April 21, 2019
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An Equity deep dive on Patreon

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The popular TechCrunch podcast Equity this week launched a new series called Equity Dive, wherein a host interviews the writer of the latest edition of the Extra Crunch EC-1.

If you’ve ever wanted to know everything there is to know about Patreon, the platform that connects creators with fans and their wallets, then this is the show for you. TechCrunch Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos speaks with Eric Peckham who spent hours upon hours meeting with the Patreon team to learn its origin story and the ins and outs of its business practices to get the company to where it is today.

As Eric says:

The way to think about how Patreon has evolved is I see it in kind of three stages, which was this initial crowd funding platform, and then evolving beyond that to try and be a destination platform for consumers where there would be great content that you just go to Patreon to find and you go to discover creators, kind of a marketplace model. They moved away from that. That was somewhat of a gradual shift and essentially the decision was it’s not good to be stuck in this game of trying to be yet another destination platform for consumers competing with YouTube and Instagram and every single media site out there. Really the opportunity and mission underlies our work is about helping creators and enabling all these independent creators to sustain themselves and to build thriving businesses.

They shifted, they now describe themselves as a SaaS company actually, which is very different from framing yourself as kind of a consumer destination. The long and short of it is they see this opportunity, which is a growing market of independent creators around the world who are building fan bases, and for that particular type of SMB they want to provide essentially the full suite of tools and services that they need to run their businesses.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Connie Loizos: Hi, I’m Connie Loizos and I’d like to welcome you to our first Equity Dive. Once a month we’re going to be dedicating an entire episode to a deep dive into the life of one company. This month I’m joined by Eric Peckham, who has reported extensively on the crowd funding membership platform Patreon. Hi Eric.

Eric Peckham: Hey Connie, excited to be here for the first Equity Dive.

Connie Loizos: Same, so Eric you and I ran into each other first in Berlin but we don’t know each other very well. I’d love to hear more about you. You’re based in LA, and from what I understand you are a media industry analyst. Is that correct?

Eric Peckham: Yes, so I cover through both my own newsletter Monetizing Media, the happenings of the global media and entertainment industry. It’s kind of a very business minded lens on media and entertainment.

Connie Loizos: Well I read your extensive coverage on Patreon and it was really impressive, and I wondered considering how much you wrote, is this sort of a long interest of yours this company or how did you decide to settle on this for your first deep dive for TechCrunch?

Eric Peckham: Yes, it was an exciting process digging into this. We made a short list of exciting companies, a lot of unicorn companies or late stage startups we thought were about to become unicorns, and Patreon jumped out for a number of reasons. One is as someone who runs his own newsletter I have had subscribers to that newsletter suggest creating a Patreon. I’ve looked into it before, so I had a little bit of a creator perspective of just wanting to better understand Patreon and other options in the market. I think from a bigger picture, more of a Silicon Valley perspective, Patreon’s a really fascinating company. They’ve raised over $100 million from top PC firms like Index, CRV, they’re the dominant player in this space they’re targeting, but it’s kind of them versus just the big social media platforms. There isn’t the startup that’s comparable in size to it and it’s really trying to own this whole territory of independent content creators, surveying them with different business tools or services.

Connie Loizos: It is really interesting to think the David and Goliath story involves a $100 million venture backed startup versus, as you say, I know these big players Facebook, YouTube. Let’s start at the beginning, so you decided on Patreon for reasons that I can certainly understand now. How did you set about pitching them on this idea? Because obviously you were going to need a lot of access to them, a lot of their time.

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How I Podcast: The Moth’s Dan Kennedy

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The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs.

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Bullseye’s Jesse Thorn
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

This week, we’ve enlisted a host who straddles the line between pro-level public radio recordings and home studios. These days, Dan Kennedy is probably best known as the host of the podcast version of The Moth Radio Hour. For more than 20 years, The Moth has featured some of the most engaging, funny and thought-provoking names in long-form storytelling. The series’ latest collection of stories, The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories About Defying the Impossible, is out now.

Kennedy is also an author whose work has been published in McSweeney’s GQ and various other publications. He is also the author of several books, including “Loser Goes First: My Thirty-Something Years of Dumb Luck and Minor Humiliation,” “Rock On: An Office Power Ballad” and “American Spirit: A Novel.”

I don’t record The Moth Podcast here at home. We record that at the office studio downtown, or at Argot Studios, and we’ve had a ton of great producers over the years — Whitney Jones, Laura Haden, Timothy Lou Ly, Paul Ruest, Julia Purcell, to name a few. Home is where I record everything else in my world; audio versions of my McSweeney’s pieces for their Patreon site; freelance production and voice-over work for clients — usually cable networks; demos for new podcast ideas like this limited series idea me and some friends in L.A. pitched to Panoply and Audible and wherever else that might end up.

