Converse may have created the single greatest branded experience on the internet, and unless you're a musician, you probably don't even know about it.
Converse knows that their brand is closely connected to the music that their shoe wearers listen to, and they have always done a good job of associating themselves with that alternative culture. With the Rubber Tracks Sample Library they're going a step further and enabling their fans to be creators of that alternative culture. Not only is it a genius move on their part, it's beautifully executed.
A Giant Collection of Samples
The site describes itself as, "a growing collection of audio samples recorded at Converse Rubber Tracks studios. The library is free to use and all samples are completely royalty free – no strings attached." The collection is constantly growing and they add new recordings almost every day. In today's world of music production, people of every age are becoming bedroom-studio recording artists and Converse is smart for creating content for this emerging market. They've really done this right because personally I can tell you that finding this site feels like striking oil to a music producer. I love the little "Site Stats" graphic they have at the top of their site. It really helps to showcase the breadth of this project. There is so much music here, it could take years to go through all of it!
The majority of the site is dedicated to browsing the different sounds that Converse offers in their sample library. They divide it into packs, kits, mixes and tools (which I'll cover later). Packs are sounds created by popular musicians and organised by session. Kits are collections of sounds that users have saved, and mixes are songs that users have made using Rubber Tracks samples. The whole organisation makes sense and offers a way to showcase new artists which is quite clever on Converse's part (nice win-win for musicians trying to get their name out there and contribute to the sample pool). I also like that you create a login and actually save things. This is very key because what Converse is out to do here is create a community of musicians.
Concise & Thoughtful Interactions
When you click on of the "packs" it breaks down what's in the session that they recorded in an "overview" tab and a "browse" tab. The overview is really well organised and it includes things like YouTube videos, stats, performers, keys, and tempos. I especially like how they show the one shots as a single square button that plays when you click it vs. the sound wave view of the longer samples. It all feels very interactive while not being cluttered. Along with the overview, the browse view shows it all in a list view and has columns for things like tempo, key, instrument, etc. This is the lean-in, detailed view that experienced musicians will want, and I love that Converse has thought to include it (even if it is a bit slow to navigate on my computer). All the tracks play very quickly and time from click to sound isn't really an issue even though there is obviously a lot of content here.
Clicking on the kits gives you little eight-pad grids that have samples loaded into them. I love their creative use of z-space with the lockup of the avatar, title and grid. One of my favourite features of this site happens when you hover over a kit: it shows a letter for each sound that corresponds to a key on your keyboard so you can trigger multiple sounds at once like in a DAW. There is also the ability to heart the sample right there and save it into your own library. The first time I saw these little letters I didn't know what they were because I just assumed they hadn't thought to include such a feature. Really great stuff and just icing on the cake for an already crisp interface that really knows its audience.
More Than Just Samples
Converse did a killer job at recording, tagging and organising all of these samples, but they didn't stop there. Converse also gives you tools so that you can use these sounds on your browser, phone and in Ableton. It does seem a bit weird the way they organised this in the top nav, but maybe that's because this functionality wasn't part of the original information architecture. It feels like something that was added to the minimum viable product later, and it clutters up the UX a bit. Once you realise the power of these tools, though, you quickly forgive the organisation. I've already touched on the browser functionality which is the ability to group samples into kits. Nothing ground breaking here, but it really helps build the community aspect of the whole site, and no doubt causes more repeat users. The phone sampler lets you "quickly sort through samples on the go" but they don't really do a good job of explaining why you might want to do that. I would love to see a video here showing artists using the phone sampler to perform, but as is it will probably go unused. The Ableton integration, however, is so slick that I was surprised it didn't come with a price tag. It allows you full control over the samples and kits in the Converse library, all right in Ableton. While I'm not sure it really is the first ever cloud-connected sampler for Ableton like they claim, it certainly is the best free one I've ever come across. They make the Ableton plugin look and feel like the web experience in all black and white so that it won't just blend into Ableton, and they even have GIFs on the site to explain how to use the plugin.
If this wasn't a brand experience I can imagine many users would be more than willing to pay for everything Converse is offering for free. I really hope that Converse sees the kind of returns they are looking for with this investment because it is truly an amazing experience for the consumer. Lifestyle brands of the world, take a cue from Converse. Enable your fans to be creators and you will truly inspire them. Click the link below to check it out for yourself!