks’ impact: Unlike Red Bull, another company investing heavily in the creative community, Converse limits Rubber Tracks studio time to a maximum of two days in New York—in Boston it will be limited to one—a decision that has actually generated business for other studios.“Many of these artists, it’s their first time recording,” Lewis says. “We’re taking them out of home studios and introducing them to the professional recording experience.”
At Q Division Studios, the legendary Somerville venue that’s been hosting Rubber Tracks pop-up sessions for the past year and a half, co-owner Mike Denneen is upbeat: “These bands are just starting out,” he says. “Now they know about us and when they develop, maybe they’ll think of us and come back.”
Meanwhile, musicians can apply for free studio time at converse.com/rubbertracks. In preparation, they would be wise to pump up their Twitter feeds: While Lewis maintains that Converse’s mission is to “unleash the creative spirit,” Rubber Tracks, he says, is looking for bands that already have some buzz.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven
As Rubber Tracks opens its second location this month, we remember the recording studios of Boston’s past.
Intermedia Sound and Syncro Sound
Recorded here: Aerosmith, Aerosmith (1973); Cheech & Chong, Sleeping Beauty (1976); the Cars, Shake It Up (1981).
Dimension Sound Studios
Recorded here: George Thorogood and the Destroyers, George Thorogood and the Destroyers (1977).
Roxbury and Cambridge
Recorded here: The Pixies, Come on Pilgrim (1987); Sebadoh, III (1991); the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Let’s Face It (1997). Mixed here: Radiohead’s Pablo Honey (1993) and The Bends (1995).