My rig here at home is a Rode NT 1000 mic, through an Onyx Blackjack, into Hindenburg Journalist. Super straightforward. I know a lot of people like SM58s and Yetis, but I’m in love with that Rode. I still have a Presonus TubePre, but I never use it anymore. There’s an old blue Anvil road case here that’s followed me through three or four apartments; the tomb of old gear from over the years — Oxygen midi controllers, old Line6 stuff, iRigs… When stuff finally breaks or becomes incompatible, that’s where it goes. I’m amazed by how much you can do at home now.

I came up through community radio in Seattle back in the day, 400 watts that would maybe reach to Kent on a good morning. You had to reserve the production studio at night if you wanted to record personal stuff. Or maybe you had one friend with a rack of preamps and reverb, a decent mic and a Tascam Portastudio, and you had to bring your ideas to their house and try to get something done. Now you can pretty much record anything at home and distribute it worldwide. It’s a very cool time to be making things.

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How I podcast: Bullseye’s Jesse Thorn

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The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs.

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

For week three, I’ve asked my longtime friend and professional podcaster, Jesse Thorn, to share his thoughts. “America’s Radio Sweetheart” is the host of several long-running shows, including NPR’s Bullseye and the comedy podcast, Jordan Jesse Go. He’s also the owner and proprietor of Los Angeles-based podcasting network Maximum Fun, which hosts a ridiculous number of shows, including Judge John Hodgman, My Brother, My Brother and Me and Oh No, Ross and Carrie.

He’s highlighted his unique setup with a requisite side order of Hyphy.

I bought this recording booth on Craigslist. For years, I recorded in my house, and walls lined with books and lots of soft furniture were enough to make my recordings sound passable, but then my wife told me to get an office. The intern in our living room kept waking up the baby.

The office is in a concrete loft building, very unforgiving for sound, so I ended up in a guy’s backyard in Harvard Heights, in central LA [checking out this booth]. He was a huge Samoan dude who’d run a Pacific Islander R&B label until his business partner went on tour as Justin Bieber’s vocal coach. I bought it for three grand, hired a guy with a van to bring it to the office and set it up, and we were in business.

Guests often comment on the booth — the spectrum runs from, “this is a little low-rent” to “what am I, in one of the Saw movies?” Honestly I think that helps keep our conversations human. It’s not quite soundproof; one of our producers is a particularly loud laugher and he ends up on the tape a lot. But honestly I kind of love it.

Also pictured: My lucky mug. It has E-40’s “In A Major Way” album cover on it.

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How I podcast: Effectively Wild’s Ben Lindbergh

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Last month, Spotify announced that it had paid $340 million for Gimlet and Anchor in a push to make its mark on podcasting. But while it’s encouraging to see media giants throw weight and money behind the medium, the beauty of the format has always been its accessibility.

It’s the rare form of entertainment that’s nearly as easy to create as it is to consume. And now, thanks to the proliferation of devoted hardware and software solutions, it’s never been easier. Podcast studios run the range from NPR to Skype chat and every variation in-between, with recording rigs every bit as diverse as the shows themselves.

After receiving some great feedback from my writeup of my own setup, I’ve reached out to some of my favorite podcasters to see what they’re working with. I’ll be highlighting some of those in the coming weeks, beginning with Ben Lindbergh, the host of my favorite baseball podcast, Effectively Wild.

For six and a half years and 1,341 episodes, the Fangraphs-produced show has offered an idiosyncratic look at the world of sabermetrics — statistically fueled baseball analytics. Host Ben Lindbergh is also a baseball writer at The Ringer, who has formerly written for Baseball Prospectus, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight.

[Above: Ben’s rig.]

I’m an East Coaster who’s been putting out podcasts with West Coast co-hosts for several years, recording roughly 1,500 episodes of various shows for The Ringer and via independent, Patreon-supported pursuits. I don’t have a whole lot of gear, relying largely on the ubiquitous Blue Yeti with a $30 shock mount (attached to a boom arm) and a $20 pop filter, both from Auphonix. (I do have a TASCAM, which occasionally comes in handy for more narrativereported pods.)

I use Cast to talk to and pull local audio from guests who can connect via computer, resorting to Skype and MP3 Skype Recorder when necessary for phone conversations. I use Audacity to edit, which works fine for me. My employers have helped with hosting and promotion, and Facebook has been best for building a community.

All told, it’s a simple, inexpensive setup, but with some care in the production process, it still sounds good. Remote recording has its hurdles, but given chemistry between co-hosts, repetition, practice and judicious editing, cross-country conversations can sound as intimate and natural as in-studio discussions. Sometimes it’s freeing to be far apart.

