CSN Music Graduate Story: Niall Connolly
“Niall Connolly is a folk icon. Among the most vibrant, poignant, and authentic indie folk artists in New York City.”
– No Depression
Year graduated from CSN: 2003
Current area of work
I am a songwriter. I play about 250 gigs a year all over Europe and the US. I also host a number of nights in New York through the Big City Folk collective. I mostly do all my own management and booking, and sometimes my own sound. I have released 7 studio albums, a live album and an EP. I've played Glastonbury, the Opera House, the Olympia, The Rockwood Music Hall, NYC as well as countless dive bars, clubs, pubs, rooftops, basements and house concerts.
Advice to CSN student/graduates:
I feel like the best lesson I learned from my time at CSN was if you want music to be your job, treat it like a job. Being good is not enough. You have to be courteous, patient, and professional. Most of us don't get themythical big break. I've chipped away over the years and formed small cracks. I've found pockets of people who love what I do. And pockets who do not. I put in the hours and I manage to make a living through music. It has been a frequently financially stressful but very interesting life.
Depending on your levels of optimism/pessimism the music business is either evolving, dying or dead. So what can we do? Whine about it? Get in the Delorean and go back?
No. Be your own business. Organise your own gigs. Get together with friends organise a tour. Organise a festival. Trade information with other independent acts. Support eachother. Collaborate with visual artist friends. Record your music. Build a mailing list. Not just social media. Be polite with the staff at the venue. Know the sound engineer's name. Write it down for next time if like me you a disaster in this regard.
Make new music. Write. Write. Write.
Listen to my song ' I picked Stones' for a brief catalogue of some of the other jobs I had. My last job before I left was actually a great job. I worked at Cork Music Library for a number of years. My boss there was wonderful and eventually took me aside and encouraged me to go full time with music.
Have you kept in touch with many of your classmates? Are they still working in the industry?
Yes, I've kept in touch with many of my classmates and many graduates from other years of the course too. Anytime I am home I invite Karl Nesbitt to perform with me. We became old friends on the first week of our first year when we were "put" in a band together. Since then he has played on four of my albums and produced one. I've also had the pleasure of having Chloe Nagle and Sandra O' Mahony run sound for me on many occasions. My friend John Collins who was in 2nd year when I was in first year helps book and promote my German tours. A very young Mick Flannery opened for me a couple of times years back and has repaid the favour many, many time over.
I met another graduate Paul Solecki in Munich on my last tour. Paul is also a full time musician. He commented that there is not a day goes by when he doesn't use something he learned at CSN. I agreed.
Aisling Fitzpatrick was ahead of me in the course and she played with me for many years too as did Gavin O'Sullivan, Billy Marnane, Justin O' Mahony...it is a long list.
The most comprehensive answer to this question really would be a simple, yes and yes.
Did you find your time at CSN beneficial?
It was without doubt the most important career decisions I have ever made. I found it hugely inspirational to be surrounded by other people who not only loved music but took it seriously. In retrospect I also really appreciated that we all had to do all aspects of the course. Performance, sound, management, producion. Not just the specific bits that we were interested in. I think that helped produce performers who were more aware of the needs of sound engineers and sound engineers who are incredibly in tune with their performers.
The music world is littered with flakes so it was great to be surrounded by such a solid group of people. I am hugely indebted to Chris, Ursula and Johnny and everyone who ever gave a class or workshop while I was there. I respected their knowledge and their absolute willingness to share. I worked hard to impress them. I still do. To this day Chris Ahern is always one of the first people I send a copy of my latest work to.
This article is part of our CSN Music Graduate Profile Series