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Cruise Ship Jobs: Musician

  • Post author: Xuxu
  • Post category: Cruise Ship Jobs

Working on a cruise ship as a musician can be an incredibly rewarding and unique experience. You get to perform for a diverse and international audience while traveling to some of the world’s most stunning destinations. As a musician, you will typically be part of a larger entertainment team, which may include singers, dancers, and other performers. You will be responsible for performing a wide variety of music, depending on your particular role and the needs of the cruise line. You might be part of a house band, providing live music for various events around the ship, or you could be a solo performer, playing sets in the ship’s lounges or bars.

One of the best things about working on a cruise ship as a musician is the opportunity to play a wide variety of music. You may be asked to perform everything from jazz to pop, from rock to country, and everything in between. This variety can be both challenging and exciting, as you work to perfect your skills in a range of styles and genres.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Table of Contents

Benefits of Working on a Cruise Ship as a Musician

Another benefit of working on a cruise ship is the chance to work with other musicians from all around the world. You will likely meet and play with musicians from many different countries and backgrounds, which can broaden your musical horizons and expose you to new styles and techniques,however, working on a cruise ship is not without its challenges. You will be living and working in close quarters with your fellow crew members for extended periods, which can be both rewarding and stressful. You will need to be able to work well as part of a team, and have good communication skills to navigate any conflicts that arise. You should expect to work between three to six months while onboard on a musician contract. 

You will also need to be adaptable and flexible in your approach to performing. The cruise ship environment can be unpredictable, with changes to the schedule or unexpected events happening frequently. As a musician, you will need to be able to adjust your performance to fit the needs of the moment and respond to last-minute changes.

Cruise Ship in Mykonos

Working on a cruise ship as a musician can be a great way to see the world and hone your musical skills, but it’s not for everyone. You will need to be able to handle the challenges of living and working in a confined space with others, and be able to adapt to changes in your schedule and performance requirements. If you can do that, though, the rewards of performing for a diverse and international audience, and traveling to some of the world’s most stunning destinations, can make it all worth it

Still not sure if working on a cruise ship is right for you? Visit the post 10 Reasons Why You Should Work on a Cruise Ship and that might just convince you why you should!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Work on a Cruise Ship

What are the requirements to work as a Musician on a Cruise Ship?

cruise ship musician repertoire

To work as a musician on a cruise ship, there are several requirements you typically need to meet. While specific requirements may vary between cruise lines and positions, here are some common aspects to consider:

1. Musical Skills: You should have proficiency in your chosen instrument(s) and demonstrate strong musical abilities. Cruise ship musicians are often expected to perform a wide range of musical genres to cater to diverse audiences.

2. Experience and Education: Having relevant experience as a musician, either through live performances, studio work, or other musical engagements, can be advantageous. While formal education in music is not always a requirement, it can be beneficial to showcase your training and knowledge.

3. Repertoire: Cruise ships often have specific requirements for the types of music they expect musicians to perform. Being versatile and having a diverse repertoire that spans different genres can be an advantage.

4. Audition: Cruise lines typically conduct auditions to assess musicians’ skills and suitability for onboard positions. Prepare a strong audition that showcases your talent, versatility, and ability to engage with an audience.

5. Professionalism: Cruise ship musicians are expected to maintain a high level of professionalism both on and off stage. This includes punctuality, a positive attitude, teamwork skills, and the ability to adapt to various performance settings and schedules.

For more specific and detailed information on how to work on a cruise ship and it’s requirements, please visit the post What are the Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship? (Step by Step)

Requirements to work on a cruise ship

How much can you make working as a Cruise Ship Musician?

US Dollars

As a rough estimate, entry-level cruise ship musicians might earn around $2,000 to $3,000 per month . However, keep in mind that this can increase with experience, expertise, and the type of role you hold. Musicians with specialized skills or those in leadership positions, such as band leaders or musical directors, may receive higher salaries.

The pay for working as a musician on a cruise ship can vary depending on a number of factors, including the cruise line, the type of musical performance, the musician’s level of experience, and the length of the contract. In general, cruise ship musicians can expect to earn a salary that is comparable to other entry-level music jobs, but with the added benefit of free room and board and the opportunity to travel to different destinations around the world.

Temple of Poseidon,Greece

It’s worth noting that working as a musician on a cruise ship can also come with additional benefits and perks. For example, musicians will often have access to all of the amenities and activities on board the ship, as well as the opportunity to explore different ports of call during your free time.  Most of the musician working hours are in the evening, giving you plenty of time to explore the amazing ports of call where your cruise ship takes you.

