This past week I had the distinct pleasure of working aboard the Oceania Riviera, a wonderful luxury cruise ship. I spent eight days sailing the Caribbean, playing music every other night with an incredible band. This, believe it or not, is a job. Over the last ten years, music has taken me to some incredible places in the world, and I am grateful daily. The job I am on at the moment is not actual “Cruise Ship Work.” The types of work I will be referring to in this blog are contracts directly with cruise ship companies or agencies for entertainment work aboard their ships. These contracts last anywhere from three to six months, and they find musicians playing in night clubs and showrooms nightly on board the ship. Walking around the ship over the last week reminded me of what it was like working as a cruise ship musician right out of college and some of the long term benefits of those experiences.
After four years at Berklee College Of Music as a guitar performance major, I was chomping at the bit to get out into the world and start working as a musician. I, of course, had no idea how to do that. Unfortunately, music schools and music lessons do not usually teach music students how to work as professional musicians. In the end, you have incredible tools, but no business plan. One great, often overlooked, job opportunity for musicians is working on cruise ships. Every cruise ship has an entertainment department comprising of singers, dancers, instrumentalists, full bands, DJ’s, and much more. After college, I spent just over a year working for Holland America and Seaborne cruise lines. These positions are perfect for young musicians still in school or freshly graduating from college. Here are five benefits to working as a cruise ship musician.
1. Travel, Travel, Travel
Music students spend plenty of time fantasizing about the places they will go, and I can testify that an instrumental skill can certainly be a great vehicle. Cruise ships visit some of the most exotic places on earth, and in the span of one summer, you could see a dozen countries or more. I did a four-month contract for Seaborne cruise lines that took me to almost thirty countries including Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt. There is no other way, even on tour with an artist, that I would have been able to see some of these places. Looking back, I find the travel to be invaluable.
2. Try And Try Again
In major music cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville, musicians can be judged quickly and harshly. This means that you won’t get many chances to make mistakes without creating a lasting impression. Cruise ships pick up new passengers every cruise and with those new passengers comes a fresh start. If you didn’t do something the way you wanted, don’t worry, you will get another chance, and another, and another. This is a great way to get seasoned quickly in a safe environment before entering into the real world in a major music market, if that is your goal.
In music school and in music lessons, we learn what are called “standards.” This term is most often associated with jazz and refers to a collection of songs that every musician knows. Outside of music school the term “standards” refers to top 40 songs that come up at every wedding, private party, or corporate event. We call these gigs GB, or general business gigs. The songs on these gigs are exactly the same as the songs played on cruise ships. We’re talking everything from Blue Bossa to My Girl to I Will Survive and much more. There are literally hundreds of songs a musician should have in their head and hands at all times. Cruise ships build this repertoire up quickly.
Depending on what kind of work you want to do as a professional musician, reading music may or may not be an imperative skill. I work mostly as a pop music sideman, and in this world, reading virtually never comes up. However, when I get called for certain recording sessions or general business work, reading is essential and can be the difference between one person getting the job and another. Cruise ships are all about reading. You will have an iPad filled with music, and every day you will be reading. On some ships, you will be performing with guest performers and they will bring their own charts. The point is that you will get a tremendous amount of reading experience; and by the time your contract is over, if you weren’t already a good reader, you will be. Remember, reading music in a class is never the same as on a gig when it’s do or die.
5. Plan Your Next Move
Though some musicians can make a career out of working on cruise ships, it is difficult and will wear you down. The travel is never ending, you are isolated from the real world, and building a “home” on land is virtually impossible. In my opinion, cruise ship contracts are great for transitioning, especially right out of college or high school before making your next move. They are the perfect summer job. The pay on cruise varies from line to line, but usually falls between $500 and $800 per week. Room and board is included, so saving money is fairly easy. This makes a cruise ship contract perfect for planning the move to a new city, if that is the desire of the heart.
For information about cruise ship auditions visit ProShip's website. You can also visit cruise line websites and research on Google. Cruise lines are always in need of musicians.