Thursday, July 31, 2014

Inside Dope: Behind the Scenes of the LAST and FINAL Episode of DopeStories [Ep. 27 - This Is The End]

Los Angeles, CA

Sometimes you have to pull the plug. But, sometimes you have to pull the plug early when things are going good, before things get really bad.

I hate to use a poker metaphor here, but we're cashing out while we're ahead. After 27 episodes (and one special episode of Broke Stories), we're officially pulling the plug on Dope Stories podcast.

But why? The short answer: Money, time, and professionalism.

Shane explained more in his post Dope Stories Denouement.

We both want to continue with Dope Stories, but last month we reached a crossroads. In order to continue for the rest of 2014, we needed a huge influx of capital, which we could get from a major crowdfunding campaign. But that would require us to pester y'all for money. Like really pester y'all. Spam your inboxes. Be annoying on Twitter. Yadda yadda yadda. It's easy to say, "Just Kickstarter it!" Sure, all of our friends suggested that route, but we all know that after a week or so, everyone can't wait for the Kickstarter campaign to end so we'll stop spamming and pestering them. Yes, Kickstarter works in theory... but in reality, it's a major pain in the ass with zero guarantees of working.

Look, media consumers rarely pay for content. It's the way the world works right now. We didn't get into Dope Stories for the money. It was truly a labor of love. I didn't get paid a cent. Neither did Shane. Except, Shane shelled out at least one buy-in to the WSOP Main Event in order to launch Dope Stories and keep the podcast on the air for a half a year.

Jeez, we were slightly uncomfortable asking for donations as is via PayPal, but we were really squeamish about launching a Kickstarter or something similar.  The two biggest concerns were... 1) only small percentage of listeners will actually donate, and 2) if we ask for a lot of money and miraculously get it, then we really have to deliver on a second batch of episodes... I mean, really deliver. No time for filler... every episode had to be killer and have a well-known guest. That was the uphill battle that we thought we were ready to fight, but in all honesty, we did not think we could pull it off. It was a struggle just to keep our heads above water and provide weekly content... we knew it was going to be a near-impossible task to pull off another 26 episodes, let alone kick-ass ones.

To clarify... we didn't think we could get close to raising the necessary funds to continue. But if we somehow managed to get the money, we did not think we could consistently provide great episodes. It's one thing to give away a meh episode for free... it's a whole other thing if someone paid for that meh-ness.

I've been on the front lines of the art vs. commerce war for two decades. It's always a bloody mess. Whenever money enters the equation, shit gets fucked up. My biggest concern was the direction of the podcast... we maintained a sense of purity and integrity by 100% controlling out artistic vision by producing the shows we wanted to talk about. But once money starts flowing in from external sources... either via advertisers, patrons, or crowdfunding... things get weirdly complicated and you immediately lose control because the people holding the money strings are always looming overhead. All of a sudden every artistic decision is really disguised as a money decision. You become dependent on the funding, which comes with a hidden cost because you're also getting artistically castrated. Once you start worrying about upsetting the audience or pissing off the money people... then you stop taking chances and lose your prime directive. That's when your artistic vision gets hijacked. I've been in that unsettling position more times that I can count in the last decade. When you're on the wrong side of art/commerce battle lines, it is a miserable and insufferable existence. We didn't want to get dragged into that quagmire, so we opted out of the battlefield.

So while things were great, we decided to end things now before things got really ugly and we lost artistic control by bringing in advertisers (which were extremely difficult to find, even with legal weed in Colorado and Washington state). I'm sure the climate will be much cooler in the future (with more tolerance and push toward national legalization), but at the present moment we hit a brick wall to trying to develop relationships with long-term advertisers that had cash to give us (instead of merchandise and vapor pens). As we anticipated, normal companies and business wanted to be nowhere near us and associated with a "drug" podcast. But we didn't expect a huge difficulty factor in trying to attract pot-associated businesses, who were also reluctant to get involved. I really don't blame them either. With rare exceptions, podcasting is impossible to monetize. Shit, anything creative is impossible to monetize.

The stigma of a "drug podcast" is what also made it difficult to book guests. We had plenty of interest from potential guests, but a few got gunshy. The few that came on? They were awesome. But for the folks who got scared off at the last moment, I don't blame them. But it was just a part of doing business. Unless we could overcome that stigma of being a drug podcast, it difficult to truly have a rational discussion about drug use, especially in a country that is ruled by fear mongers.

It's essential to be ahead of the curve... and we were. But Dope Stories was still a too far ahead of the curve. We debated whether or not it was worth holding out until the rest of the curve caught up to us, but that would have been a costly decision.

Shane wrestled with one of the most difficult decisions of his life... to end Dope Stories after 27 episodes. He funded this entire adventure by himself, which included startup capital to purchase the equipment, website/hosting, and some consulting fees to help us get off and running. Each episode was not cheap. Shane had to shell out somewhere around $250 per week to cover production costs. Yes, Dope Stories was not a cheap podcast to produce, but we wanted to work with one of the best producers in the business, DJ Trent.

Even if we were able to reduce production costs, we were still in the hole. Big time. Donations only covered about 10% of total production costs. We could have hired a cheaper producer, but we were concerned that the overall sound quality would be compromised.

