Meet music producer, performer, and composer Ailbhe Fitzpatrick - whose daily 9-5 involves working on the creative ideas behind campaigns aired all over the world.
Do you ever watch an advertisement and think, ‘Hmm, I wonder how they came up with that concept?’ or 'Why did they decide to use that song?'
We didn’t until we sat down with this Dublin native who works behind the scenes of major ad campaigns that are broadcast across America every day.
“The best part about my job is that I am working with music every day, and that is something that I never thought would happen for me,” the 26-year-old said. “I honestly couldn’t live without music and so I am really grateful to be where I am today.”
Here, she talks about getting her start in the industry in New York, singing at major Irish cultural events in Manhattan, and why she ultimately traded in the NYC skyline for Los Angeles sunsets.
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Your job sounds cool. What does it entail?
I am a music producer, performer and composer for advertising and branding campaigns (I wear a lot of hats) for SOUTH Music. Some days, I’ll come in and sing like a zombie for a musical number about a phone company. Next day, I will have to meow like a cat for a pop song for a commercial about cat food. One of my personal favorites was when we worked on translating pasta sauce reviews into Italian and building operas out of them to be performed on camera while romantically gazing at a pasta sauce jar for the Rao’s campaign. There are also days when I get to sit at a piano and write a song to be placed on the project.
Our world is very fast paced and can be stressful at times but we definitely have a lot of fun! My role is to help facilitate production from start to finish, making sure that everything runs smoothly - from finding the best work for us to the first creative call, to sending out the creative brief to composers, to revisions and right through to the final delivery of the track.
What compelled you to move to the US in the first place?
I always had something in the back of my head that said, ‘There’s got to be more out there’. In 2015, I was living at home in my parent’s house and working hard as a producer in independent Film and TV, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to afford to move out. I saw the opportunity in the J-1 visa and jumped at it with a couple of great friends.
I also promised a very good friend, Ross, that we would go to New York together a long time ago. He told me he was going to dance and I was going to sing and I didn’t really believe him. Ross passed away just before the Leaving Certificate, and I knew I had to fulfill my promise to him.
It was definitely one of the most terrifying decisions I have ever made, but I do not regret it for one second. Even when I meet people who have lived out here for 20+ years they still talk about the constant yearning for home. There are definitely challenges to being away, but you have to stay positive and focused. Home will always be there and you can always go back when you really need to.
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Describe your first step on the career ladder in NYC
Before I left, I sent my CV out to as many people as I could think of in the US. Having worked in film and TV in Ireland, I assumed that is where I would end up. I did a Skype interview in my office in Dublin for a potential internship in NYC with an Independent Representation company called The Family NYC. I then met with them in person, and we just knew I was going to be a great fit for them. I got very lucky, but planning ahead and putting yourself out there definitely helps in the process.
We don’t have representation companies within film and advertising in Ireland so it was definitely a foreign model to me, but it sounded like my skills as a film and TV producer would translate really well into the role. The Family NYC represents a number of production companies, who each might have 8-10 directors on their roster, they also represent a music house Barking Owl and, at the time, an editorial company called Whitehouse Post who have a huge roster of editors. They act as the middle (wo)man between the big advertising agencies and these creative companies in order to put the best team together for each potential commercial project. So for me, it was all a learning curve about how the advertising world looked from the inside, which I had never thought of as an option to be honest.
What did NYC teach you about your industry?
It taught me that the skills I had learned in film and TV production are very transferable, as is true with any career. Hey, even my waitressing skills have come in handy! It’s important to see this and believe in your potential, as if you believe it, then your prospective employers will too. It also opened my eyes to the possibility of the advertising world, which I had never thought about before. Once I was in the world, I realized how many women were Directors, Creatives, Executive Producers, or owners of creative companies, which I hadn’t seen as much before. This gave me a great deal of confidence in my chances of creating something special while surrounded by strong, creative, empowering women.
What are the highlights of your career in NYC?
Honestly, one of my favorite moments in my work in NYC was getting to meet Sarah Jessica Parker while I was helping out at a wrap party for her TV show, Divorced. Which I guess isn’t really a career moment but it took my breath away as Carrie Bradshaw is the character that represented NYC for me. She was so kind and wonderful and I was totally star-struck, we talked about chocolate truffles for about ten minutes!
Also getting to sing at the Irish Consulate, with The Cuala Foundation, during the opening ceremony for the Irish Centenary events was an especially proud moment for me. I performed ‘Hoist Up Our Flag’, a song that was written by the amazing singer Susan McKeown’s grandmother back in 1916. The song was never published and so it was technically its world premiere. I have such a huge amount of pride about being from Ireland and so being the person to perform this for the first time was a huge honor for me. My deep obsession with the Irish language and Irish folk music has definitely gotten even stronger while being away from home! It’s that sense of being connected to a community and having a cultural identity of your own.
