Cruise Ship Musician
Orchestra Musician, Piano-Vocalist, Guitar-Vocalist, Lounge Band, Cover Band, String Ensemble, Cocktail Pianist, Lounge Duo, Lounge Trio
Career Overview: The cruise ship musician works for the cruise line, performing music in several areas of a cruise ship, including its main theatre, various lounges around the ship, and even by the swimming pool areas.
Salary: $24,000 - $54,000+
Become A Cruise Ship MusicianAbout This Music Career
The house band (also called the show band or orchestra)—which performs in the main theatre of a cruise ship—is made up of a rhythm section (bass, drums, piano, and guitar) and a horn section (saxophone, trumpet, and trombone).
The house band acts as the backup band for all of the guest entertainers that perform on the ship, including vocalists, instrumentalists, magicians, jugglers, comedians and others. They also perform production shows along with a cast of singers and dancers. These production shows are produced by the cruise lines, and are typically played along to click track and audio tracks in order to coordinate properly with the light effects and pyrotechnics. Occasionally, the orchestra also gets to play small combo jazz and big band sets.
In the various lounges around the ship, guests can enjoy solo entertainers, bands, and classical ensembles. Solo entertainers typically include piano-vocalists, guitar-vocalists, cocktail pianists, and guitar players. Solo entertainers entertain passengers by playing cover songs in many different musical styles, including pop, rock, jazz, country, Latin, and even classical and flamenco.
For the cruise ships’ larger lounges, cruise lines usually hire 2- to 5-piece bands that play covers in wide varieties of styles. Lounge bands often play top-40, jazz, and ballroom dance music, where the smaller bands utilize sequences to make their repertoires as versatile as possible. The larger bands function like typical cover bands, playing mostly top-40 music, and covers on theme nights, which can include country, Latin, disco, and 50’s and 60’s rock ‘n roll.
By the cruise ships’ pools, you can generally find a 2- to 4-piece island band, playing pop, rock and reggae covers. Finally, in the ships’ restaurants and main atriums, you can find 2- to 5-piece string ensembles, performing selections from classical music repertoire, as well as light music, including jazz, pop, movie themes, and Broadway songs.
Salaries can range from $2,000 to $4,500 per month, and are paid out either bi-weekly or monthly.
Important note on the salary: If you’re thinking of becoming a cruise ship musician, don’t worry about transportation—the cruise line will fly you to the ship and back, with room and board included as well! This is a big financial advantage, since limited expenses while working on the cruise ship mean you can actually keep more of the money you make.
Cruise lines are known for providing stable employment opportunities. This makes sense when you consider that cruise lines are generally very successful and profitable companies. Since the slumping economy has made it difficult for musicians to find steady work, many have turned to being cruise ship performers in order to get a steady paycheck. There are many musicians that have been employed by the same cruise company for twenty years or more!
Orchestra musicians have the possibility of eventually moving into a musical director position at an increased salary, though this will usually involve the middle step of working as a sideman first. Leadership courses are provided by the cruise line to newly promoted musical directors, and seniority raises are given to all cruise ship musicians to reward loyalty and increase retention.
Education and Training
Musicians usually aren’t required to present music or other degrees during the application process. However, a solid music education is important to ensure basic skills, such as technique, intonation, knowledge of stylistics, and others. Given the limited amount of time for rehearsals on cruise ships, their performers need high levels of musicianship—especially when new shows must be put together in short amounts of time.
Experience, Skills, and Personality
Experience is just as important for cruise ship musicians—if not more—than their land-based counterparts. Cruise ship orchestra musicians, for example, must have experience playing in pit orchestras. They also need to have excellent sight-reading skills, as they perform new shows almost daily. Since improvisation in many different musical styles is also an important part of the cruise ship musician’s job, they must be comfortable with this aspect of performing as well.
Cruise ship musicians must be able to interact well with their peers in a closed environment. This includes having strong communication skills in order to avoid conflicts, both on and off the bandstand. They also need to be comfortable following the many rules and regulations that are inherent to working on a cruise ship.
In order to deliver the best entertainment, a cruise ship’s musicians or bands need to be outgoing and eager to interact with their audiences—the ship’s guests. Cruise lines want their bands to give lively, energetic performances; this is important for aspiring cruise ship musicians to keep in mind when they send their demo videos as part of their application process.
As a final note, because many cruise lines cater largely to native speakers of English, it may be important to have excellent English speaking skills for this type of position.
Unions and Associations
No union membership is required in order to be a cruise ship musician.
Suggestions for Getting Started
- Since this position is somewhat unique, doing some research is important. Aspiring cruise ship musicians will want to know exactly what to expect when they first step onto the ship. Finding this out ahead of time will help them perform at their best right from the start.
- Remember, all cruise ship musician applicants have to pass an audition, and the audition procedures can vary based on the position you’re applying for. As mentioned earlier, for orchestra musicians, sight-reading skills are very important and will usually be assessed during the audition process. And all solo entertainers and bands must submit videos of their projects, along with full repertoire lists, biographies, and photos.
- Check with an agency that specializes in cruise ship entertainment to learn more and take your career out to sea.