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  • Writer's pictureSarah Myles

HOW I GOT HERE: Hannah Varrall

(How I Got Here Artwork)

Connect with this season’s guests:

Special thanks to: Alex Court, Graeme Woodcock, Heleen Kist, Kate Bullivant, Maria Passingham, Mark Loftus, Natasha S. Chowdory and Tin Hinson for providing question recordings.

Artwork by Jack Jewers-

RISE & SHINE is about giving everyone a voice within the podcast and radio industries regardless of income.

Find out more about RISE & SHINE through the website- and twitter-



Music: (description used on audio library) A playful blend of cheeky brass, retro grooves, funky licks. Plays underneath

Sound fx: Keyboard typing, internet dial up sounds

Voice 1: How would you go about getting into audio if you had to start all over again today

Voice 2: What are the things you have to learn after getting into the industry?

Voice 3: what's the one piece of advice you'd give to anyone starting out in audio?

Intro speaker: Getting your foot in the door of the audio industry can seem like a bit of a mystery cant it? Should you….. go to university?

Guest 1: and just sort of by chance, I got involved with my student radio station. Um, I had a friend who was part of it and that's where it all started

Intro speaker: Work in community radio?.

Guest 2: I think it's some of the most useful experience you can get

Intro speaker: Maybe start your own podcast?

Guest 3: I say “I'm not, well, I'm not with anybody. It's my own personal show.” And he goes with equal enthusiasm he goes, Oh yeah, sure.

Intro speaker: How I got here is a podcast from rise and shine, showcasing brilliant people from across, audio, radio, and podcasting

We’ll be hearing their stories.

Guest 4: I learned that I can do more than just specialist radio. I'm able to do mainstream sounds. I'm able to do that

Intro speaker: Tips

Guest 5: You know what, make an Excel spreadsheet. It's one of the best things I ever did for my contacts

Intro speaker: and words of wisdom.

Guest 6: If you wanted to, you could do all this yourself, but for me, you can gain so much from doing it with other people

Intro speaker: all about breaking into the audio industry.

Guest 7: Your time will come when you have loads of projects that somehow are all being released at the same time and you get to be that person.

So just don't let it freak you out too much.

Intro Speaker: So let’s get to this episode’s guest shall we?

Music: ends

Hannah Varrall: I'm Hannah Varrall. I am a freelance audio producer and my pronouns are she and her. I first got into audio actually by doing student radio at university with a friend, we had a music show, which we did for two years.

And I actually did a show on my year abroad as well in Avignon in France, which was cool. I grew up in London. So I was really lucky that when I graduated, I could move home with my parents and do some internships. I did quite a range of internships at that time. Actually, I worked at a music management company on and off.

I did an internship at a music magazine and I helped produce, uh, so her radio, which was newly launched, I'd been applying for BBC internships pretty much the whole time. And eventually I got an internship at BBC six music on Lauren Nevadans program. I'd also been applying pretty consistently to something else, which is a big production company, because I'd looked on LinkedIn and seen that a lot of the people who were doing the kind of jobs that I thought I might want had done internships at the BBC and at something else.

So when I got the BBC internship, I emailed something else again and said, Hey, look, the BBC, want me, why don't you in a nice way and got an internship there after I'd finished at the BBC. I'd worked with Lauren Laverne at six music. And at the time she was setting up a women's website called the pool and they were looking for an editorial intern and luckily she thought I was all right.

And so she sent me for an interview with her co-founder and I got a year long paid internship working at the pool. I was basically chosen because I said I can make podcasts, which I hadn't really had any experience of at that time. I'd made maybe two during my six music internship, but I was keen on audio and willing to learn and generally happy to make teas and be a dog's body.

When my year internship was up, I got a proper job, I suppose, at the pool and was an AAV producer job title, which we made up. It basically meant that I made podcasts and videos, which was great because it meant I got to get rid of all the bits of my job, which I wasn't super interested in, like curating the food section and focusing more on yeah.

Making podcasts and videos. When I was at the pool, I started my own podcast with two friends that I actually met. They're called school for dumb women. And it was really fun to just kind of be in total control of my own projects and be able to kind of call the shots a bit more. I went freelance just over two years ago because I wanted to work on different projects basically.

And yeah, it was a good decision.

Why audio?

Hannah Varrall: Initially because I had the music radio show with my friend. I thought I wanted to work in music radio, but I sort of realized that actually I didn't love music quite enough for that. You know, I couldn't go into work every day and be really excited for the day because sort of playing a Frank Sapper B side from 1975.

And I think a lot of music radio producers really are like that. So when I started producing podcasts at the pool, I realized that I actually really liked the flexibility of it and being able to investigate stuff a bit more, I suppose. Well, so on a purely practical level, I actually really like the variety of working in audio.

I liked the fact that making a podcast involves having ideas and pitching, and then working out how to get it all together and formatting it, arranging everything, recording it, producing recordings. Interviewing people and then the sort of editing and publishing aspects. And I liked that this job contains all those different elements.

I also like the length of the projects, which is maybe a weird thing to say, but I like that you can get commissioned for a series and from start to finish it sort of takes a couple of months, maybe three, four months. And also you can work on different projects at the same time.

How would you go about getting into audio if you had to start all over again today?

Hannah Varrall: If I was trying to get into audio today, the main thing I would do is I would have my own podcast, even if it was a rubbish, because you learn a lot from having to make all the various editorial decisions and think about formatting and think about how you're going to edit it, how you're going to use music.

And so that's a really good showcase for your work. And, and the other thing I did, like I mentioned, when I was looking for a job in audio was I looked on LinkedIn. I found people who had jobs that I thought I wanted, and I looked at their career progression. I looked at where they started and that just gave me a good idea of, you know, my different offers.

