Just down the street from the Scoot Inn on East Fourth Street, two local studios have found a sweet spot during South by Southwest as the home base of Converse Rubber Tracks. The shoe company’s promotional program is providing a day of free studio time to more than 20 Texas bands, most of them from Austin, from March 9-21.
We stopped in last Thursday when Austin band Good Field was mastering its new album at Shine Studios while Denton group Birds of Night was working on tracks for an upcoming record in the adjacent Big Orange Studios. Between the two facilities is a small courtyard where Converse will have a few modest promotional events during SXSW – though no big concerts, as the focus is all on the bands getting sounds down in the studio spaces.
Justin Douglas, who owns and operates Shine, said Converse first proposed the project four years ago when they were hosting an event at Scoot Inn and needed studio space nearby. “They were looking for a studio that was well-equipped in this neck of the woods, so it worked out,” he said.
Converse has returned to the same spot each year, in the process giving free studio days to dozens of acts who apply online in advance for the slots. Once they’re accepted, it’s totally up to the bands as to how they use the time.
“They can pretty well do anything they want, and then they walk away with whatever work they did, free and clear,” Douglas says. “It’s really liberating to have a day to do whatever you want. In this case, Good Field is mastering a record and saving a pile of money by doing it.
“Other bands show up and they have two songs that they wrote the day before, and they’re just going to hash them out and sort of write in the studio. It’s fun because every day it’s something completely different.”
Converse also brings down experts from their studio home base in New York each year. On Thursday, engineer Aaron Bastinelli was working with Birds of Night while Douglas helped Good Field with their mastering project. He’d worked previously with Good Field frontman Paul Price on an album for Reservations, another band that Price plays with. Douglas suggested to Price that Good Field should apply for the Converse Rubber Tracks program.
“When we got in, we were thinking that what would be really useful is if we could master our album that’s already recorded, instead of recording something new,” Price said “And he agreed to do it, thankfully.”
Other Austin acts that already have recorded during the first week of Converse’s SXSW visit include teen punk band Residual Kid, horn-driven soul group Hard Proof and hip-hop ensemble League of Extraordinary Gz. Two Houston acts, the Tontons and the Suffers, join Birds of Night as non-Austin groups taking part in the program this year.
Just how much a band gets done in a day of free studio time can depend on how prepared they are to dive in. Douglas recalls working with Austin rockers Think No Think last year and being particularly impressed with how much they got done.
“They had planned on doing a couple songs that were mostly written, and they wound up recording maybe five songs,” he says. “It was one of those days where they were on — they just hit it. We didn’t mix anything, but it was great; they just knocked it all out, and everyone was excited.”
In addition to the work on their record, Good Field will be busy during SXSW. They’re playing an official showcase at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Red Eyed Fly, as well as an unofficial show at 10 p.m. Thursday at Radio Coffee & Beer, sharing the bill with Reservations.