Oxygen is a world music band based in Chennai, India and co-founded by Prithvi Kumar (G ’14) in 2003, at age 14. Prithvi serves as both the drummer and lead vocalist for the group. Oxygen represents a fusion of Indian and Western music forms. They place great emphasis on experimenting with different genres of music and strive to maintain a unique and distinct sound. They have released four albums to date, all of which have been well received. Success of their records led to widespread interest and interviews with leading Indian TV channels including NDTV 24/7, Headlines Today, and Aaj Tak, and features in national newspapers like The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Times Of India and Deccan Chronicle.
Among their accomplishments is winning a TV music talent contest that was judged by Academy Award- and Grammy Award-winning composer A.R. Rahman. They were then invited to A.M Studios in Chennai to record a song produced by Rahman. VELOCITY sat down with Prithvi to talk about Oxygen’s new albums and how his NYU education has affected his career as an artist.
How did Oxygen form, and how do you stay connected with the band while you’re at NYU?
Oxygen was formed when I met Giri at a cultural festival in high school. It was something equivalent to a Battle of the Bands event in the US. We were from different high schools and were actually competing against each other. Although I forget who ended up winning the overall prize, I won the best drummer award and he won the best keyboardist award. We had a chat after and decided to form a new band. Our “home base” is Chennai and our audience for the most part is based in South India. I keep visiting India every 6 months or so and finish composing and recording while I’m there. It’s usually a three-week trip, which gives us a good amount of time to get things done.
Where and when did you write and record Volume 1?
Volume 1 is actually a culmination of our work over the last five years or so. We had lots of random material in our hard drives and sat down one day and picked what we felt were the most appealing tunes. We found that there were close to 15 tracks that we really liked but couldn’t include them all in one album which is why we decided to split the release. Volume 1 was released in January and we hope to release Volume 2 by July. We have our own studio in Chennai called Aura Studios where were wrote and recorded all of our songs.
What is the concept behind the album?
We wanted to produce a record that had something for everyone. In our newest offering, each of our tracks is based on a different genre. We have two tracks with vocals and the rest are instrumental. The tracks range from rock to classical to Indian folk.
Have you toured in the past, and do you have plans to tour to promote the new albums?
We have toured extensively within India and have also given performances in the UK. We are definitely planning a tour towards the later part of 2014. The reason being, we wanted to wait till we release Volume 2. We believe that with both Volume 1 and 2 out, there will be more variety to present to our audience and hit them with a completely new setlist and experience.
Did being a member of Oxygen play a part in your decision to pursue a degree in Music Business?
It certainly did. I knew what it was to be an artist but hadn’t quite explored the business side of music yet. All of us in Oxygen have undergrad degrees in different fields from engineering to accounting and business. On the other hand, I personally wanted to learn how the music industry works outside the Indian subcontinent, which is why I decided to apply to NYU.
Do the other band members have an in-depth knowledge of the music industry?
They do have a good understanding of the music industry in India. The business model in India is totally different from those used in the US. Its very film-centric and independent musicians don’t get enough recognition when compared to their Bollywood counterparts. This however is slowly changing with new social media outlets and numerous festivals such as NH7 and Sunburn.
Have you been able to apply your NYU education to your band’s career?
I certainly have. In fact, I used some of the material from our A&R class taught by Dr. Moore during the recording of Volume 1 in December. Material from Strategic Marketing in the Music Industry also helped when we were drawing up our marketing plan for Volume 1 and 2.
Did anything surprise you as you went from the performance side of music to the business side of music?
To some extent it did. I interned at Sony Music last year where I was exposed to a completely new side of the music business. My team worked on identifying potential partners in the digital space and strengthening existing partnerships with some of the industry’s leading players. It’s something I would never have been able to experience if I weren’t in New York City and I’m grateful to the people who have helped me so far and continue to support me in all my endeavors.