Everything You Need to Know About Vidya Vox
Vidya Vox talks about fight with loneliness, dealing with negative comments & how her mom helped her with singing.
Video Editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan
Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb
Asst. Cameraperson: Gautam Sharma
Vidya Vox (Vidya Iyer), an American YouTuber who’s famous for doing mashup song videos, rose to fame when her ‘Kabira-Closer’ mashup got really popular. Born in Chennai, Vidya moved to the States with her family. Post graduation, Vidya featured on one of her friend’s (Shankar Tucker) YouTube channel.
The Quint spoke to Vidya Vox about her journey, her fight with loneliness, how she quit medicine and how she deals with negative comments.
Your name is Vidya Iyer. Right? So how did ‘Vox’ come?
I am Vidya Iyer. But ‘Vidya Vox’, ‘Vox’ actually stands for voice in Latin so when I was thinking of starting my YouTube channel, Shankar, actually in my logic sessions, used to name all my tracks as ‘Vidya Vox’ and so he was like ‘Why don’t you try Vidya Vox?’ So that’s how it came about.
Just tell us, who discovered your talent for singing?
My mom put me and my sister in singing classes when we were 5 and 4. But she did not think that I will make that a career. So she kind of encouraged me and made me practice.
When you’re living abroad and you’re growing up, it’s just difficult to hold on to the language, whether it’s Tamil or Hindi. How did your parents make an effort to speak to you in your native language?
They were very strict actually. At home, we would only speak Tamil because obviously when we were in school we’d be speaking in English. I lived in Mumbai from the ages of, I guess, 2nd grade to 4th grade. In school we had to pick a language, my parents were like oh put her in Hindi. So I can actually read and write Hindi and I cannot read and write Tamil.
You have said in one of your interviews that numbers don’t matter and you should focus on your craft but then you’ve also said that there are times when you look at the comments and there are a few negative comments, you just have to brush it under the carpet and move ahead. But how do you maintain that balance?
I’m still figuring that out, to be honest. I think it’s a very difficult thing to find that balance to be able to say that I don’t care about anything people are saying and it’s only about your art and what you want to say, but at the same time because of the way social media works, it’s instant feedback and everyone is going to have a different opinion. And just recently there have been situations where I have been like I can’t please everyone. If I want to try something a little bit different, I need to do that and just go for it. No matter what people say. But it’s weird like that, even though you have these followers you tend to be alone. And I definitely have a very close friend circle and family that help me through that, but it is definitely a little bit lonely.
You started YouTube and you started putting your music videos out there. There weren’t a lot of people doing that. And when you see the trend that’s started now, what do you think of it?
Mashups are something that have been around forever. I did not invent them. People have similar stories to me, growing up somewhere else outside of India but also want to connect with that. They have been doing mashups in places like Mauritius, Suriname, and Trinidad… all the Indian diaspora have invented genre of music. I think it’s actually amazing that people are doing all these videos and how there’s an outlet for creative expression.
Now it’s come to a point where you are putting high production videos, whether it’s dance or a nicely shot video, how many people did you start with and what’s the team like right now?
We started with me and Shanker Tucker. He produces all the music and we write our songs together. He’s the cameraperson, I edit, he edits. The last video I put out… I edited it and I directed it. A lot of the videos are just me and Shankar and we’ll hire like one PA maybe... like a friend. If my sister is around, for example, I’ll be like Vandana can you please hold the reflector. You know, like, free labour. You have to get your family in. We don’t have more than 10 people. I have an amazing choreographer. She’s a very good friend and she’s now fully part of the team. But it’s just me and Shankar.
You have actually featured on one of Shankar’s videos. So when did the idea of your own YouTube channel come about?
Shankar wanted a vocalist on his channel. He said, “Vidya, you and your sister sing, so can you like... so can you just sing your favourite Karnatic song.” I was in college at that time and I was like let’s do it and that got a little bit of attention. I was like I want to do some pop music, some Bollywood or even electronic music. So I graduated, came back to Mumbai, I was like I am going to just train for a little bit and figure out what I really want to do and then kind of the mashup thing happened organically. Yes, and then taking western vocals, Hindustani music lessons and then I was like yeah, it’s time.
So you came back to Mumbai and that’s when you started your classes again?
Yes, because I was originally on a pre-medicine track, I wanted to go to Med school. But I was very miserable doing it and also on the weekends I would go with Shankar on his concerts. So because of that it kind of piqued my interest. And then I was like oh music could be a full-time thing. In 2013, I lived in Mumbai, till 2015 April. And then I moved back in with my mom. I was like, “Mom I’m broke.” And that’s when I started my YouTube channel. My mom has been very supportive. She was like, I’ll give you two years, figure it out, do your thing, live in India and then see what comes of it. And if that doesn’t work out, you can always go back to medicine. But so far, knock on wood, hasn’t happened.
You know there are highs and lows of everything that you do, what would you say is the best part of being a YouTuber and a singer?
Two things, I think being on stage and be able to connect with people who listen to my music. And the second is creating the music from scratch and then seeing it in an album form or a video form. Whatever that is. That’s absolutely the best.
And what are the things that you probably don’t particularly like?
I think there’s a lot of self-doubt involved. And then I don’t look at comments but sometimes it sneaks into my radar. It messes with you. If I’m trying to do something different, people tend to be like… oh, why is she doing this? And then that tends to irk at you.
Any composers that you would like to collaborate with?
Call me! AR sir is amazing, Salim Sulaiman, all the people I look up to... Vishal Dadlani. I am always open to collaborations, it doesn’t have to be Hindi.
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