What made you take the leap of faith to go to LA?
It was a really difficult decision I have to say, as New York still has a piece of my heart. Things in New York started to slow down work wise and I got a call from a very good friend of mine telling me that her friend was looking for a producer in LA. I took the call, then two more calls, and was flown out to LA to meet everyone. I remember landing and going straight to the SOUTH Music office in Santa Monica by the beach, and being blown away by how bright and spacious it was - the total opposite to NYC. I was offered the job shortly after that, so I packed everything up and moved across the country in the space of about three weeks. It was hectic and stressful but so worth it. When making this kind of decision I think you have to remember that cities and places are not going to disappear just because you leave them. I took a leap of faith because I knew that New York was always going to be there and I could always move back if things didn’t work out.
What are the highlights of your professional life in LA?
Definitely working with Melissa McCarthy on her Directorial debut for Walmart. I got to be her right-hand woman for all things music for the project. My heart almost jumped out of my body when I heard we were licensing and covering Bird Set Free by one of my all-time favorite artists, Sia. Then I found out we would be working with the out-of-this-world singer and performer Keala Settle (the bearded lady in The Greatest Showman.)
I got to get in a studio with Keala and Greg Wells who has produced the likes of Katy Perry, Dua Lipa, and Ariana Grande and listen to Keala sing her heart out while Melissa and her husband Ben Falcone were there too. It was a moment I will never forget. We also worked with the amazing up-and-coming Dylan Conrique, who’s a star in her own right, during shooting at The Ace Theatre. Our composer was Theodore Shapiro who has written scores such as Collateral Beauty and The Devil Wears Prada. All in all it was an incredible experience where I got to work with a team that I couldn’t have even dreamed up.
What projects that you worked on are you proudest of?
It’s hard because I am honestly so proud of everything I have done both with Beta Petrol in New York and SOUTH Music. If I was to mention a couple of projects I would have to say the Sandy Hook Promise Project “Evan”. Which was a PSA (public services announcement) for the national gun violence prevention organization in the United States? It is a really shocking piece that brings home the realities of the current gun laws here in America. We had the challenge of finding the perfect song to accompany the piece and tell the story without giving anything away too quickly. It was a tough task but I think we struck the perfect balance with Shelby Lynne’s Johnny Met June. Every time I watch it I still get goosebumps and I was so proud when it won Best In Show at AICP and Best Use of Licensed Pre-Existing Song at the AMP Awards in 2017.
I also really love the project, Thin Ice that we did for the Olympic Campaign for Toyota. It showcased the amazing Ashley Wagner, who has been through a lot in her career. At the age of 25, she has already had six concussions from various falls, resulting in a loss of memory and of full cognitive function. Yet she has continued to train. We took the world famous track Nothing Else Matters by Metallica and created a string arrangement to fit the emotional intensity of the piece. We got to do a session at The Village Studios in the studio that Fleetwood Mac had recorded in. So I got to stand in a vocal booth room that was built for Stevie Nicks who is definitely one of my biggest idols of all time! I think the piece turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful and the campaign ended up winning five Cannes Lions including a Gold Lion at Cannes last year.
How has moving abroad shaped your career?
It's definitely made me more confident in my abilities and made me realize that it is okay to move around a bit until you find a position that makes you truly happy. I have been afforded opportunities here that would have never happened in Ireland in such a short space of time. Music has always been a huge part of my life but I would have never believed I would end up where I am today. I thought it was always going to be a passion of mine but I didn’t realize that my passion and my work had the ability to collide so greatly. I guess the thing to note is that the industry is much bigger out here, so there are many avenues for you to take and more opportunities will arise. People are definitely more willing to give you a chance if they see potential in you, which is something that I love about American people. They really want to support you and forge a pathway for you so that you can reach your full potential.
One of my favorite things to do is perform, especially Irish folk music, so I make as much time as possible for that. I have performed a lot with the Irish America Writers and Artists organization (IAMWA) and also performed at the American Irish Historical Society. I want to continue with this in 2019 and the plan is to hopefully try and host my own Salon out here in LA, where people from all walks of life can come and share their art, writing, and music to a respectful and caring audience. It is a really positive way to promote creativity, which I think everyone has in them, as it allows you a safe space to share your work with fellow creative people and gain inspiration and support.
I am also a documentary filmmaker in my spare time, as that is what I got my degree in while I was at the Dublin Institute of Technology, so I want to dedicate some time to make some short films in the coming year as telling people’s stories is one of my greatest passions. I’d also love to start promoting Irish language out here in LA, maybe work on creating a pop-up Gaeltacht community? That would be really fun!
To contact Ailbhe, find her on Instagram here.