Alison Kay first studied composition with Tom Wilson and James Macmillan at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, continuing with Simon Bainbridge and Edwin Roxburgh at the Royal College of Music, where she won many of the major composition prizes. She completed a Masters degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Robert Saxton, and a doctorate at Sussex University under the supervision of Martin Butler.

Kay's music has been performed by the BBC Singers (Ocean), the Philharmonia Orchestra (Communication?) and the Composers Ensemble (Threads, commissioned with funds from the Jo Johnson Memorial Award);  her piano trio Pulse Echo was premiered in the Music Past and Present Series in London. Recent projects have included Shadow Dancing, commissioned by percussionist Richard Benjafield for performances at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge and Dartington Summer School, and Beating Perceptions, premiered at the Brighton Festival 2001.