I’ve been working this way for so long that it now seems strange to be able to see the person(s) I’m podcasting with. If we’re doing it right, though, the listener won’t notice or mind that there’s a continent between us.

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How I podcast

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I’ve been podcasting in various forms for about a dozen years now. Sometimes it has been within the corporate confines of the various publications I’ve worked for and sometimes it has just been for myself. That’s the beauty of podcasting — there’s no overhead.

It can be recorded on a terrible Skype line or meticulously crafted by an army of producers. You can do it for five listeners or five million. Do a five-episode miniseries or suddenly look at the calendar one day and realize you’ve been putting up an episode a week for five years.

My current podcast, RiYL, falls into the latter category. Episode 322 just posted this weekend. That’s a lifetime in podcast years, and I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s no way the show would have lasted this long had I not assembled the proper gear.

It’s true that doing the show has been an ongoing process of refining my setup, both in terms of recording hardware and the software workflow, but the core components have been in place for a while. A number of my more successful friends have invested thousands to build home studios that sound as professional as any NPR affiliate.

For me, however, the key has always been mobility. I’ve fine-tuned a podcasting rig that sounds good, but is small enough to slip into a laptop sleeve. Leave no trace, as the saying goes.

The motivation dates back to the show’s humble beginnings (though, for the record, the first few episodes were done over Skype as I was still figuring things out). I realized pretty early on that getting touring artists and musicians to come to my place in Queens (with a few exceptions) was going to be a non-starter.

Piecing together a lightweight rig has given me the flexibility to meet people where they are, be it a hotel room, bar or their PR rep’s conference room. And now that I travel pretty regularly for work, it means I can easily slip the setup into a carry-on, so I can meet guests in their hometowns.

Here’s a photo of upcoming guest Hannibal Buress, recorded in my hotel room in Lagos, Nigeria. My setup is placed gingerly atop my overturned suitcase on a coffee table. He’s clearly impressed.

The other thing the setup has helped me realize is that people’s expectations for professionalism has shifted considerably in recent decades. My rig is small and simple, but various guests have commented over the years that they’re impressed. The last person who interviewed them had them speak into their iPhone.

At the very least, this is certainly better than that.

It’s not the end-all, be-all, by any stretch of the imagination. This is just what has worked for me. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of people — guests and otherwise — ask me what I use. Also, in the wake of last week’s Spotify acquisition of Anchor and Gimlet, podcasts are, once again, the hot newness. So now seemed like as good a time as any to get this all down on paper.

TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder ($170): This was my first acquisition and the one piece of hardware I’ve held onto through the duration of the show (though for the record, I’ve purchased it twice after an unfortunate incident with a lost backpack).

Zoom and Roland also make solid multi-track recorders that will probably be interchangeable for most. The key is finding a system you like that sports dual XLR mic inputs that you can monitor on the fly. They pretty much all have built-in mics, but you’re not going to want to rely on room mics for a podcast. It sounds like crap and it’s a nightmare to edit if you’ve got more than one speaker.

Recording works like a charm. The system records each mic to a left and right channel, which it saves as a WAV file on an SD card. Just make sure the mics are placed at a sufficient distance, so you don’t pick up too much cross talk.

Of course, here you’re limited to two mics. That’s been an issue at points when entire bands have wanted to join in on the fun. The aforementioned companies do make recorders with more inputs. Those are generally larger and a lot pricier, though.

Honorable mention here goes to the Rodecaster. The board is really great at what it does. We recorded an episode of TechCrunch Original Content on the thing, with it doing guest duties and producing in real time. The recent addition of multi-track recording makes this thing an absolute killer.

It has eight channels, including multiple mic inputs, triggerable sound pads and the ability to beam someone in via phone. If I was setting up a home studio on the cheap, I would shell out for one of these, no questions asked. That said, it’s just way too large for my current needs.

Weymic New Wm57 ($10): Okay, true story. Right after I bought the TASCAM, I invested in a pair of super-cheap mics. They sounded… OK, but the presentation was lacking. One afternoon, I went to Reggie Watts’ Brooklyn apartment to record an episode. I handed him a mic. He looked it over, moved it around in his hand a bit, then slyly unplugged it and reached into a drawer behind him, grabbed a mic and popped it on.

The guy knows from microphones.

My takeaway here is that presentation is important. Looks matter, as does weight. A microphone should have some heft to it. People’s expectations have lowered with regards to what an audio setup looks like, but you need good mics if pros are going to take you seriously.