Where can I apply to work as a Musician on a Cruise Ship?

Musician Playing Violin

Now that you know how cool and exciting a carreer at sea can be, it’s time to stating preparing yourself to apply for these awesome jobs. There are a few places you can check out. Here’s the lowdown:

  • Cruise Line Websites: Head straight to the Cruise Lines page where you can apply directly with the cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, or Disney Cruise Line. 
  • Cruise Line Hiring Partners: Some cruise lines team up with recruitment agencies or talent management companies to handle their hiring. Scope out reliable agencies that specialize in cruise ship entertainment recruitment. They often have their own websites where you can apply and scope out gigs.
  • Online Job Boards: Don’t forget to hit up dedicated online job boards like AllCruiseJobs.com or CruiseJobFinder.com. They cater specifically to cruise ship jobs, so you can search for musician positions and apply directly.
  • Cruise Ship Auditions: Keep an eye out for cruise lines hosting auditions in different places. They might hold auditions in major cities or participate in industry conventions. It’s your chance to strut your stuff and impress the decision-makers.
  • Networking: Tap into your musician network and connect with folks who have experience working on cruise ships. They might have some valuable tips, recommendations, or even know the right people to get in touch with. You can also attend music conferences, workshops, or events to make connections in the industry.
  • Cruise Ship Job Fairs: Although not as common, you should still check if any job fairs or career expos are happenin’ in your neck of the woods. These events bring cruise lines and recruitment agencies together in one spot. It’s a great opportunity to mingle and score a gig.

Using a recruitment agency to land a job on a cruise ship

cruise ship musician repertoire

Job agencies for musicians are like your personal backstage crew in the world of cruise ship gigs. They’re here to help you navigate the process and land awesome opportunities!

These agencies are all about connecting talented musicians like yourself with cruise lines that are on the lookout for top-notch performers. They act as the middlemen (or middlewomen) between you and the cruise companies, making it easier for both sides to find their perfect match.

Steps to follow:

  • First things first, you’ll need to get in touch with the agency. You can either reach out to them directly or check out their website, where they usually have a section dedicated to job seekers like you. Take a look at their requirements, which might include things like your musical skills, experience, and a killer demo reel.
  • Once you’ve applied or submitted your info, the agency’s team will get to work. They’ll review your application, check out your musical chops, and compare your profile with the cruise lines they’re partnered with. If they find a potential match, they’ll reach out to you with the deets. Exciting stuff, right?
  • When they’ve found a potential gig, they’ll guide you through the process. They’ll handle the nitty-gritty details like contracts, negotiations, and logistics. Think of them as your support crew, making sure you’re well-prepared for your cruise ship adventure.

Remember, these agencies are experts in the biz, so they know what the cruise lines are looking for. They’ll give you advice, share insights, and help you put your best foot forward. They’re your backstage pass to securing those amazing gigs!

Five Agencies Hiring Cruise Ship Musicians Right now!

Viking Crew logo

Viking Crew

Viking Recruitment is a global recruitment agency that handles a wide range of positions, including musicians and entertainers, for various cruise lines. Visit their website at vikingcrew.com to explore their current vacancies and application process.

Cast A Way Agency

Cast-a-Way is a popular hiring agency that recruits talented musicians and entertainers for cruise ships, resorts, and other hospitality industries. You can find more details on their website at cast-a-way.com.

Lime Entertainment

Lime Entertainment

Lime Entertainment is known for its expertise in entertainment recruitment for the cruise industry. They work closely with cruise lines to source and hire musicians, bands, DJs, and other entertainers. Check their website at limeentertainment.com for opportunities.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Proship Entertainment

Proship Entertainment is a renowned recruitment agency that specializes in hiring musicians, entertainers, and production staff for cruise ship contracts. Check out their website at proship.com for information on current job opportunities.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Landau Music

Landau Music Agency is an entertainment agency that specializes in providing high-quality musical acts and performers for a wide range of events, including cruise ships, hotels, resorts, casinos, and corporate functions. With a focus on live music, they aim to create unforgettable experiences for their clients and their audiences.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Sixth Star Entertainment

Sixth Star Entertainment offers a range of entertainment solutions tailored to the needs of cruise lines, luxury resorts, corporate events, and private parties. They have a team of talented performers, musicians, dancers, and production staff who create and deliver captivating entertainment experiences.

