This question comes from my Quora profile, a platform we answer a lot of randomly submitted questions on, and was originally “What do you need for a podcast studio?” I thought it would be fun to outline exactly what we needed and how we got started. It’s useful and it’s a good story.
A few years back
In 2015 I was producing a semi-popular podcast called the Legends Myths and Whiskey podcast, had been a private podcaster for five years, and had produced a total of seven podcasts, two of which were financially successful. In a lot of ways 2015 is when I was just starting to get good — or, as the kids say:
A couple of podcasters approached me and said something to the effect of
Hey, your podcast sounds really good. Would you mind making ours sound good too?
Five-years into podcasting and I was definitely still suffering from imposter syndrome — it felt very strange that I was being approached like this as I didn’t think I was good enough to be trusted to do what I did for myself for others.
I wound up helping those podcasters, they were happy with my work, and they started paying me $30 an episode. At the time I was working a full-time job as an IT Engineer at a small MSP in West Palm Beach, Florida. I made decent money there but it was the sort of decent that didn’t stick around once all the bills were paid, so it was nice to have an extra $300 a month.
Eventually these two podcasters retired their productions and no longer needed my help, but I had learned that Podcast Editing, for me, was a viable way to make extra income and so I sought out additional clients, which I found. It’s now about 2017.
Some unfortunate family events happened around this time and I wound up moving out of my home an into a small camper with my girlfriend and my dog. Production on the Legends Myths and Whiskey podcast necessarily halted but I was able to hang on to the four podcasting clients I had, which was a good thing because those aforementioned unfortunate family events put a big strain on my girlfriend and I’s income. To define “strain” a bit: we went from living in a 3br 2ba house to living in a 30’x10′ camper in my Mother-in-Laws backyard. We were there for 8-months and, as you might well imagine, it was a challenging time in many respects.
Fast-forwarding through those 8-months and I found work in Portland, Maine. The relocation was expensive and difficult but we made it work. It was December 2017.
Unfortunately, and almost immediately, I realized that the job I’d relocated for was the wrong job for me. This was unfortunate because in addition to my financial thin ice the last year had put me on, I had really believed this particular job would be the answer to a lot of existential/philosophical troubles I had been preoccupied by over that previous three years of so. This tossed me into a bout of heavy depression and I felt as though I’d taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and lost my way.
This lasted into the Fall of 2018.
A ridiculous idea
In September of 2018 a friend of mine joked about a small abandoned ATM space, fully enclosed and off to the side of a building’s breezeway, being the perfect place for a podcast studio. I laughed and told him to shut up.
But then I thought about it. Maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea. It’s only 60sqft, but how much space would I need? I could a little podcast pod… it could be Portland’s podcasting pod… it could the The Portland Pod.
It’s important to note that at this point as I was not producing any of my own podcasts and was operating only as an editor for other podcasters and only in a part-time capacity. I also had no equipment. I’d sold all the equipment I had in my small personal studio in Florida to afford the relocation (and things related to it). All I had was a laptop, Avid Pro Tools, and (at that point) four clients.
I reached out to the owner of the building and was surprised to find that the idea resonated with him and that he’d give me 8-months rent-free in the space to figure out if it worked. I was blown away. It hinged on other tenants in the building approving the concept though, and that proved difficult. Ultimately the Portland Pod would not find a home in that small space.
Fortunately I had been scouting for a “Studio B” that might be better suited for guests. I had hoped to have a Studio A for post-production work and a Studio B for hosting interviews and having guests. The hoped for benefit was that I’d get the foot traffic of Portland with the parking and calmness of South Portland. As it turned out, I only got that latter. The Portland Pod found home within the SoPoCo.Works co-working space on Broadway near Cash Corner. Something that James LaPlante, SoPoCo Works’ owner and founder, deserves a lot of thanks for. I approached many other coworking space owners about a partnership, James was the only one who saw the vision and believed in it.
But I still had little money and no equipment. I needed both of those things if I was going to open a podcasting studio.
It’s now October 2018.
Good work paid off.
Crowdfunding was an obvious solution but I didn’t know anyone in Maine, not really. I’d grown up in NH but I’d lived in Florida for the previous 25+ years — I didn’t have any connections and I didn’t have influence, it was extremely unlikely that I’d be able to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign. Then I had an idea.
At that time I charged my clients $300 a month. My hourly rate was below minimum wage, and my work was really good. If I approached the four clients I had and offered them a year of service ($3600) at 50% off ($1800 a year or $150 a month) in exchange for an up front payment for all of 2019 I’d have a budget to build out the studio.
Three of them bit and one of them was so motivated to see me succeed that they paid the full year upfront at the standard rate.
Inside of two weeks I had raised nearly $9K.
$5K of that went strictly to the build out of the studio. $2K went to equipment. and the rest went to marketing. By January 1, 2019 I had a minimally suitable studio. My last day at the job I mentioned earlier was February 1st. I took out a small independent loan of $10K, finished the upgrades I needed and formally registered The Portland Pod, LLC on February 15th 2019 with a brand recognition rate of 3% within Cumberland County.
So, what did it cost to open the Portland Pod?
In dollars and cents for space, furniture, and gear, about $14K. All in, with licensing, software, advertising, services, etc, about $23K — but it cost more than money.
From September 2018 to February 1st 2019 I woke up at 3am to work on the Portland Pod until 6am when I would get ready to go to my day job where I’d work until 5pm. After work I’d return to the studio, or to Starbucks, or to my apartment, to work from 6pm to 9pm on the Portland Pod. On the weekends I’d work 9am to 6pm. It took nearly 6-months of mostly 18-hours days. It also took an aggressive approach to social media and a willingness to put myself out there even though putting myself out there wasn’t something I felt really comfortable doing. It also took a lot lot of discipline and a willingness to de-prioritize everything, and I mean everything, that wasn’t the Portland Pod.
Opening the Portland Pod took the same thing it takes to open any business, but maybe in differing amounts.
- A history you can leverage to convince investors they can trust you. For me, those investors were my pre-existing clients from 2017.
- An idea you are willing to commit yourself to. I took a chance on a 60sqft ATM space in downtown Portland. Even though that space didn’t work out, my absurd belief in the concept got me take the first step and keep stepping after the first step didn’t get me all the way there.
- A willingness to risk, and a willingness to accept the suffering you will experience if your risk leads to failure. There was no guarantee that any of this would work. There were times where I thought I was sunk, where I thought my car would be repossessed or I’d be evicted from my apartment. I decided at the start I had no choice: I was going to jump and there was either going to be a pile of pillows at the end of my fall or a bunch of rocks, but I had already jumped and there was no falling up.
- Luck AND hard work. We’re all presented with a path to walk, and that path is beset on all sides by influences of all kinds, experience of all kinds, and each path is different for each person. Some influences are good and some are bad, but we have to interact with them all the same. That’s the luck part, we can’t control that. However, it matters what we do with the things that happen to us and the people we come across. That’s the hard work part — we can control how we deal with the things we can’t control. Accept that you can be lucky or unlucky — also accept that you still have some agency in this world, and that it’s up to you to exercise it.
If you’re thinking about starting a commercial podcasting studio, I think you should, but only if you really want to, only if you’re really passionate about it. I think you should only ever choose to make a living doing what you’re passionate about — if, that is, you have a choice.
Hope this is helpful. Take care.