On making it work as a creator and a parent

By Brian Keller

In this episode, the host of a podcast devoted to “Magic: The Gathering” talks about cultivating a community on Discord, making time as a parent, and becoming a full-time creator.

Having pivoted from acting to full-time content creation — across podcasting, streaming, YouTube, writing, and coaching — Ethan Saks, co-host of podcast Lords of Limited, shares how he does it all. Getting paid to do what you’re passionate about sounds great. But how do you achieve that while trying to grow your online community and showing up as a parent?

In this episode of Backstage with Patreon, Brian Keller, Patreon’s Director of Creator Success, chats with Ethan about how he and co-host Ben Werne, navigate the tremendous changes that come with life as a full-time creator.

Subscribe to Backstage with Patreon on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or directly via RSS. We’re on Twitter @PatreonPodcast. Join the discussion about the episode in the Patreon Creator Community Discord

Episode transcript

Brian Keller:
Hello, creators. You are Backstage with Patreon, where we open the curtain on how to build a thriving business on Patreon. I'm Brian Keller from the Creator Success Team. Today's guest is Ethan Saks, co-host of the Lords of Limited podcast, one of the biggest shows for the collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering. He pivoted from an acting career to full-time content creation across podcasting, streaming, YouTube, writing, and coaching. The Lords of Limited Patreon community has been at the core of the growth of the show and helped Ethan and co-host, Ben, navigate the many changes that come from life as a creator.

Let's get started with Ethan Saks on Backstage with Patreon and start with one of those big milestones. A few months back, you guys celebrated your 300th episode, and I thought you did something really cool. You turned the microphone on yourself. You had family members talk about your background in history with this game, Magic: The Gathering. Tell me about that kind of approach to celebrate the milestone that way. Because I think some creators enjoy that. Some creators are very nervous about doing something like that.

Ethan Saks:
That's a great question. Well, the game Magic: The Gathering basically works in these cycles of every few months a new group of cards comes out. The group of cards that we were covering during the 300th episode, or that overlapped with our 300th episode, was called The Brothers' War. The abbreviation, there's always a three-letter abbreviation for each set, was BRO.

Ben and I have a very similar background. We both have older brothers who got us into the game. We take a very focused, no-nonsense approach week by week. When we have these milestones ... I feel like we get one Q&A episode a year. We get one sort of ability to shake that off and peel back the curtain a little bit and show some personal sides of ourselves from the show. For the 300th episode, overlapping with BRO, we were like, "Why don't we have our brothers on to talk about them getting us into the game?"

Brian Keller:
What kind of reaction did you get from your audience taking something that was quite different than your usual content for the milestone?

Ethan Saks:
We always get really good feedback on those kinds of episodes. For a while, actually, one of our stretch goals was getting a monthly bonus episode. For those bonus episodes, when we were doing them, we had the opportunity to do interviews. One time, we interviewed each other to do some, again, less hyper-focused strategic content type shows. We've always gotten really good feedback on that.

We're very lucky. We have such a wonderfully supportive community of an audience. But I think because we don't take those episodes lightly, in terms of, "We couldn't really figure out what we wanted to talk about this week, so we'll just do a mailbag style episode," or whatever ... We really take our responsibility to our listeners. Because we do that, I think they give us that leeway when we're like, "Actually, we want to pivot to do something a little different."

Magic attracts a kind of person. I think a lot of people come to the game, go away from it, come back to it. I'm in my mid-thirties. My cohost and I were born about a month apart. We have very similar origin stories and that resonated with a lot of our listeners as well. A lot of people who, "I remember when my brother got me into it." Or, "I'm teaching my son about magic now." Or anything like that. We had a lot of really cool personal stories as a result of doing that episode.

Brian Keller:
I think it's a good general principle in any area where you're making a podcast video or this kind of content. That story is really interesting. Even if you don't share that normally on the show, once you've built that audience and community, it is something special to decide when you want to unleash that and get into it. There's so many examples you have. Once you let your audience into that, it's really a special way to enrich it and add more to it.

Ethan Saks:
I totally agree.

Brian Keller:
Well, let's actually rewind the clock a little bit and talk about some of those earlier stages where you were deciding when to make the big jump to doing the podcast at all. Deciding to go from part-time to full-time. What were the biggest moments there? How did you make those decisions?

