Country music star Lisa McHugh is a familiar face in Enniskillen, having made it her home for the past five years as she concentrates on building her music career.
We automatically think of Lisa McHugh the performer, but this week, The Impartial Reporter examines Lisa McHugh the businesswoman.
When Lisa McHugh goes 'on the road' she is accompanied by a team of nine: five band members, a tour manager, a stage technician, a light engineer and a sound engineer. Behind the scenes, she is also responsible for transport, PR, costume and travel costs.
She comments: “For a 27-year-old girl, it's a lot of pressure for me to ensure there is money in at the end of the day. The band and the rest of the crew all have families at home, they have food to put on that table, bills to pay and I have to be the one who makes sure that, when I'm not actually on the job, I am working extra hard in order to make sure that when we do go to the gig, there are enough people coming through the door to pay the bills.
“There have been a good few occasions where there hasn't been enough people coming through the door and I've then had to invest a lot of money into the business myself.”
Q. Do you draw a distinction between Lisa McHugh the performer and Lisa McHugh the businesswoman?
A. “To separate both is not something I would have thought of, it's just par for the course.
It certainly hasn't been an easy road. Anyone starting off in this business [needs to be aware that] you are investing a lot of money into the business and you're really looking into the future and the bigger picture.
We would have had gigs with 15 or 30 people there and obviously we only earn a percentage of each show and that percentage doesn't always cut it, it doesn't always meet the final outgoing that we need to cover.
The boys I work with are incredibly understanding and they would never put me deliberately under pressure. They would never say: 'I don't care how many people were here tonight, I need my money.' I'm lucky in that I would class them all as brothers because we have spent so much time together and they understand how hard it is and how hard each of us is working to make it work.”
Q. How did you finance the launch of your career?
A. “I always had this dream of being on stage or of being in the music business in some capacity.
From listening to my mum and dad's business conversations (her father owned a construction business in Glasgow) as I grew up, I realised the importance of opening a savings account for a rainy day.
Ever since I left school at the age of 17 and began working, I always had that stuck in the back of my mind – to save as much as I could. I would put a proportion of my wages into a savings account every week and as they years went on it built up and meant that I had a safety blanket. It helped me whenever I needed it, e.g. when the costs coming in were much higher than the people coming through the door.”
Q. Who's on the Lisa McHugh team?
A. “There are 10 of us on the road now.
I always knew that I'd need five band members. Myself and my band leader Ray started off by putting the band together.
As time went on and we noticed that demand was increasing and more people were coming through the doors, it was then that I had to have a business mind and calculate how much takings I might expect and decide if I could afford a sound or light engineer, a tour manager etc.
After that initial burst of five band members, everyone else has come on board gradually since January 2011.
I didn't start out thinking it would be an overnight success. I knew it would be far from it.
I had watched other artists. I listened to their stories and listened to promoters and managers in the business who said, far from a rosy garden, everyone had to work incredibly hard to get people to come back and to have promoters wanting to give you the chance to play their venue, because they are not going to be too forthcoming about putting an artist on that's not going to have a good draw.
There's a lot of aspects that you've got to make sure are covered.
Thankfully over the last two years we've managed to build on the numbers and the demand and the promoters are looking for us more then we imagined.”
Q. Do you have a business background?
A. “I'm lucky in that, before I came over here, I grew up helping my dad in his construction business.
From a young age I would have been sitting around the dinner table listening to my dad talking about what went on that day. Listening to those conversations was a huge learning curve.
As I grew older I became more interested in it and worked with him when I left school. Being with him in the office helped me realise that invoices had to be done, accounts had to be checked, VAT returns and tax returns had to be checked.
Everything happens for a reason and I'm lucky it all happened the way it did.”
Q. What goes on behind the scenes?
A. “Transport costs; I have to make sure there's diesel in the lorry. It has to go for a service every month. My own car must always be roadworthy.
The PA music system must always be working. If anything goes down, it's my responsibility to pay for it to be fixed.
The lighting, the sound desks, the costumes.
I would have to make sure that the boys are wearing what I want them to wear so I have to go out and pay for their clothes every month.
Promotional; I have to pay a wage for the promotions team and management who must ensure that the name and brand is working for me.
There are so many things behind the scene e.g. if we went on tour, I would have the hotel expenses, food, flights, boats etc.
It doesn't be long adding up so you certainly have to have your head screwed on in this business.”
Q. What piece of advice stands out?
A. “The one thing that has been said to me since day one, and continues to be said by artists and promoters who've been in the business for years, is: 'It's very hard for a girl to make it.'
But I'm a person who likes to prove people wrong and I'm a very determined person! When I want something I do my best to achieve it.
Those people were definitely right, it's not an easy road for a girl. But, if the men can do it, with a little extra work behind the scenes, I'm sure a girl can do it too.”
Q. Do you forget about all that when you step onto the stage?
A. “Yes. When I go on stage it's the only time I forget about it to be honest!
The bigger artists in the pop charts would be paying someone to take care of all of that but that is an extra wage. If I am in a position to control it myself I will because I like to know exactly where I stand.
However, when I go on stage I have that two hours where all I am concentrating on is performing and entertaining
I am there to make everyone else forget about their money, job or family problems so I can't go up there and be thinking my problems; that's when it goes to the back of my mind.”