DJ Paroma Chatterjee is among the very few women in India’s male-dominated DJing scene. In less than a decade, she has gained an international following, writes Rishita Roy Chowdhury.
DJing as a profession has seen exponential growth in recent years. With platforms like the Sunburn festival, an increasing number of clubs and growing nightlife culture, now’s a good time to make a career in this field. But when it comes to female DJs, very few names come to mind. Mumbai-based DJ Paroma Chatterjee is an exception to the rule, carving out a space for herself in this male-dominated profession.
She recently won the WOW Award 2018 in the Best Female DJ category. She has hundreds of gigs to her credit, was the official studio DJ for the Indian Premier League 2014, and has also been a jury member of two singing reality shows, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa 2016 and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li’l Champs 2017.
After finishing school, Paroma joined an airline as a cabin crew member. Her travels gave her the opportunity to visit various clubs around the world and helped her discover her passion for music, which in turn steered her towards switching careers. About this shift, she said, “I did not want to take up DJing specifically. I was really passionate about music and had visited a lot of clubs in India and abroad during my aviation career. As a result, I was exposed to a wide range of genres. It was then that I decided to give up my airline career and dive into unknown waters.”
So how difficult was this career shift? “Somewhere down the line, I always knew that I was taking a big risk, as I had zero experience and no backup plan or savings. When I started off, I knew what direction I wanted to take. I didn’t want to be just a DJ playing at a club, though I have immense respect for the job, but that was not my vision. I wanted to build a brand, be a brand,” she said.
In a career spanning about eight years, DJ Paroma has had to overcome many challenges. Her early days were full of struggles, and this low phase continued until she actually got in the flow. DJing was a male-dominated field. Many people tried to discourage her at the beginning of her career: “People told me that this profession couldn’t take me anywhere and it is not socially acceptable for a woman to play music at nightclubs. I took it up because I didn’t find anything wrong with it.”
She soon realised that she needed to ignore the naysayers, as they were taking a toll on her work and her peace of mind. Besides, there were security issues—connected to being a woman DJ at a nightclub—to be considered. But she remained committed to this endeavour. “Half the challenges you can disregard if you are focused on where exactly you want to be, and if you know your capabilities and worth.”
In her career, DJ Paroma has witnessed many changes in India’s DJing scene. And she has a clear view of what the future might hold. “I think streaming is the future of DJing. The streaming DJ setup is disruptive and presents itself as a viable alternative—the convenience of instantly adding songs to one’s library transforms copying and sharing among DJs. With the evolution of so many software and gadgets, the whole industry is getting modernised. The art of DJing responds to technology, so it will be interesting to see how this next step affects the DJs, their ingenuity and the sounds they play.”
Inaccurate distribution of venue-related performance royalty has long been a concern for DJs. And DJ Paroma has a solution to that. “Ideally, I’d like to see a streaming service which automatically reports the set list to performance-rights organisations. If that doesn’t happen, then the DJ or venue can easily output a list of the songs played during a set for online submission. This innovation, coupled with the advent of audio fingerprint technology in play identification will help solve the problem.”
DJ Paroma has done official remixes for renowned music labels like T-Series, Sony Music, and Zee Music. Remixes have played a vital role in shaping her career. In fact, she got her first break because of her remixes. The form also grants her new creative freedom. Often, DJs remix songs during live gigs, changing the dynamics of the song being played—the pitch and tempo—in real time. The result will be sounds that are close to the original, but yet have a different feel to them.
“I am really happy to see the various styles of remixes in different genres nowadays,” she said. “People, with each passing year are getting more and more creative and they want to experiment. This sometimes, also gives birth to new genres.”
Having performed at various venues around the world—she is currently on a tour in the United States—she finds the experience of being a pro DJ thrilling. “It’s like an experiment to see if the people there understand and like your sounds and energies. Sometimes, it can be a huge success, sometimes it can be a disaster too,” she said.
With the recognition DJ Paroma has received, it seems like this maybe the right time for women to get behind the turntable.