Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lights, Camera, Action!

Jamal grew up in South Acton Estate, a housing project west of London.  The area suffered from a bad reputation, due largely to high levels of crime associated with drug use and drug dealing. Coming of age in such a place was tough on Jamal, who also never knew his father.

Expectations were low that kids from his neighborhood would do much with their lives.  Jamal’s grades were nothing special, and school closures related to violence were a common sign of the times.  His teachers even went so far as to tell Jamal that all he would ever do was work in a grocery store or a fast food chain.  He was determined to prove them wrong. 

At age fifteen, Jamal’s parents got him a cheap video camera for Christmas.  He quickly learned to use it, and started off by filming foxes poking around the outside of his home.  When Jamal put the video online, it racked up close to 1,000 views.  There was just something about his filmmaking style that made ordinary situations interesting to watch.

All Jamal knew for certain was that he wanted to be successful, but he wasn’t sure how.  He loved rapping and felt he understood music, so he hoped to do something in that world. He also watched a lot of behind the scenes programs about the filming of videos.  Thinking about the success of his amateur wildlife video, and noticing that everyone in his local rap scene wanted to be the next rap star in front of the camera, Jamal came up with a plan:  He decided to make music videos.

Jamal and his camera became inseparable as he filmed local rappers in his neighborhood and in nearby communities.  He wasn’t thinking of the commercial potential of what he was doing, he was simply putting his videos online to make it easier for his friends to see them.  Initially, the reviews were mixed.  Some people didn’t appreciate the videos, but many others loved them. 

Leaving school, Jamal got a job at a local clothing store, and continued to film videos when he wasn’t at work.  He would sneak his camera into raves in order to shoot bigger acts, and reached out via email to record labels to try to get interview time with their artists.  At first, his requests were ignored or declined because he was an amateur.  But Jamal loved filming, so he persisted anyway. 

The quality of his work improved, and Jamal began building a reputation.  He continued to film up-and-coming rappers and singers, while also targeting established stars outside nightclubs, hotels and radio stations.  Soon, many of the local acts he captured grew to national awareness.  Word of mouth about Jamal’s online video channel spread, and it started to get hundreds of thousands of views.

Jamal hadn’t started out thinking of himself as an entrepreneur.  But as interest in his videos grew, he realized he might have a business on his hands.  He contacted YouTube, the site that hosted his video channel, to see if he was eligible for a share of advertising revenues.  He was turned down three times, but traffic from his videos continued to increase, so he kept trying.  Finally, after he was able to prove that the videos he was uploading were his original work, YouTube agreed.  Their first check to Jamal was for two hundred British pounds (approximately $350 dollars at the time).  And as he worked harder and put up more videos, the checks got bigger.

Billed as “the UK’s leading online youth broadcaster,” SB.TV is the name of Jamal Edwards’ company, a phenomenally successful media network which has generated more than 100 million online views and has hundreds of thousands of subscribers.  Jamal himself, who named SB.TV after his rapping name, “Smokey Barz," has a net worth today of over 10 million dollars.  At only 23 years old, something tells me Jamal is just getting warmed up.

Jamal’s story demonstrates that success is not just about pursuing your passion, but about having high expectations for your life.  Even when you think you’re dreaming big, stretch yourself even further, and visualize your success. And even when others don’t support or encourage you, find it within yourself to persevere, and you can reach the heights you dream of.  All you need to decide is whether you want to be the star in front of the camera or the genius behind it! 

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams 

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