I’ve since been through various mics, and lately I’ve settled on these things. For the record, they’re a wholesale knock-off of the Shure SM57 Cardioid Dynamic Microphone — the go-to microphone for podcasters. The SM57 is the thing I assume Marc Maron and Terry Gross would talk about if they had to share an Uber Pool to Silver Lake.

The Weymic looks nearly identical and sounds great for one-tenth the price. Don’t ask me how. And hey, I’m not exactly swimming in Casper ad revenue here. Also do yourself a favor and invest in a couple of foam windscreens to cut down on sibilance. You can get a bunch in a pack for cheap.

Universal Adjustable Desk Microphone Stand Portable Foldable Tripod (Two for $15): I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to add these to the repertoire. Guests jostle mics a lot during long interviews, and that stuff picks up. I’ve also had a number of older guests on the show, and asking them to hold a microphone for 45 minutes to an hour is just cruel.

These, picked up from Amazon, are super-cheap and fold up into nothing, making them perfect for my laptop-sleeve constraints. The only issues are: 1) They’re not great for super-tall guests. I recently had a member of the band Health on the show and ended up sticking the stand precariously atop a pile of several books; and 2) The screws loosen themselves like crazy for some reason, so I just purchased a pair of keychain screw drivers to keep them in check.

I pair all of that with a couple of six-foot XLR mic cables ($7 a piece for Amazon basics) and some velcro ties. Those fit nicely in the outside pocket of the laptop sleeve, along with backup batteries.

Audacity/Garage Band: Sometimes you just stick with the workflow you’ve got. I should probably upgrade to Adobe Audition (maybe this article will be what motivates me) one of these days, but I’ve been using Audacity for like 10 years at this point. It’s simple and it works fine for chopping up a show. That’s my biggest complaint with a number of the free apps like Anchor — they mostly suck when it comes to editing a show.

And editing is important. It’s true that another one of the wonderful things about podcasts is they can be as long or as short as you want, but everything can benefit from a little tightening up. I also spend a lot of time adjusting levels (often on the subway ride home). And make sure to record a little room tone to get rid of ambient noise in post.

After the show is edited, I export it as a single track and import it into my show template in Garage Band. That’s where I add the music beds, outros and the like.

Podbean: A couple of friends are launching a podcast soon. They asked me who I use for hosting. Podbean is something I found early on. I’m not sure I’d recommend the service, but I’m 300+ episodes deep at this point. There are a lot of options out there, so shop around a bit. Anchor is compelling for novices, including its built-in ad-servicing (though I’m a little wary of how the Spotify acquisition will play out) and a lot of my friends swear by Libsyn for more popular shows. Heck, even SoundCloud has a decent option.

Everyone has an embedded player and the means with which to syndicate to iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, et al.

I’ve found Podbean to be a bit clunky and the service has experienced a handful of outages. That said, recent additions have streamlined the program, and they’ve added some pretty decent analytics to the backend, so it’s definitely headed in the right direction. Once uploaded, I embed that into a Tumblr post.

Headliner: I’ve tried a number of speech visualizers for promoting the show. I found Anchor’s clunky. Wavve’s was decent, but they start charging you after your first 30-second clip. I only just started using Headliner this week, and it’s terrific. Easy to use, highly customizable and, best of all, free.

The transcriptions are okay for a free service (you’re going to have to clean them up) and the online editing tools are great. I think I’m sticking with this one for a while.

Additional shout-outs to Google Drive. The first thing I do after transferring files from my desktop is back them up here. It’s the one place where I’ve got all my files and has helped quite a bit with scheduling episodes.

YouTube is another recent experiment for me. I’ve been syndicating the show to all of the usual places, as mentioned above, but it recently occurred to me that people use the video platform to listen to audio programs. I asked a bunch of folks on Facebook and found it to be surprisingly popular. This will become increasingly important as more people purchase screen-sporting assistants like Google Home Hub and the Amazon Show. It’s a new thing for me and I’ve only got a handful of subscribers at the moment, but I’ll let you know how that goes.

I do still find myself recording remotely from time to time. Auto podcaster extraordinaire Kirsten recently introduced me to Zencastr, which is great for this purpose, recording each caller remotely and backing up those files to a server. If I’m using Skype, I go with the old standby, Ecamm’s Call Recorder, to record locally.

I’ve also become attached to Blue’s Raspberry USB mic for this purpose. It’s adorable and tiny, so you can stash it in a backpack for travel. It’s not the best-sounding mic, but it’s good for its size and it sounds a hell of a lot better than the company’s Yeti Nano. Rode’s got a company of models with optional windscreens I’ve been meaning to check out as well, but I’ve heard good things.

If you’re hip to any new tools you think I should check out, hit me up on Twitter at @bheater. I’m always looking for ways to step up my game.

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