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60 Seconds with Amy McAllister


Monday 19 February 2024

60 Seconds with Amy McAllister Tell us about your role and your organisation.
My name is Amy Mc Allister, I am a Harpist, singer, accountant and administrative assistant!

Give us a brief overview of your career journey so far.
I’ve always played and loved music, but through a series of events, decided not to study it at college. I just wanted a 9-5 and decided I’d play music on the side. 

I thrived in academia and school. After A-levels I headed to Dublin to study Law (International) doing my Erasmus year in Uppsala Sweden. I didn't feel being a solicitor was the path for me, and would have preferred to work as a barrister, but its notoriously difficult and unpaid/badly paid, particularly when staring out. 

 I came out of college at twenty two, during the crash and I couldn't even get work as a waitress without contacts in Dublin. I had done my work experience as a young girl of sixteen in 'The Irish News' in Belfast, and loved communications, writing and current affairs. After college, I started working in the day time in The Irish Independent (unpaid) and supporting myself by gigging at night in Dublin City centre. 

Soon after I did an audition for a music show which was touring PBS America at the time. I started off there as the harper and soon moved over to vocals when the lead was off. I spent the next four years touring with many different dance and music shows. I loved seeing the world and playing music, but living on a tour bus with ten men and the physical demands of touring is arguably the most difficult experience of my adult life. My favourite place in America to tour was Savannah, Georgia, and unequivocally, American audiences are the best. When we had tour breaks, we would head to NYC for a few days or do things like go on road trips through Puerto Rico. I have been playing fiddle since I was seven and harp since I was fourteen. Music has taken me across the globe, and for that, I am tremendously grateful. 

 I had always been writing short stories and poems on the road and since I was a little girl. One morning, whilst on tour, I saw an advert for a job for someone with a law degree who had published written work. I came home off tour two weeks later and secured a job in the legal department of The Irish Daily Mail. It was surreal to me, being in an office after living for so long on a bus. I spent two of the happiest years of my life working in The Mail. The legal work was so stimulating and interesting. I loved being off the road and having routine. I soon became Beauty Writer, writing about the latest beauty products, and started to love that too. Then we brought in Evoke, and I wrote for them as well. I worked on countless legal cases and did a lot of background administrative work for the paper on top of the legal work. 

I left Dublin at 30. I didn't see myself getting onto the housing market and was deeply tired of how expensive rent was. I moved home and for the first time, decided I was going to do music full time. 
I had always been asked to play at weddings, since I was fourteen, but was often busy or working, so I started to do much more of this and push it. I also started to take my musicianship seriously, practising for hours every day. I'd never had the opportunity to be formally trained on any instrument, but I decided to learn as much as I could using Youtube and the likes. I got a part-time job as a waitress, as this was the only job which would allow me the flexibility go and gig when I wanted as there was little responsibility with it.
 I think its important when you are starting your business that you have a stream of money coming in from somewhere. I was living at home, and crucially, for the first time in my adult life, wasn’t spending a chunk of my earnings on rent. 

I received an e-mail one day, saying I had been shortlisted to represent Ireland at the worlds largest harp festival in Brazil. I was thrilled. I've always really connected with South America as a continent. In the end, even though I was the youngest on the short list, I managed to get the gig, and I think it was because I could sing. Its rare enough to be able to do both. I loved performing in Brazil, representing our Island and its beautiful music. There I worked with SALA orchestra and took quite a few workshops with the harpists in the orchestras, teaching them traditional Irish harp music. 

I really wanted to make an album. So I applied to Moving on Music's Emerging Artist Scheme and was accepted as one of their four emerging artists. This was a wonderful year and I finally received the mentoring and music education I badly needed in the form of the amazing Maeve Gilchrist who had been teaching at Berklee. I also found a singing teacher (this was funded by the Arts Council). I released my album 'String on String'. I was invited back to Brazil. I released my songs that I had written. I started building my wedding business up. I practised harp as much as I could and became as good as I could. I started learning all the classical voice material I had dreamed of being able to learn as a child but hadn't had the opportunity to. I just went for it. I pushed social media and learnt what I could about marketing through short courses WIB were running. I still wasn’t earning that much, because I was doing a lot of creative work, but may earnings were improving the more I learnt about growing my business. 

I also started teaching Music at the Music Yard in Larne. I’d been teaching on and off my whole life, and I still teach harp and singing online. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland have also really supported me as an artist, something I am grateful for. 

Now I run a successful Music Business and provide music for weddings, funerals and events. I am busy all the time. I love being able to do what I love, and not be on the road. I play at civil, humanist and religious ceremonies and receptions. I love meeting and working with couples to get their music right for them, and weddings are such happy occasions, its a real pleasure to be attending them all the time.  The driving with the job is hard, but I've cut down where I will travel too, although I had popped over to Malta and the likes for one off gigs if I am asked! I've also done small tours in Colombia with Luinn Music and had many wonderful music collaborations over the last seven years. I play at funerals too, and these are sad occasions, but music makes the ceremony more peaceful and adds so much to it. I write my own songs too, for fun and play my fiddle as a hobby only now. 

I’ve loved starting a business, and now this year am mentoring another young woman, Christine, who is a sewist. I'd love to see her business flourish. 

Doing the Women in Business ‘Go For It’ course two years ago was game changer for me. I was mentored by two amazing women who helped me understand how to excel in business. I learnt how to monetise my skill and market my talents properly and really started to view myself as a business and not an artist. When I did this properly and with guidance, I flourished. I’d say the ‘Go For It’ programme as been the single most influential programme I’ve done to date. Being skilled at business is as important as the quality of your product. The likes of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheehan are business people, in as much as they are artists. 

Music has been the greatest gift and joy of my life. As I get older, I'm having to work hard to avoid injuries from playing, but I'm navigating that as best I can. 

I feel very grateful to have the life I have playing music full time. It’s hard work to get your business off the ground, but it is worth it. I’d tell any other entrepreneurs out there to go for it!

Describe yourself in 3 words.
Creative, communicative and conscientious.

What is one skill that helps you most in your role?
Being driven

What advice do you have for women in your sector/industry/type of role? 
Practise, practise, practise. Don't undervalue the monetary value of your talent and skill.

Who has been your biggest career inspiration and why?
I've kinda forged my own path, so I've had to go inwards to garner inspiration. The women who are singers and harpists now on the scene really are the first of their kind. I know of one lady doing this job near retirement age. I loved Mary O'Hara's singing. 

If you had to pick your soundtrack song to get you through the working day, what would it be?
Raining at Sunset, Chris Thile.

What's your favourite break-time snack?

How can you fellow WIB members keep up to date with you and your organisation?
Check out the Amy Harpist and Singer Website 
Follow Amy on InstagramFacebook ,Youtube

Monday 19 February 2024

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