Ethan Saks:
Gosh. Both my co-host and I started streaming on Twitch. Magic: The Gathering is a paper card game, for folks who don't know. It started 30 years ago in the '90s and now has a digital platform as well, which is where I primarily play. I was streaming that on Twitch and I met my co-host through that platform. He and I basically hadn't met in-person until about eight months into doing the podcast. We just got very lucky. Sort of rolled the dice like, "Hey. I want to start a show." "Hey. I'll do that too. Let's meet up and I think we can probably make this work."

Certainly, if we hadn't found each other as very good friends and good coworkers, I'm sure we would not have reached that 300th episode of a milestone a few months back. We decided to start the show with no aspirations other than just as a creative outlet, I would say, for myself. Certainly, with Twitch being our primary platform for both of us ... Never thought that the podcast would be our primary focus, would be where we would garner our largest audience.

I'm sure this wasn't on either of our radars, but as I am now currently a full-time content creator and have been for a few years, it's the biggest piece of the pie. And that's largely due to our support via Patreon. That was about, I would say, six months after we started the podcast. We started it in July of 2017. I think it was just around December of that year. We had gotten about ... I don't know. Half a dozen emails of folks saying, "Hey." I think this is probably how a lot of people start.

Just folks saying, "Hey. Really love your show. Wanted to support you guys on Patreon. Didn't see that you had a page." The first time you get one of those, you're like, "That's pretty cute. That's nice. That's sweet." And then, you get about six of them and you're like, "Okay. If that's what people want to do, great." And then, never really thought that it would grow into where it is now. We'll be at six years doing the show in just a couple of months, which is kind of crazy.

Brian Keller:
Let's dig in a little bit on those different ways you build out a career and a business around content creation here. I mentioned a little bit in the intro, you do writing, you do coaching, you do some of these other things.

Ethan Saks:

Brian Keller:
What's the way you think about that approach or that strategy to build up enough revenue, enough different ventures that you're doing to really make it all work for you and Ben and anyone else involved?

Ethan Saks:
Well, it's going to be certainly a unique and different story for everybody. I, as you said, have a background in acting. That's what I have my degree in. I've been a professional actor on and off for the past, whatever, decade-ish. As an actor, you have a lot of different jobs. Everybody knows about the actor who's a waiter or a bartender. So I've had my serving career and I've done test prep tutoring and piecemeal jobs.

I've done bookkeeping and payroll stuff for companies. Whatever. You sort of piece together a life. You cobble together income, so that when the job comes, when you do book a show, you can go, "Okay. I'm going to put that on hold and I can go do that." Part of that shift from doing that life to content creation was ... You want to be an actor, because you want to get paid to do what you love. I kind of get to do that now. So it feels like the pivot was pretty natural.

In terms of the practicalities of it, I certainly wanted to do it before it was probably financially responsible to do so. I remember talking to my wife about a year prior to when I finally made this jump and she wasn't buying it. She was like, "I don't see where this ... You're streaming 20 hours a week already. Is this extra money really going to come from you doing it 30 hours a week?" I was doing the podcast at that point, making some money from Patreon.

By the time that I was doing it, I had basically gone down to my bartending job being about one day a week. I was like, "We're not really making that much from this one day." So it was a real slow, gradual shaving away of other things till it was ... At the core of everything, making money from streaming, from podcasting, from coaching, piecing these other things together. It felt like, "I think I can just focus wholly on this content creation side and see how it rides."

Honestly, that was pretty fortuitous, because that was about six months before the lockdown from COVID in 2020. I think about how fortunate it was that I was able to have that. My life didn't change. I was already working fully remotely from home. Streaming during the day, podcasting and editing on the weekend. Everything I did, all of the ways I made money were from home. I was thinking, "Man. What would my life be like if I was relying on bartending or acting or those other sorts of streams of revenue at this time?"

And then, it just rode on from there. Things come and things go. Patreon subscriptions. They come in and then they go away. But I never made the plunge as a sort of blind dive. The foundation had been laid pretty heavily before I made the quote, unquote, "Plunge."

Brian Keller:
Let's go in a little bit deeper on a couple of different revenue streams, because I've seen how your show has evolved in a couple of different ways. You didn't start out doing ads and now you do host with ads. Tell me about that process of deciding to do that. But also, you put a lot of creativity in to do that and connect it with the content of your show.

