For many musicians who are graduating from college, or professionals struggling in the current music landscape, the hope of finding a full-time gig can be daunting. With opportunities in arts organizations and production companies limited these days, the path of a professional musician can be an uphill battle. But before you apply for a job at your local Starbucks, please consider something different: audition for a gig on a cruise ship.
If you are a musician and never worked on a cruise ship, there is a good chance you know someone that has. There are hundreds of ships sailing every corner of the world, and just about all of them have a full entertainment department. With ships sailing each day of the year, major cruise lines are always looking for new players to fill their rosters. For commercial musicians, cruise ship employment opportunities are readily available. To be considered for a position, every applicant must undergo a brief audition. Some lines require a video recording in conjunction with speaking on the phone to ensure authenticity, but often a phone audition along with credible references are sufficient.
The music played onboard ships require commercial experience including pop, top40, jazz, and even some classical. Remember, patrons on a ship are there for vacation and want to party. They want music they are familiar with and can sing along to and drink to.
There are a number of different positions available on ships that are, for the most part, standard throughout the industry. Those positions are:
-Orchestra/Showband Instrumentalists: horns and rhythm section (these require strong sightreading skills and an audition is required)
-Piano Bar Entertainer
-Solo Guitar Vocalist (pub entertainer)
-Party Bands (4-6 pieces, need to have specific sets covering oldies, disco, motown, country, and standards)
-String Trios and Quartets (many lines are switching to trios)
There are some considerations to be aware of before accepting a ship gig. Firstly, a pre-employment medical examination with laboratory tests (some lines reimburse for this, but many do not) are an industry-wide standard. The details of each line's requirements differ slightly, but be prepared for getting a complete physical. You would also need a valid passport (and visa if you're not an American citizen), and many lines require a criminal background check as well.
As for life onboard, most every cabin design is a bunked bed, shared cabin with another musician. Food is also provided onboard, many ships allow for dining in the passenger buffet area in addition to the staff mess. Complete healthcare, from the moment you step aboard until the end of your assignment, is provided. Also, travel is provided to and from the ship no matter where in the world the ship may be.
Contract lengths vary from three to seven months, depending on the line and urgency of the opening. People often wonder if there are short contracts available. They do exist in emergency situations but are not generally scheduled in advance.
The questions are endless when it comes to life on a cruise vessel. It is such a unique lifestyle that each person experiences it differently. There are concessions to be made for this kind of employment, namely being away from home for extended periods of time and living in small quarters. However, cruise employment can take you all over the world, provide steady employment, and introduce you to other professional musicians all while making money in an environment with very little expenses.