Producing WTF Turned Brendan McDonald into an Entrepreneur

I was really excited for Jeff’s interview with Brendan McDonald for episode 55 of The Wolf Den. That’s because I’ve been listening to WTF with Marc Maron for a long time, and admire how the show in many ways pioneered a format that has become almost prototypical for new podcasts ever since.

I knew that as producer of the show McDonald shares responsibility for its sound and success. But because of his dedication to being a producer who lets the host’s star shine, I never heard much about McDonald’s role in shaping one of the most popular and influential podcasts ever.

McDonald tells Jeff that he remains in the background because of his belief that “people listen to the show, not the production behind the show.” Like a good film editor, as long as listeners don’t notice his work he feels he’s done his job.

He says that WTF benefitted from his working with Marc for the five years before it launched. As a result he said they share a “hive-mind” with regard to how they want the show to sound. It also means that their roles are well defined.

“Marc would say, I’m going to try and take this story and make it funny, or I’m going to try and figure out how best to talk to Jeff Ross. And meanwhile I could sit and think of how that would sound as radio, what kind of radio I like listening to, [and] what kind of stories I like [being] told.”

Over the course of the first ten episodes, “we were really just trying everything,” which allowed them to settle on the format that works for the show. But, importantly, McDonald says, “from the ground floor he trusted me implicitly, and I trusted him that he could get us there.”

Because WTF is an independent podcast McDonald reflects that, “I’ve become a small businessman as much as a producer, doing this show.” It is fascinating to hear how he had to grow into this role, and tackle the challenges head-on, as the show evolved.

He does, “whatever I need to do to keep the show going and make the kind of show we want.” That has included getting good at some aspects of doing business, or finding good people they can trust to help. “It’s a survival instinct the way I look at it,” McDonald explains, “and there’s a satisfaction to it as well.”

Jeff asks him if all of this makes him an entrepreneur. McDonald’s answer is, “sure,” because, “that’s now intrinsic in the role.”

When WTF started taking advertising it was because of an inquiry from Sup Pop records in the early days of the show. As they picked up more advertisers it was validating, but it was also more work for McDonald. “I had no experience, no past history as a media buyer or selling (ads),” he says.

Therefore, “it was an easy decision to say somebody else can handle this,” McDonald recalls. That’s when WTF joined Midroll, which still represents the show to advertisers.

“It was something that had to happen. I can’t tell you how much for the better it is.”

Be sure to listen to the whole episode. Then, don’t miss our bonus video, where McDonald reveals what he’s most excited about in podcasting, his favorite podcasts, and what keeps him up at night.

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