Marc Maron: ‘My Life Is the Podcast’

“I owe everything to the podcast, at this point,” Marc Maron told a packed audience at the Podcast Movement conference on August 2. “I’m able to sell a few tickets, and the podcast is doing well, and the TV show is exciting.”

But, he admitted a simple truth that he, his fans, and his business partner and producer Brendan McDonald all recognize: “The podcast is the core of my work and creativity right now.”

He continued, to gathering applause, “That’s the thing that cannot go away ever… My life is the podcast.”

That podcast, of course, is WTF, the very same one that made history in June when Marc hosted President Obama in his Los Angeles garage-studio.

Midroll CEO Adam Sachs hosted this conversation with Marc at Podcast Movement, and that interview is on episode 85 of The Wolf Den.

As Marc described the early days of producing WTF Adam asked if he was making any money then. This prompted Marc to reflect on the journey that turned WTF into his life, and his living.

“At the beginning,” he said, “we didn’t know how to make money.” He was able to bring on the Just Coffee Co-op as his first sponsor on WTF because they had been sending coffee to his previous online video show during the last days of Air America. Otherwise, donations from listeners were the show’s only source of income. He was telling listeners, in what he called the “NPR way,” that, “me and Brendan are working hard. Can you send money?”

As those contributions began flowing in, Marc realized that people were listening and enjoyed what they were hearing. “It wasn’t a fortune, but it was enough to keep us inspired.”

He observed that “the business of podcasting evolved as I was in it.” Although subscriptions seemed like one of the major paths to making money, Marc also knew they had to keep the show free in order to build an audience. He also recognized that his access to celebrity guests helped “profoundly” with the audience building. In particular, early episodes featuring Zach Galifianakis and Robin Williams made a difference and “brought a lot of new people into the medium.”

The evolution of the model hinged on, “figuring out how to get people to listen to your thing, (and then) how to take those numbers and make them work monetarily.” Still, “it was a slow evolution,” as he tried things like selling some episodes individually.

Now, what works for WTF is the subscription app that provides paid access to classic episodes and advertising. In selling ads, Marc noted that, “the one thing we have over radio is real numbers.”

Ultimately, he said, "this medium is young. And when you realize the ceiling of the possible audience (right now)… can’t be more than a couple million people, then the possibility for growth of the medium in general is tremendous. It’s really just the beginning for it.

“And, I feel very fortunate that for once in my life my cosmic timing was on.”

Listen to the whole conversation to get Marc’s reflections on his episode with the president, learn the moment when he realized the show was more than just an outlet for him, and find out what he tries to get from every interview. Also, hear the story behind his signature Just Coffee tagline, and what it did for the company.

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