Ethan Saks:
We have been fortunate enough for most of the lifetime of our show to have a Magic-related sponsor. We'll shout them out and direct people towards that website to buy the cards that they want or get the product that they need. About ... I don't know. Now, it's maybe two years ago. I'm a little fuzzy on the timeline here. We were approached by a website called Audioboom, which is a website that hosts podcasts.

For folks that don't know, you always have to find a website that hosts your podcast feed and that's where you upload your show. And then, that website will disperse it throughout all of the various platforms to iTunes and Spotify and whatever. All those different places where you will then find the show to listen to. We were approached by Audioboom and not only are they a place to host podcasts, but they essentially are a go-between. A sort of manager or agent for podcasts and places that are interested in advertising on podcasts.

They approached us. They were interested in a show like ours. Something that was niche gaming content, because they find that ... And this is true and this is what we have found from the support we've received on Patreon. Because our show is niche, we have a cap on the amount of people that will listen to our show. People who are listening to me on this podcast right now are interested in this content, but they're not going to be like, "You know what? I'm going to go check out Ethan's podcast, Lords of Limited." No. If you're not deeply entrenched in the game of Magic: The Gathering, our show is not going to be for you.

My lovely wife, who is incredibly supportive, is not a gamer. She hears me talk about this all day, all the time. She has no idea. It sounds like a foreign language to her. It's completely indiscernible. My point is that people who are interested in this stuff, they are interested in supporting that content. Very niche, but very hyper-focused content usually garners support. In talking to you or perhaps ... I did one of the Patreon Boot Camps about a year or so ago. You will find that your listeners, people who engage with your content, for us, it's our listeners ... The ratio of listeners to supporters on Patreon is actually quite high, because of the kind of content that we do.

We've capped our overall exposure to listeners, but the percentage of our listeners who are interested in supporting that show and really engaging with that content in that way is quite high. So that's one of the reasons that Audioboom was interested in our show, and they've been a really fantastic partner in terms of letting us guide what we want to do. How it works is they basically will say, "Hey. This product is interested in advertising on your show." We can say, "Yes, we're interested in that." Or we can say, "No, we're not interested in that." We never get any sort of pushback.

And then, if we are interested and the product is interested, then they'll buy some number of ad spots on our show. And then, we'll be given a loose copy. Anyone who listens to podcasts, this is sort of the norm now. Podcasts are a free medium. My philosophy at the time was, "This is how I will get a raise as a creator." I know that some people will have adverse reactions to advertising on shows, but by and large, this is just how ... Running ads on your Twitch page is how you make money, really.

Running ads on your podcast is how you're going to make money. Certainly, not to undercut the support that we have from Patreon, but the additional revenue cannot be denied. The importance of that additional revenue can't really be denied. And so, it's been a great fit for us with Audioboo of like, "Hey. Do you want to do this?" "Yes, we do." We get a loose bullet point copy of, "Here are the things you want to cover," but you're really encouraged to put your own personal spin on it.

The products that go to Audioboom and Audioboom, the people that work there, they trust that you know how to engage with your listeners. That's how you've gotten your audience, and so they trust you to be able to speak to them. And so, Ben and I, we were a little maybe ... As we were in the beginning of our podcasting career, probably a little stiff. A little cold. And then, as we've warmed up to the idea of doing these ad reads, gotten more comfortable with them and each other. We have a lot of fun with them and I think that resonates with our listeners as well.

Brian Keller:
I think that's really valuable, walking through that thought process. Different listeners on our show may be at different stages of that. Just getting started or already doing these kinds of ads or thinking about that as another opportunity for them.

But let's talk more about your community on Patreon. You engage with them on Discord using our integration. You have a really active audience there. Tell our listeners a little bit more about what you do with them and what it's like to have that community.

Ethan Saks:
Oh, boy. The Discord community that we have is just truly incredible. I can't talk about it enough. I'm assuming most people out there who are listening to this know, but Discord is basically this giant chat room. We have it basically pay-walled, I guess, is the way you would call it. Folks who are subs to us on Patreon get exclusive access to that Discord. No one else can get in there.

And it's a community. Our show is very focused on the strategic side of the game, and so our discord reflects that. It's folks who are really interested in getting into that nitty-gritty strategic aspect of Magic: The Gathering. I shout it out every week on the show as the best 24/7 tech support for Magic on the internet. And it's true because it's popping off all day, every day.

