Producer Download: Liam Heffernan

Exploring the art of wearing different hats

Liam Heffernan is a very busy man. In addition to working as a freelance podcast producer and editor for a number of different audio companies, he also volunteers his time as digital services team leader for the Hospital Broadcasting Association, where he’s responsible for creating and managing the organisation’s podcast network and shared content, catering to over 160 hospital, health and wellbeing broadcasters across the UK.

Heffernan has a deep passion for audio content and the growth of the wider industry, and has been hailed by many as a future leader. PodPod sat down with Heffernan to find out more about his day-to-day workflow, his essential tools, and why waffle is the enemy of good podcasting.

How many podcasts do you work on?

It varies; I have a few different hats at the moment. The first is working for The Podcast Boutique, which I've done for a couple of years. We have numerous clients come and go; you know, a standard agency set-up. We do production work for them. One of the best shows that I work on there is with Dr Maryhan, How Not to Screw Up Your Kids. I love working on that with her. 

I do some stuff independently as well, so I'll work on shows Bingewatch and Bitesize Bingewatch, which offer TV reviews, and I'm actually working on a new podcast around American history. I love keeping myself busy. And then when I do have a bit of spare time, I work for Auddy for a couple of days a week in a more logistical capacity. So I guess the short answer is, I work on a lot of podcasts.

How many podcasts do you listen to per week?

Not as many as I want to, but I cram some in during the day. History Daily is my favourite one at the moment, I really love that and This Land as well. The News Agents is a standard. I’m really into my news podcasts.

What's your podcast app of choice?

Spotify, which I know has a bit of a bad rep of late, but I think in terms of user friendliness it's the best one.

What are your three items of essential podcast equipment?

A mic for sure! If you want to be taken seriously as a podcaster. Even if you just get a Yeti, get a mic, just something. Headphones, of course; you need a good pair of headphones. And some decent edit software. Go for those three. You can't go too far wrong. I think there's some good free edit software tools out there, like Audacity. But I can't implore people enough that if you can afford to, get something decent: I use Adobe Audition. There's other ones out there, but you really do get what you pay for with editing software.

How long does the average podcast take to turn around?

It's a bit of a “How long's a piece of string?” depending on the length of the episode and how much production value there is in there. I tend to allow myself about three times the length of the recording to do a basic edit, going through tidying up and just touching up the quality, doing all the standard stuff. But if you've got heavily scripted podcasts with tonnes of SFX and production value and everything else, you're gonna need to spend longer on it.

What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis?

As a producer my short answer will be… everything! It all starts with the edit and packaging the episode together and publishing it. But then you've got the promotion of that content, which I feel like takes up more time than actually making the content. We put a lot of focus on the actual editing and making of the podcast. But I think once you find your rhythm, once you get through the early episodes and you know how it all comes together, most of my day is then spent trying to tell everyone about the podcast and actually get people to listen to it. Because discoverability is the single hardest thing at the moment in podcasting.

And obviously now that I work with Auddy and have been for the last few months, being a slightly bigger agency and not just winging it on my own, you've got all those additional loopholes, legal considerations, financial considerations that come with working with a proper company.

What's one thing that you wish every podcast host knew?

That the first few episodes are going to sound absolutely awful and not to put so much pressure on yourself to get it right first time. Hand-in-hand with that is the fact that if your content is good and you're offering a lot of value to them in what you're saying, the listener has so much tolerance for a not-very-good first episode. Just don't don't put too much pressure on yourself as a presenter.

What makes a good episode?

One of my real bugbears is longer-form content. Sometimes they get it right and it needs to be long form, but most of the time – and I know I'm generalising here, and I could get a lot of a lot of hate for it – I think most of the time long-form podcasts are waffly and unnecessarily long. I am a big, big fan of just stripping back a podcast episode, really understanding what your listener wants from that episode, and not overdoing it. Make it as short as you can get away with, basically. I think you can really tell the podcasters that truly understand what they're about and what they're trying to do for this because they are snappier, they’re tighter. Waffle isn't good! Get rid of the waffle. You can tell the people that have come through from radio because it’s more produced. The format is so much more defined than podcasters who are only podcasters.

How did you get into the podcast industry?

Weirdly enough, from radio. I've been in and out of the audio industry for about 15 years now. It started like most people's careers in audio: I was at uni, joined a hospital radio station, did some volunteering, helped out wherever I could at professional stations. That turned into a year with the BBC and I've been, on and off, involved with hospital radio ever since. More recently, I've been helping out the executive team of the HBA [Hospital Broadcasting Association] that supports the whole national network of hospital radio. 

I got into podcasting in the early part of 2020 because at the time I was doing a lot of film reviews and thinking, “How can I do something a bit different?” I started developing a podcast idea that became 2 Minute Movies, which we don't do anymore, but myself and Van Connor – who's a great film critic – decided there were a lot of podcasts out there that are just self-important film critics talking about film to each other and not really thinking about what the listener wants. So we thought, “Let's do something that's, like, two minutes long; short, snappy, tells everyone everything they need to know about a film.” So we launched that – and really frustratingly, we had this idea and we were talking about it inside the first quarter of 2020, and then the pandemic hit. Every single person launched a podcast. So it ended up launching in a bit of a crowded market. But that was my first foray into podcasting, and then a year later I got a job at The Podcast Boutique and never looked back.

What's the last podcast you listened to?

That would be History Daily this morning. That tends to be my staple. And The News Agents as well. Daily podcasts are really taking over my life - I need to find some scripted series, I think!