Vlogging their way to success

Something invariably seems common to all Punjabi YouTube stars. Whether it’s agricultural, heritage, historical, folkloric or anecdote stories, most of their videos reflect today’s nostalgic way of life. Besides food and humor, it is swords and guns, cars and tractors, birds, dogs and horses that command their obsession. The videos are mostly filled with not only local but also national and global advertisements. Although these vloggers don’t have a degree in journalism and mass communication, they credit the internet for their training.

Harbhej Sidhu, 31, is one such two-year-old YouTuber. For him, the first lockdown was a blessing in disguise as he got the opportunity to redraw his career map using his cell phone camera. The Punjabi graduate, armed with a BEd in history, learned video editing on YouTube by night and by day taught history to students at a private school in the village of Moga online. A few days later, armed with a mobile phone, a well-researched script and raw passion, Sidhu went on to shoot a video of the local fort in his hometown, Ludhiana, named after Emperor Sikandar Lodhi. .

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After some standard editing cuts, he posted the six-minute footage to his eponymous YouTube channel. The response was “beyond my expectations”. It didn’t take long for him to make up his mind to opt for this desired career path. However, the aspiring singer and poet was nearly heartbroken after he was allegedly defrauded by a music company. “Now I’m planning a series of videos about great poets that our current generation seems to have forgotten,” he adds. In fact, one of his latest videos is about the now dilapidated house where the famous Punjabi playwright Balwant Gargi (1916-2003) was born. He says his report on the birthplace of Sikh Guru Arjan Dev Singh at Chohla Sahib in Tarn Taran district of Punjab was also highly appreciated by viewers.

Harbhej Sidhu, and snapshot of his vlog on a 1968 model truck

Today, Sidhu’s YouTube channel has 1.63 lakh subscribers and 552 video downloads. He has nearly four million followers on Facebook, but a negligible number on Instagram because he’s new. However, in his growing arsenal, Sidhu already has Canon 200 D and D-80 cameras, an iPhone 13 Pro and a drone. Now his younger brother, Harnek Sidhu and his friend, Sukhjinder Singh Lopon have come on board to help him. Lopon also runs Shonki Sardar, a YouTube channel with over 5.46 lakh subscribers on Facebook and 3.38 lakh subscribers on YouTube. On March 19, Sidhu posted a vlog about an octogenarian who, in his early twenties, allegedly killed a leopard in 1963 in a village in Patiala. Another video was about birds and horses. Within hours, both videos went viral. “Once you have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours, your YouTube channel starts generating revenue for original content,” he says, adding that “to make money on Facebook, you have to have at least less than 10,000 subscribers and more than 5 lakh views”. within 60 days.

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According to him, every part of the content should be original, even the background score, because it could lead to copyright issues. Although Sidhu owns farmland, for the past year he has been completely focused on his creative work. “What I earn from my social media platforms is enough to support me, my family and the work I love,” he says, praising Facebook and YouTube for maintaining transparency in revenue sharing with uploaders. contents. “Unlike a newspaper that becomes useless the next day, my stories generate ongoing revenue because someone is always watching and sharing them in their social circles.” Apart from social media platforms, Sidhu says, he has started earning revenue from the ads he embeds in his videos.

Queen of Songs Vlogger Aakash Poonam, screenshot from her YouTube channel
Queen of Songs Vlogger Aakash Poonam, screenshot from her YouTube channel

Building on his initial success, Sidhu crossed the borders of Punjab to cover stories from Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. In Punjab, ancient religious and military architecture remains his favorite subjects. “I do a lot of research, especially when I’m writing scripts on historical subjects. The problem is that most of the important history books are no longer in print,” says Sidhu, lamenting political and official apathy towards Punjab’s heritage architecture. His work has earned him comments and praise from Pakistan and even Canada. “Punjabis in Pakistan also watch my videos. They are still emotionally attached to the Indian towns and villages their ancestors lived in before partition,” he says, while describing his penchant for promoting Punjab’s rich cultural history and traditional way of life.

Punjabi prodigy Kishtu K, who has uploaded only 41 music videos of mostly folk songs on her YouTube channel, already has over 1.97 lakh subscribers.

Other YouTubers are also capitalizing on the state’s rich culture. For example, Punjabi prodigy Kishtu K, who has uploaded only 41 music videos of mostly folk songs on her YouTube channel, already has over 1.97 lakh subscribers. There are middle-aged YouTubers like Tayi Surinder Kaur, who captured many hearts with her witty and humorous videos shot in a warm setting. She was interviewed by BBC Punjabi last year.

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Many up-and-coming musicians and singers – who are like unpaid interns on social media platforms – see digital media platforms as launching pads for long-term careers in the entertainment industry.

In Amritsar district, Aakash, Poonam and Rishab, all in their early twenties, together run a four-year-old YouTube channel called Aakash Pounam. It has 129 videos and 2.68 lakh subscribers. While Rishab is a musician, Aakash and Poonam sing and perform in the videos. None of them have received professional music training and all three consider YouTube their music guru. Even as digital media has democratized cyberspace, challenges persist for artists like this trio, who complain, “Over the past four years, we’ve painfully realized that it’s not just talent that counts. Appearance, clothing, financial resources and networking determine success in the music industry.

Have it, display it Jasbir Singh Mahal aka JaanMahal, Screenshots of his YouTube videos in Maldi
Have it, flaunt it Jasbir Singh Mahal aka JaanMahal, screenshots from his YouTube videos in the Maldives and his new car

Mostly, they make cover videos of new popular Punjabi songs with edits from the original music. “We don’t make enough money from social media platforms, but we certainly get noticed. Thanks to that, we started to get recognition and work,” says Rishab, who continues, “Without financial resources, it becomes quite difficult to create content and publish it regularly online to earn money. Often the revenue goes to big corporations because of copyright issues.

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But in some cases, well-known artists appreciated their work. “After doing a cover on Pee, a famous song sung by Diljit Dosanjh and written by Raj Ranjodh last year, Diljit Paaji not only wrote praise in the comment section but also posted it from his own handles on social media” , recalls Rishab, known as “Rish” to the world. of music. For artists like them, they regret that generating content each week becomes a challenge as their work involves innovation, creativity, technology and recording studios which ultimately require a lot of money.
For social media celebrities like Rupnagar resident Jasbir Singh Mahal, there is no such barrier. Singh is believed to be the oldest YouTuber in Punjab, who runs a channel, Jaan Mahal. With his 1.9k lakh videos, he has created an impressive subscriber base of 9.62 lakh. Earlier this month he posted half a dozen videos of his new purchase, a Mahindra Thar. Like her previous videos, these clips became instant hits among her viewers.

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While he posts about everything under the sun, his rivals admit he has a rare knack for making even the viral mundane. A recent video on his YouTube channel shows him telling a fellow vlogger: “With the steady stream of income, I try to help as many people in need as possible. But I don’t like it when other YouTubers criticize me out of envy. They have to focus on their work. The rest is entirely up to the viewers whether they like the content or not.

(This appeared in the print edition as “Punjabi Tadka”)

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