It’s a gray morning in Boulder — the fourth or fifth in a row — in mid May. It’s cold, but in a revitalizing way, everything dew-soaked green and blooming, colors vibrant against the overcast sky. There’s electricity in the air, a storm coming, maybe an adventure.
Still, it’s cold.
There’s a reprieve from the chill inside eTown’s basement recording studio, but the atmosphere feels no less charged as four musicians launch into their first take of Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 3.”
Leading the quartet is Boulder’s banjo Renaissance man Jake Schepps, playing a 1929 National plectrum guitar — tuned like a banjo, of course. With him are three of Boulder’s bluegrass wunderkinds: fiddler Justin Hoffenberg of Long Road Home, also making an instrumental departure on a 1928 National tenor guitar; Andy Hall of the Infamous Stringdusters on a 1937 resophonic guitar (also known as a dobro); and local bass legend Eric Thorin of the Matt Flinner Trio on the upright.
The hundred-year-old piece they are playing is, as a work of the infamously peculiar Satie, haunting and minimalist, with a melody every bit as beguiling as the French composer’s famous “Gymnopédie No. 1.” Yet the minor chords of “Gnossienne No. 3” suggest something far more foreboding.
“Those chords have a pirate-ship-on-the-foggy-ocean vibe,” Hall remarks as the group makes its way into the sound booth for a listen of the first take. With the steel timbre of this particular set of instruments, one might suggest the chords take on an airboat-on-a-Louisiana-bayou vibe.
This is the fourth session of Schepps’ experimental brainchild known as Round Window Radio. The project puts Schepps in a studio with a wide range of musicians — not all of whom run in the stringband crowd — to tackle an equally expansive range of musical territory, from bluegrass to Brazilian choro to jazz and classical.
The idea is to keep it simple: Pick some tunes that a group can get under their fingers in a day of rehearsal, then lay it down in the studio over the course of another day. The resulting work is shared for Round Window Radio subscribers — one new download (or stream) a month, plus three items from Schepps’ back catalog of music. There’s also sheet music and banjo tablature, “liner note”-type articles about the process or the music or composer, and podcast-style interviews with some of the musicians — for $4 a month.
While the project is at least in part a way for Schepps to explore music he loves and jam with artists he admires, it’s mostly a response to the current state of music consumption.
“I don’t think there’s a convenient way for people to support musicians — it’s so convenient to use Spotify,” Schepps says. “I see this as a way to directly support artists.”
And that’s the keyword: directly. Round Window Radio subscription dollars pay musicians, audio technicians and studio time directly.
Major record labels receive sizeable sums from steaming services like Spotify, but not all of that money goes to the artist, and not every artist gets the same cut, depending on their contract with the label. There are other factors, like the country in which a song was streamed and the currency value in that country. All said and told, Spotify says their average “per stream” payout to artists falls between $0.006 and $0.0084.
For his website, Information is Beautiful, data journalist David McCandless suggests artists make far less from Spotify, with an average payout of $0.001128 after the label gets its share.
Any way you slice it, it’s easy to see why some artists have taken hard stances against putting their catalogs on streaming services, and why Schepps dove in on the Round Window Radio project.
While Boulder will always be home base for Round Window sessions, Schepps has already traveled to Berkeley, California, to record one session with some friends at the infamous Fantasy Studios, and he has plans to travel for sessions in Maine and Nashville as well.
Subscribers can currently listen to Schepps tackle Henry Purcell’s “Fantazia 1” with Matt Flinner and Ross Martin, “Autumn’s Song” from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, and some original compositions that Schepps wrote specifically to play with the Matt Flinner Trio (Schepps’ self-proclaimed favorite band). Coming soon: a steeled-up version of the swing classic “Joseph Joseph,” a Brazilian choro piece and Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 3,” all recorded at eTown in May.
“What I like about [Round Window] creatively is the sky’s the limit and I can go and do little things, just try this and see if it works,” Schepps says.
On this gray day in mid-May, Schepps and his crew are seeing what works for them in the eTown studio. Back in the sound booth after a take of “Joseph Joseph,” Eric Thorin jokes about his “botched” solo. He turns to Schepps.
“How many subscribers you got now?” he cracks. “How many dozens of people are going to hear this?”
Visit www.roundwindowradio.com to become a subscriber.