We both wanted to continue. For the record, I did not want to quit and tried to find some middle ground. I initially suggested that we take a break for a few months and end season 1 of Dope Stories and during the hiatus we'd launch a crowdfunding campaign for Season 2. However, for the reasons I stated earlier, even if we got the money, did we have what it takes to really pull off a better season 2? That's when self-doubt creeps and once that fucker sets up shop, he's impossible to shake loose.

It's fiscally wise to stop now at 27 episodes before we went deeper into debt. Sucks to stop after a half of year of episodes, but these episodes don't magically produce themselves. It requires a significant amount of time and money. Shane's out of money and I'm out of time. But even if we were able to alleviate our financial constraints, we'd still have to face scheduling issues for the last quarter of 2014. Life gets in the way of art, and in this instance, I have a book to finish editing and a couple of big trips on the horizon. If we continued for the rest of 2014, then we'd have to scramble and record several canned episodes and do call-in shows from the road via Skype, in which audio is always compromised and there's always some sort of technical issue.

Yep, we found out the hard way... producing an original hour-long weekly show was more than we could handle. We bit off more than we could chew. Now, I know why Hollywood schedule shows for 26 episodes (or 13-episode seasons on cable) and even those are spread out over seven or even eight months of production.

We probably will do a one-off episode in the future, but for now Dope Stories is dunzo as a weekly format every Thursday. We cranked out 27 episodes (plus a bonus episode - Broke Stories - on April Fools Day), which is truly an amazing feat. So many people in LA talk shit about projects they're gonna do, but very few people have the balls to try to pull it off.

Kudos to Shane for have gigantic balls and for putting himself out there. He took a ton of guff for being honest, which was insanely inspiring. Shane stopped by my office once a week to have an open, raw, and brutally honest discussion about drugs in our lives and in society. We never backed down from the moment we turned on the microphones until this final moment. It was tons of fun and I'm gonna miss our weekly discussions.

Time for some thanks...

Thanks to our donors. Y'all rock. We probably would have ended the podcast around Memorial Day if it weren't for a small group of you who helped keep us afloat the last month. And special thanks to a guy named Sonny for a super generous donation. I will be discrete and I will not name all of our donors, but you know who you are, and I'm eternally grateful.

Thanks to our listeners. Without you, it's just me and Shane sitting in my office talking to each other about drugs. Our initial goal was to be "two dudes in a room talking" but thanks for taking an hour out of your week to listen to us ramble on.

Many thanks to friends and family for their support. Due to the sensitive nature of the podcast, I totally understand why many of you did not vocalize your support by publicly sharing us/liking us via social media. The entire point of Dope Stories was an attempt to break down those antiquated stigmas so you could 'like' a drug podcast without being judged, but unfortunately, we still live in a time when petty stuff like that matters to judgmental people. But to the silent majority... thank you for your support behind closed doors.

Special thanks to any of my friends that I mentioned in various stories on the podcast.... I left out your names to protect your identity, but I sincerely thank you for being a part of the wacky adventures.

Extra-special thanks goes out to our significant others.... Shane's wife Shelia and my girlfriend... for putting up with this crazy idea and giving us advice when we needed it the most.

Thanks to all of our guests... Dr. Carl Hart, Greg Merson, Jordan Morgan, Sean Azzariti, my girlfriend, and the duo from High Maintenance -- Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld. To all of our guests who were in line to get interviewed... my deepest and sincerest apologies. I'm sorry we quit before we had time to chat.

Thanks to our producer, DJ Trent, for making us sound awesome. Sincere honor to work with someone of his caliber. Seriously, he's great and he really DJs weddings. Hire him. You won't be disappointed.

Without a doubt, special thanks goes out to Shane for following through on his vision. He funded this entire operation on his own and I'm grateful he invited me along on this wild ride. This is one of the coolest things I've ever done... creatively or otherwise... so thanks for conceiving Dope Stories.

* * * *
So about Episode 27 - This Is The End....

We spent the first segment explaining why we're ending the run. We also spent some time reminiscing about our favorite moments from the show. We actually had a regular segment on the New York Times Op/Ed on why it's time to legalize marijuana. Since it was the final episode and the last chance to tell a story, I decided to reveal the one and only time I dropped acid during the WSOP. It happened to be one of the craziest days of the summer... the day Phil Hellmuth dressed up like Julius Caesar (which I wrote about on Tao of Poker in an entry titled Welcome to the Psychedelic Circus. Our final Dope Media picks included.... Drunken History, WTF podcat with Amazing Johnathan, Graham Hancock's banned TedTalk, and all of my books including upcoming novel Fried Peaches.

And here's the setlist for Episode 27...

Listen/stream the final episode....

Download link for Episode 27.

Subscribe to Dope Stories on iTunes.

Listen to previous shows with full description of every episode... DOPE STORIES - EPISODE GUIDE.

Also, check out other Inside Dope posts, which give you a behind the scenes look at the development of each episode.

Here's Inside Dope for interviews we conducted...
Inside Dope - Ep 7: Greg Merson (WSOP Champion)
Inside Dope - Ep 8: Dr. Carl Hart
Inside Dope - Ep 11: Sean Azzariti
Inside Dope - Ep 16: Ben Sinclar and Katja Blichfeld from High Maintenance
Inside Dope - Ep 22: Jordan Morgan
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  1. Totally understand your reasons but it's a real shame that's the end of the podcast. I'm still catching up on your back episodes and there's truly not been a dull or meh one yet.I could listen to you both just shooting the shit all day long.Thanks for all the hard work you put into it and I'll definitely be keeping an ear out for any future one off specials.

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