What You Need to Know About Working on a Cruise Ship as a Musician & Cruise Line Auditions
Being a Cruise Ship Musician is sort of a mystery. That is, unless you’ve ever been on a cruise or if you’ve done your research.
Most people just don’t see a Cruise Ship Musician in action, so if you’re looking to become one, this is the right article for you. We’ll cover:
- What it’s actually like to work as a Cruise Ship Musician.
- How much you can make as a Cruise Ship Musician.
- Cruise line auditions and how to get on a ship.
- Advice from a working Cruise Ship Musician.
What is a Cruise Ship Musician?
A Cruise Ship Musician is someone a cruise hires to entertain their guests during the trip. Being in this line of work requires that you know how to play a bunch of different types of music.
These types of musicians can earn a rate of up to about $50k per year, depending on the cruise and how many trips they take. Each trip usually takes a few months.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to say in terms of advancement as a Cruise Ship Musician, but it can be a nice gig that provides a steady paycheck and a chance to travel the globe.
What Kind of Person Does Best as a Cruise Ship Musician?
If you want to make it in this line of work, you’ll have to be okay with living close to others.
You’ll essentially be living very close to people you don’t know and performing next to musicians you just met. Most of the time, each musician is hired on a solo contract so you’ll probably find yourself sharing a room with someone you don’t know.
You’ll be stuck on a ship for long periods of time — that may or may not sound like a good thing to you.
If you’re an independent type of person who’s personable, friendly, and okay with new people, you’ll do just fine.
“My favorite part about the gig is the challenge of playing so many different styles of music. The range of genres in the production shows alone is pretty varied but with guest entertainers coming on the ship all the time with their own charts, it really keeps your reading chops up and helps to keep you feeling fresh.” — Cruise Ship Musician Alexander Price
What’s it Actually Like Being a Cruise Ship Musician?
To learn what it’s actually like to work on a cruise ship as a musician, I talked with a musician who works for Royal Caribbean and has been on multiple cruises, Alexander Price.
He’s a guitarist, contemporary violinist, educator, and a graduate of a music school. If you’re considering this line of work, this is a must-read interview. It will give you a real look into what it’s like working as a musician while sailing the Great Big Blue.
What’s a Regular Day For You as a Cruise Ship Musician?
“The average day onboard usually starts with a rehearsal if we’re playing a new show with a guest artist. Or if we’re scheduled to put on of one of the three production shows we keep in the rotation, it’s usually just a short sound check.
If we’re in port, sometimes I’ll head out with some other crew members to get lunch or find some other ways to enjoy the day. Some members of the house band are split up to play different venues around the ship in the evening.
I frequently play solo jazz standards by myself in one of the bars and sometimes in the main atrium with other members of the band too. At night, we usually play 2-3 headliner shows in the theater to finish off the night.
Aside from rehearsals and performing, the band also helps out with the guest safety drill at the start of every new cruise.”
What’s Your Favorite Part About It?
“My favorite part about the gig is the challenge of playing so many different styles of music. The range of genres in the production shows alone is pretty varied but with guest entertainers coming on the ship all the time with their own charts, it really keeps your reading chops up and helps to keep you feeling fresh.
I love looking at a chart for the first time and reading it down in rehearsal and nailing it together as a band with hardly any rehearsal. It still amazes me how easy sight reading has become in my last two years spent doing this. There was a time not long ago where I really struggled with reading and playing any kind of music I wasn’t familiar with.
This job has helped me improve so much as a musician.”
How Did You Get Into This Line of Work?
“I’ve had a few friends that went down this road and enjoyed it. It seemed like a cool opportunity and I love to travel so it was an easy decision.”
Do You Get Tired of it in Any Way?
“There are some mundane qualities to the gig. By the time you’re a few months into your contract, you’ve already played the production shows close to 50 times. It might not be the most musically fulfilling thing, but it still beats having a real job.
Additionally, the food onboard for crew members is pretty disappointing but luckily the performers have some ‘guest privileges’ that include various dining venues around the ship.”
“It still amazes me how easy sight reading has become in my last two years spent doing this. There was a time not long ago where I really struggled with reading and playing any kind of music I wasn’t familiar with. This job has helped me improve so much as a musician.” — Cruise Ship Musician Alexander Price
What Advice Would You Give to People Looking to Become Cruise Ship Musicians?
“Work on your sight-reading chops — that’s the biggest part of the audition. It’s actually a pretty easy gig to get since there is such a high turnover rate. If you try it out and decide it’s not for you, no harm done. Plenty of people do that.
Most importantly, be prepared to separate yourself from your smartphone and social media. Internet on the ship is crazy expensive.”
Would You Have Been Able to Land This Gig if You Hadn’t Gotten a Music Education?
“No way. I was such a mess before [going to music school]. Being under the guidance of great musicians while also being surrounded by so many like-minded peers is had to argue against.
Secondary education can be expensive, but the connections and personal growth I’ve experienced as a result are impossible to put a price on and while there are musicians on ships without formal training, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without mine.”
Where Can You Start?
If you’re seriously looking into being a Cruise Ship Musician, what can you do right now to make that happen? Do you just call up all the cruise lines and ask for a job?
Well, pretty much.
If you have friends who have done this before, you can start with them. Ask them how they got their first cruise gig, and maybe even ask them to connect you.
Otherwise, you can check out any number of job-finding websites, like Berklee, Lime Music Entertainment, or Landau Music. Or you can contact a cruise line directly and ask to speak with their hiring department.
You could also consider getting a music degree. Even though Price and other Cruise Ship Musicians say you don’t need a degree, they say it was very helpful in terms of honing your musicianship, sight-reading skills, and personal connections.
You can also go to YouTube and look up behind-the-scenes videos of the Cruise Ship Musician lifestyle. This will give you some more concrete images to put with the knowledge you now have of this type of job.
But most importantly, you’ll need to practice. Know your instrument. Become an expert sight reader. Learn to play with fellow musicians and in many different genres. Also, play out as much as possible in order to get comfortable in front of people.
You have to have the chops as a musician if you want any standing chance at this career. Just assume that you have to blow the minds of any potential employer and practice until you’re that good.
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