Ritu Agarwal: ‘Don’t Waste Their Time, Give Them Something Unique’
YouTuber VoiceOfRitu tells us why knowing what your audience wants is a key part of social media success
A lot of the time people try and take credibility away from social media stars. The common assumptions are that success came to them overnight or that it was perhaps a fluke. Singer Ritu Agarwal, who is one of India’s biggest YouTube stars today (her channel VoiceOfRitu has 1.7 million subscribers), couldn’t be a more fitting example of how all online accomplishments are hardwon. “I’m a classically trained musician,” she tells us with a smile when we meet for Rolling Stone India’s cover shoot. “A lot of people don’t know that about me.” She’s got a degree in Hindustani classical and is also a pro Kathak dancer, just incase you were still looking for qualifications. Agarwal has been singing since she was five but the chance to first be heard on a bigger platform came via the television show The Voice India in 2015. “I learned a lot because The Voice has a very unique concept,” she says. “There was no need of a story, they were just interested in your talent.” She made it to the semi-finals on Bollywood singer Shaan’s team before eventually being eliminated.
Being on the show cemented her belief that music was her calling, but the challenge now was to figure out what came next. For Agarwal, YouTube started as an experiment with her brother, a professional cinematographer. “We said let’s make a pact: we’ll do 10 songs and see what would happen.” They decided to regularly put out 10 cover songs and Agarwal couldn’t believe how it all blew up. “I wouldn’t say I was a very big star on The Voice because it was still a new show, so to get that response…” she shrugs with a smile. “That validation meant a lot.” For any music star on YouTube, cultivating a digital audience is significant for more reasons than one. How is an online community different from a live audience? “I think they just connect with you a lot more,” she says. “They see you grow from start to finish, they know how you start your day, they want to know how you feel about something… they are so much more invested.”
“It’s very competitive,” she says about being a cover artist. In addition to creating a version of a track that competes with the original, the race to have a unique take on a hit song and have it out before the internet floods with covers from other artists, is always a challenge. “And people are bound to compare (your cover to others’.)” But now because of her strong fan base, it’s her interpretation that people look forward to, not just the song itself. “Before I would try and have the cover out maybe the day after the song released to keep up with the buzz, but now people want me to take my time and do a song my way. They don’t mind if it takes 10 days.” It’s this flip that’s the key: Agarwal becoming the point of attraction rather than the song she’s covering. They know her brand, what she’s capable of and what she will deliver.
It all ties back into consistency, as well as being as much of your real, relatable self as possible. “I think it’s about being honest and vulnerable,” Agarwal says about sustaining an audience that will grow and stay with you. “Be open to suggestions and don’t pretend to be something you’re not. You also need to keep a check on what your audience is liking or not liking.” She brings up a brilliant point: the audience has to decide if they’re willing to invest five minutes of their life to a video and it’s up to her to give them something worth investing in every time they click on it. It’s a big responsibility, and one that most creators on social media are very aware of. “I want to give them something unique rather than waste that time.”
There is a lot of criticism and it goes with the fact that a lot of audiences don’t actually know what goes on behind the scenes of Agarwal’s process of content creation. “A lot of people don’t know that it’s still just me and my brother,” she says. “People assume you have a huge crew that helps you produce all this stuff but it’s not true. My most viewed video, “Bulleya” is right now at 52 million views and it was made on a budget of ₹100!” It’s a shocking revelation and she smiles at our stunned faces before adding, “It wasn’t supposed to be made. I almost scrapped it.” When asked what made her put it out, she says it was a gut feeling that she decided to trust, and that’s largely how social media works. “Nobody knows what will boom—you have to keep trying.”
Styled by Myntra
Photographed by Priyank Nandwana
Art Direction by Tanvi Shah
Fashion Editor Neelangana Vasudeva
Hair and Makeup by Jean-Claude Biguine India
Location Courtesy The Bar Stock Exchange, Juhu, Mumbai