Don’t rely on “big personalities”, says podcast professor

The most common mistake students make is “winging it”, says University of Sussex lecturer Martin Spinelli

Relying on a big personality isn’t enough to create a successful podcast, according to Martin Spinelli, Professor in Podcasting and Creative Media at the University of Sussex, who said that the most common mistake his students make in podcasting is trying to wing it.

Spinelli spoke to PodPod in the latest episode about his experience teaching podcasting at the University of Sussex as part of a module within the Media Production BA course, and said that reinforcing the idea that podcasting needs to be thoroughly planned and taken seriously is something he introduces to his students from the very first class that they attend. 

“If you want them to be taken seriously, they need to be planned, they need to be thought out, research needs to be done, contacts need to be made, networks need to be activated,” said Spinelli. “Unless you are a giant celebrity already, unless you are a Scroobius Pip or Stephen Colbert or Trevor Noah, you can't just press record, let it roll, and then have your intern upload it the next day.”

Having started out as a radio producer and reporter in his 20s, Spinelli’s interest in podcasting came later in 2014 when true crime podcast Serial launched and the professor found himself binge listening to the entirety of its portfolio after discovering his students’ obsession with the genre. 

“I knew that this thing, that was this sort of slightly geeky, slightly marginal, slightly nerdy undertaking had finally hit the mainstream or was about to hit the mainstream,” said Spinelli. “And from that moment, I started listening really systematically, listening to more podcasts with a kind of critical ear.” 

After his interest shifted to podcasting, Spinelli launched a research book in 2019 titled ‘Podcasting: The Audio Media Revolution’ with author Lance Dann, with whom he also co-hosted a ‘how-to-podcast’ series that deep dives into the industry, titled For Your Ears Only

Spinelli also brought his interest to the University of Sussex where he began teaching students podcasting as a module. The university is currently developing a Masters of Arts in that area, as are other institutions; last month, City University of London announced that it was launching the first MA in podcasting, starting in September 2023. 

“I see my students, I see the next generation of podcasters facilitating podcasts for other people,” said Spinelli, “helping other people make podcasts that they want to make.”