Certainly in the early stages of it, as that being the base level reward that folks got for giving back to the show via Patreon, Ben and I were in there a lot. We were really trying to engage with our listeners. We wanted to make sure that they were getting their money's worth. Certainly, we are still available for folks if they want to tag us there, but the Discord is so far beyond ... It's such a larger community than we could ever possibly keep tabs on.

There's so many channels now. Not only are there strategic aspect channels, but there was a major tournament earlier this month, where we had a watch party channel so people could chat about what they were seeing live on the stream with the folks in the Discord community. We have a channel where people can post food pictures. I have another podcast about Survivor, so we have a channel in there where people can talk about Survivor. I'm a new parent. We have a channel in there where Magic parents can talk to each other about the struggles and the joys of being a parent of a newborn.

So it really is something that we started out as a community of folks that was focused on this game and we've really stepped back ... I think of myself as a proud parent of that community saying, "Okay. I'm just going to sort of let this breathe." We have a great community of moderators in there who really feel like they've got their feet on the ground of the Discord a lot more.

We trust them to let us know what needs to be done. We have some folks doing the technical aspect of things as well, as you talked about, the integration of Patreon to Discord. Sometimes that gets a little fudged up. We want to make sure that people can get access immediately, but by and large, that's not an issue. And so, it's just really a great community. Honestly, if I could go back ... That's sort of our base level. The minimum. If you give back to the show, you get access to the Discord.

I think it's probably our most valuable thing that we give people. And if I was a terrible person, if I only cared about the money, I would bump that up to some higher ... You'd have to give a little bit more to get access to the Discord. But I can't do it. That would just feel too terrible. But that community that we've cultivated is the biggest reward that we can give people from giving back on Patreon.

Brian Keller:
My team helps a lot of creators think about the Discord integration community. Of course, you have that tension, "Should you charge more for that?" But there's something special about it being something that unites all of your paid members on Patreon and really becomes part of it there.

Ethan Saks:
That's such a great way to think about it.

Brian Keller:
Well, there's time you could spend on Discord. You could spend more hours editing bonus content. You could stream more hours. There's no cap to what you do there. How do you make some of those trade-offs and decisions? That might lead us a little bit also into your time management and prioritization now that you are a new dad.

Ethan Saks:
Yeah. I guess we can talk about it in two phases. We can talk about it pre my son Jonah and post. Pre-Jonah, it's hard. Like you said, as any creator and certainly any full-time creator, or anyone who's creating part-time with the hopes of doing it full-time, you can spend as much time doing it as you want. The trick is understanding the scalability of things. Or perhaps the direct ... Maybe thinking back to what my wife was saying, "You make X amount streaming 20 hours a week. If you quit bartending and you're streaming 35 hours a week or you stream 40 hours a week? Are you going to make twice as much?"

No. The time investment there ... There's a base level of people are going to support you or not. They're not going to support you twice as much financially if you're streaming twice as many hours. So in terms of what you do hours-wise and in terms of where your energy is platform-wise. Are you focusing on Twitch? Are you focusing on YouTube? Are you focusing, as you said, on podcasting and bonus content?

As I said, Patreon has been the core of our income and is the biggest piece of the pie for me. In addition to all of the other smaller revenue streams that I have. We've tried a number of things and certainly poked around at other creators' reward tiers. Tried to figure out, "Okay. What can we do? What amount of access can we give our listeners to us that is sustainable and scalable?" One of the things that we recently had to do, our highest reward tier was you would get an hour of coaching with one of the hosts per month.

And that felt great. At the time, that reward tier that we had, I was like, "No one's ever going to give us $10 an episode. That's crazy." Well, then people started to do that. And then, when you're doing that 15, 20 hours a month, you start to think, "Is this really the best use of my time in terms of reaching my audience? In terms of building other pieces of content or whatever?"

And so, we had to make the hard decision to then bump that up even higher to a new amount that we thought was, "No one will ever spend this amount of money to do this." With the full knowledge of, "Hey. We're going to lose a lot of people at this tier. We probably aren't going to be able to keep them at this tier with something comparable." Certainly, we were very upfront with all of the folks at that tier. I think our transparency has been one of our biggest assets. Transparency with our community is a big boon for us.

