Delhi-based lawyer Gunmeher Juneja (32) was always passionate about singing. But like in many Indian middle-class homes, it was not considered an acceptable career choice. So Juneja went the traditional route and chose a career as a lawyer, though always wondering where a career in singing would have taken her. And now thanks to Unlu– a platform which has live classes and fellowships with industry stalwarts across various fields such as acting, music and writing– she has got a taste of it over the last few months.
“I got to know about Unlu from a friend. I saw they have a paid fellowship for singers too, and that clicked with me, especially because it was something I could do over the weekend,” Juneja told indianexpress.com.
Unlu might sound like yet another platform offering live classes to help hone a skill, but the concept is more evolved than just classes. The idea is to help those who want to perhaps pursue a professional career in the media and entertainment industry. The company claims to offer significant guidance to those who join the platform. It also wants to spawn a community of creators who can collaborate for more professional projects, and also help them monetise their content.
“We want to build a scalable product for creators in India. We are trying to create a community of skilled creators, who can cooperate for producing high-value monetisable content. Only 6 per cent of creators are professionally skilled. There is a market opportunity,” Himanshu Periwal, one of the co-founders of Unlu, told indianexpress.com.
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Another difference is that Unlu doesn’t just offer classes. While classes are the first step, and are mostly pre-recorded, it also comes with a more dedicated ‘fellowship’, which is cohort-based for these creators. The fellowship has live classes and pre-recorded content, though the idea is to go beyond the basics and learn about the nuances of the industry. While the basic classes can be completed in just two to four weeks, the fellowship is longer with a duration of three to months, and of course, more expensive, averaging Rs 20,000 or so.
Unlu claims more than one million registered creators have taken a class on the platform since it started in May 2020. Overall, there are three aspects or layers to Unlu and its monetisation. There’s the Unlu Class at the base level, followed by the Fellowship, and then there’s the Community, which brings with it “distribution and monetisation” for content created by its students. Of course, Unlu takes a share if the content is successfully monetised, though the company did not specify the exact percentage of commission it takes.
According to Periwal, about 10 to 20 per cent of creators qualify for the fellowship, where they get trained further. “They get trained to understand the functional and technical skills required from them in the industry. We handhold the creators to their full potential,” he added.
Singing and music production are areas where the company has focused most of its classes and content. The experts who teach classes include Zaman Khan, Geetika Varde Qureshi, Shibani Kashyap, and Monali Thakur. But the courses are not limited to singing, they also have acting classes by Manoj Bajpayee, a course on writing taught by Ruskin Bond, etc.
As Juneja pointed out, the experts are not just teaching basics here, given that most students already understand these. “They’ve given us critical, practical points on how we can take our singing to the next level,” she said. For her, Hindustani classical vocalist Geetika Varde’s class stood out: “She told us a lot about how classical is also used in semi-classical and Bollywood songs. I didn’t know what the exact nuances are and how to use them. The way these instructors have taught us, it’s helping us enhance our own creativity.”
Others who have joined fellowships on the platform have similar thoughts about the experience. For instance, Bengaluru-based Kohinoor Batra (20) started the fellowship in January because he saw this as an opportunity to learn from industry leaders. “I might not look at a career opportunity in this, but it helped me improve in my areas of music, like how to practice better and put forward the feelings when we sing. They (teachers) also taught us how to present our music professionally in front of others,” Batra said.
For Mannik (21), a Chandigarh-based rapper and songwriter, the platform has also helped him find an audience. Mannik said Unlu helped him release his music video titled 21. Thanks to the platform’s reached, he reached 200,000 views on YouTube.
“I was already doing music for a couple of years, but I wasn’t able to reach that significant audience. Unlu helped me with the production of one of my songs 21 and promotion, etc,” he said. Initially, he was only interested in rapping but has now expanded into singing and song-writing. What he liked most about the platform is the ability to collaborate with others in the community and get “honest feedback from peers”.
This ‘community’ aspect is what Unlu’s founders consider a key aspect of their acquisition and retention strategy. “Once the creators join the community, it’s more like a LinkedIn equivalent. They get so many opportunities to understand what’s happening in the industry. The creator can… check across opportunities, what’s working, and collaborate with others,” Periwal explained, adding that this is open to all who join the classes.
In fact, the company claims that some of its students have also gotten opportunities in the industry, including with Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions. As Periwal sees it, the key is to help creators monetise their content, and he believes their platform has a full-stack solution to solve this. And with the creator economy predicted to grow in double digits in India, Unlu is confident that their ‘collaboration-led’ approach can further capitalise on this.