Geoff Cottrill has just come back from a tour of 130 Hope Street, where the shoe company Converse is creating a recording studio for musicians. “We’re literally in the middle of building the thing,” Cottrill says over the phone from New York. “It’s on the corner of Hope and Keap, which I think is tremendous,” he says, referring to two of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s quirky street names.
Cottrill is Converse’s chief marketing officer, and though he’s based in Boston, he’s been making frequent trips to Brooklyn to oversee the new studio, which has been appropriately dubbed Rubber Tracks. In the building’s 5,000 square feet, Cottrill has seen the construction of two isolation rooms, a control room (which will house an API 1608 console with a 16 channel expander for 32 total channels), a lounge area, office space, and a rehearsal space for bands. The studio also has room for a small stage, and Cottrill says some performance element at Rubber Tracks may eventually be developed. “The idea is to be a living, breathing artistic community center,” he says, adding that he hopes the studio will attract graphic and visual artists too.
“The Converse brand is very fortunate that our fans and consumers have taken the brand into lots of interesting and different places,” Cottrill says. “At some point in history, a lot of people within the music and artistic community adopted the Chuck Taylor as their expression of individuality and independence.”
Cottrill gives his Converse pitch like a true marketing ace, but also like someone who believes that the Converse brand owes its fans this studio. He talks about the company’s 22 million fans on Facebook across two brand pages – the only company that has two pages in the top 10 for brands. “The brand belongs to the consumers,” he says.
Rubber Tracks was inspired by Converse’s Open Gym program, where in certain cities – Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, and Philadelphia – kids can play in an indoor basketball court sponsored by Converse.
For a recording date at Rubber Tracks, bands will need to apply on Converse’s website, Converse.com, and will have to present their goals for working in the studio. “We are looking for bands that are creating original music, are committed to their craft, and are ready to get into a studio to record.” While Converse has been especially iconic in the fabric of musical genres like punk and rock and roll, they are careful to note that all genres of music are welcome at Rubber Tracks.
But getting involved with the recording business, Cottrill says, has little to do with Converse wanting to be in the record label business – unlike Starbucks’ Hear Music, for whom Cottrill previously worked, or Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound singles label. But the shoe company will help publicize the music recorded at Rubber Tracks to the Converse faithful on Facebook and their website.
An interesting side story for Rubber Tracks comes in the form of Cottrill’s allies at Cornerstone Promotions, a creative marketing agency that will help pick the bands and run the studio. Jon Cohen and Rob Stone, who founded Cornerstone, also started the magazine The Fader, which was created in the image of iconic brands like Levi’s and Converse, and in turn has helped those brands identify themselves in the digital age.
Cornerstone has proven to be a master in the art of halo effect marketing and have built a career out of teaming big brands and indie music – making the whole thing seem “okay” in ways marketers never quite thought possible.
Converse won’t try to monetize any band’s music or own anything in a way that would make it difficult for a band to score a record deal. Asked if there’s a risk in doing something with very little direct return on investment, Cottrill says Converse has been investing in marketing for years. “We’ve seen what the music industry has done to help build and grow our brand around the world and this isn’t about building a studio and then seeing return on investment,” he says.
Cottrill says Converse already feels like they’re in the creative space with artists and they’re honored – and perhaps bewildered as to how they arrived there. The company’s sole object is now to give something back and help inspire a new generation of musicians. “We’re coming at it from the perspective that we need to just let go of the brand and provide people the opportunity,” says Cottrill. “By doing this and being pure, we’ll continue to have their loyalty and love.”
The Converse Rubber Tracks studio will begin accepting applications May 2. Those interested in recording there should visit www.converse.com/rubbertracks.