A lot of the things that we've talked about ... You alluded to this or maybe we'll touch on this a little bit. We recently lost one of our main sponsors for the show, and that was not something that was our decision and was something that we also struggled with. Well, how do we want to present this to our listeners? Ultimately, it felt like just being honest and upfront about the events that happened is the best thing to do. And so, being upfront with our listeners or our patrons about, "Hey. We really can't afford to spend the time doing this at this amount of money for the coaching, so we're going to have to bump that up and give you a grace period of months to play this out."

And then, no hard feelings. If you want to bump down your Patreon, if you want to do whatever, you come and go as you please. This is just what we have to do. So it's hard. You have to think. That's where always my thoughts come from are, "Where is my energy best spent in a productive, scalable, and sustainable way?" Pivot to the past four months. Now that I have a newborn son and my wife had a nice three-month maternity leave, but she's back at work, I am currently a full-time daddy daycare taking care of him during the day. And that was the plan and will continue to be the plan for a while.

As a result, luckily I can still do the podcast on the weekends and I can still coach during the evenings and I can still write and make YouTube content, as I piece that together during his naps throughout the day. But streaming has largely gone by the wayside as a result, because I just can't do it for any amount of time. I used to have a rule that I wouldn't stream if I couldn't do it for at least three hours. Well, you can't do anything for at least three hours with a four-month-old, as I'm sure you know.

He eats for 30 minutes. You try and keep away for 60 minutes. You try and get him to nap for 90 minutes. And then, you rinse and repeat that cycle about three or four times a day before my wife gets home and I say, "Please take him away from me." But luckily, I'm able keep most of the pots on the stove as it were. Just sort of had to put the streaming on the back burner.

But again, those three pillars of, "What's the best use of my time?" Thinking about time to income, because this is my business. It's hard. Because obviously, I'm a full-time content creator. I've built a very engaging community, so I have some business sense a little bit, but the content has always been the thing. I just always put my energy there. It's hard for me to think about, "How much is my time worth here?" There's still a part of me thinking about, "I can't believe I get paid to do this."

"There's still a part of me thinking ‘I can't believe I get paid to do this.’ And so wrestling that idea with what is my time actually worth to people and to myself in terms of giving that amount of time."

Wrestling that idea with, "What is my time actually worth to people," and to myself, in terms of giving that amount of time. I had to bump up my coaching rates recently, because I was like, "Well, at the end of watching my son for 11 hours, if I'm going to agree to then coach people for an hour, that's got to be worth my time in that way." If that's not some time for me to recharge my batteries, I've got to put a price tag on that. And that's been hard. But I would encourage folks out there to think about themselves in that way and think about what their time is worth and what's sustainable for them.

Brian Keller:
Well, I think that's a perfect place to wrap things up. To recap what we talked about, we talked about sharing a little bit of yourself, whether it's these milestone episodes or your origin story along the way. The path and the choices you made and part-time to full-time, including things like adding sponsors, adding ads, and the choices that go into that. How to cultivate your member community on Discord and other channels there.
Wrapping up with thinking about your dollars per hour, what it's worth to you, and how do you make adjustments for these kinds of life changes. Especially, something as momentous as the birth of your first son. Thanks so much, Ethan, for joining us on this journey and telling creators about some things to learn from your steps along the way.

Ethan Saks:
Thanks so much for having me.

Brian Keller:
Tune in next week to Backstage with Patreon when we'll have Patreon product manager, Ashley Tuccero, talking about new Patreon features that make it possible to engage with your wider fan base in new ways. Ashley is also an author and podcaster about spirituality, so she brings a lot of experience from both the creator and product side.

To catch every episode of Backstage with Patreon, follow or subscribe in your podcast app and leave us a review. We also have transcripts available at patreon.com/backstage. You are growing as a creator by listening to the show, so why not share the insights from this episode with another creator on Patreon or who's running a creative business?

We'd love to have you as an active collaborator with Backstage with Patreon. We are on Twitter @patreonpodcast and in the Patreon Creator Community on Discord. Follow the link in the episode notes and you can get answers to your follow-up questions directly from the guests and weigh in on what topics we'll be covering next. Editing by Tyler Morrisette. I'm Brian Keller. See you next time, backstage.

Related articles