Tell us a secret about breaking into the audio industry. You can be self-taught I studied English and French at university. It had nothing to do with audio. And I think before I went freelance, I was a bit freaked out by this idea that everyone else in the industry, you know, had studied at Goldsmiths and had done official programs of how to be an audio producer.

And actually that is just not the case. You can be self-taught I'm self-taught it's fine. No one's ever asked me where I studied or where I learned to make podcasts. I learnt by making podcasts on garage band and using a lot of YouTube videos to make something that sounded okay. Another thing that it took me slightly too long to work out is that audio and podcasts really are a freelance industry when I was working at the pool and I knew I wanted to leave and get another job.

I was obsessed with the idea that I needed a full-time job. So I was only applying to companies that had in-house podcast staff. And there's actually not very many of them. If you think about it, a podcast series takes, you know, maybe a couple of months to produce and there's loads of companies that want podcast series, but can't employ someone as a full-time member of staff.

And that makes sense.

What's the best mistake you've ever made?

Hannah Varrall: I'm not sure I have anything that qualifies as the best mistake I've ever made. Obviously there are mistakes that turn out to be really good things, but I make plenty of mistakes. Definitely. When I first went freelance, I had no idea what kind of day rate I should be charging.

And I undercharged a lot of people before I realized what kind of standard day rates were. And I still make mistakes with money and business stuff. These days. I also often take on too much work, which is really annoying because then I end up working in the evenings and on weekends, which is just not a good way to live.

One of the business mistakes that kind of taught me the most was probably when the company I worked for went bust. After I went freelance, I had been working for them a bit and I had a few invoices in with them that hadn't been paid yet. And I continued to work for them. While they kind of said, you know, Oh yeah, no, it'll be paid later this month.

And then they went bust and I never got paid for those invoices. And it taught me to just be quite upfront about money and to not be afraid of charging people late fees, which is something you can add to your invoices when they're overdue. And what I tend to do now is if I'm talking to a client, I'll have a separate email thread for my invoices and that will just be invoiced business.

So I'll be like, hello, here's my invoice. And then I can chase up on that email thread and just be business Hannah, rather than producer Hannah.

What are the things you have to learn after getting into the industry?

Hannah Varrall: So things you have to learn after getting into the industry. I think that's all the business stuff like. How to quote for a project. What I like to do is list out exactly what the client can expect from me and what they shouldn't expect from me.

Things like social media, I think often creep into a producer's responsibilities when they actually weren't there in the first place. And then I think the industry in general, like Manny is quite a lot based on contacts and making sure the right people know what you're doing. And it also involves having meetings that will go nowhere and having meetings that are just a pint of beer in the pub with someone which had just kind of fun.

The other thing I learned after getting into the industry was that there is no such thing as a stupid question early on in my career. A couple of times that had people turn up at the wrong time or at the wrong place. And it taught me to just be really clear with where, when, who, how, what you're talking about and in working remotely as well, you have to ask those deeper questions.

Like I all windows shut with the traffic outside. Are your phone notifications off? All your headphones plugged in.

Tell us about the person in the audio industry who helped you most when building your career.

Hannah Varrall: The people in the industry who helped me most when I was building my career. It's actually, I think, Kate Taylor who makes Viv’s podcast, how to own the room.

I'd worked with Viv at the pool on her podcast, DFS, which was an agony art podcast. And Viv has been freelance for years. And loves it. So when I was going freelance, I asked her for some advice and she pointed me in the direction of Kate Taylor, who's her producer, and they got me working on Viv’s podcast, how to own the room, doing some edits.

Kate then was just brilliant in terms of if I ever needed advice and also would kind of try and get me involved on various different projects to bulk up my portfolio, which was amazing. And Kate generally is a big advocate for getting new people into the industry and especially women. So I think she's great.

What's the one piece of advice that you would give to anyone starting out in audio?

Hannah Varrall: Don't worry too much about how the sausage is made as long as the sausage sounds good. And by that, I mean, when I first started editing podcasts, I was using garage band and I was really paranoid that you could tell somehow, and it didn't sound professional, but I've listened back to some of those podcasts now and they sound completely fine.

Maybe they don't sound amazing, but they sound fine. But yeah, if the sausage does sound bad, there's so many videos on YouTube that I can help you with whatever your problem is. I really like spectral editing, which you can do. I know on Adobe Audition and probably a couple of other programs that made a really big difference to my editing and mixing and just making sure you have.

A basic understanding of what EQ is and compression and LUFs. You got to love a LUF. They basically are how you make sure that your podcast is loud enough in relation to all the other podcasts in the world. And then also knowing how to add music to a podcast really helps in terms of making it sound professional.

In terms of business advice for someone trying to start out in audio? I think my advice would be not everyone needs to have a professional producer and it's not your job to make sure that they can. So if someone approaches you and says, Hey, I have this podcast that I want you to work on. And it's two days per episode and Oh, unfortunately we don't have much of a budget, so we can only pay you 50 quids.

It's not your responsibility to make that work. You can just say no. Why don't you download garage band or audacity because that's what everyone else does. My final piece of advice for anyone starting out in audio is that sometimes on social media, it looks like all the other producers that you follow have all the most amazing projects coming out and are working on brilliant, brilliant things all the time.

And you just, for whatever reason are knee deep in edits, and you have no projects to talk about at all, because they're all in production. Oh, you don't have any interesting projects on, and you kind of are just working on stuff that pays the bills, which is fine. I guess that's all just part of the roller coaster of being a producer.

And also your time will come when you have loads of projects that somehow are all being released at the same time and you get to be that person. So just don't let it freak you out too much. .


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