Visit Danny Black’s ( @DannyBlack ) youtube channel for more content

Final Thoughts

Working as a musician on a cruise ship offers an incredible opportunity to see the world while doing what you love. It’s the ultimate combination of travel and music! As you perform onboard, the ship becomes your floating stage, transporting you to stunning destinations across the globe. From the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean to the iconic cities of Europe and beyond, you’ll have the chance to explore diverse cultures, experience breathtaking landscapes, and interact with people from all walks of life.

The constant change of scenery and the thrill of performing in different ports creates a dynamic and enriching experience like no other. So, pack your instrument, embark on a musical adventure, and let the melodies you create become the soundtrack to your global exploration.

“Lose your dreams and you might lose your mind.” Mick Jagger

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Premier Entertainment International

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Connecting talented musicians with industry leading cruise lines we are a global cruise line agent with a passion for music and sourcing the right talent to excel at sea. But we’re not just your average agency! Having worked ourselves with multiple cruise lines we understand all too well the challenges musicians face both on and off the ship. So whether you’re thinking about taking that first step to life at sea or would like to return to sea, we provide top expertise to ensure you secure that dream job with the best contract, salary, support and guidance so you hit the ground running and have a successful career at sea.

Guitar vocalists, piano bar entertainers, cocktail pianists, steel pan players, guitar/ piano intermissionist and also DJ’s. These soloists love interacting with an audience and are confident at creating high-energy memorable experiences, without the help of a band or backing tracks. If this sounds like you – we can help you get that dream job.

There are awesome cruise ship opportunities waiting for versatile established musical ensembles. Duos, Trios, Quartets and Party Bands are all accepted, provided they have an extensive repertoire covering several genres and a killer stage presence to match.

Showband Musicians

Highly proficient musicians with sight reading ability are hired individually to join a world-class on-board house band or show orchestra. Do you play drums, bass, keys, guitar, sax, trombone, trumpet or sing lead vocals? Do you have strong sight-reading and improvisation skills? If you said “yes” to both, we have opportunities for you.

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Ocean Musicians

Specializing in musicians for Cruise Ships and Resorts 

Ocean Musicians, a boutique musicians talent agency known for providing the highest level of exceptional musical entertainers to the entertainment and cruise line industry around the globe.

What Can We Provide

We provide the following musical lineups as well as customized packages specific to your needs:

Party Bands

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Cruise Musician Jobs

cruise ship musician repertoire

Different Types of Cruise Ship Musicians

There are several different live music positions on board a luxury cruise ship. Select the one that best fits your skills and abilities.

Cruise Ship Musician Jobs Available for:

cruise ship musician repertoire

All the perks of a cruise ship musician gig

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Do What You Love

The view from the stage has never looked this good

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See the World

Now booking cruise ship bands in Asia, Australia, the Caribbean and more

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Live for Free

Free food, free room, free travel… Save your money

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Get Paid to Play

Earn top dollar alongside other professional musicians

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra or Showband Musicians play Production shows (Broadway, Pop Review), Headliner shows, Top 40 sets and Big Band sets on board. You’ll perform nightly, have most days free and have the opportunity to get off the ship while in port.

Musicians must be excellent sight-readers (jazz charts and notation) and have the ability to play a variety of different styles…Ballroom, Broadway, Jazz, Rock, Swing. Pit and Big Band experience is strongly preferred.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra Bass Guitarists are strong sight-readers who perform in many settings on board including Jazz, Top 40, Guest Entertainer & Musical Theater productions. Some ship positions also require bassists to cover Upright Bass. While sight-reading is essential, candidates must also have excellent feel, time, and the ability to play a variety of styles including Swing, Cha Cha, Rhumba, Tango & Funk.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra Drummers are strong sight-readers who perform in many settings on board including Jazz, Top 40, Guest Entertainer & Musical Theater productions. While sight-reading is essential, candidates must also have excellent feel, time, and the ability to play a variety of styles including Swing, Mambo, Boss Nova, Rock & Funk.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra Guitarists are strong sight-readers who perform in many settings on board including Jazz, Top 40, Guest Entertainer & Musical Theater productions. Candidates must be comfortable reading notation and interpreting chords as well as soloing in Rock, Blues & Jazz formats.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra Keys Players are strong sight-readers who perform in many settings on board including Jazz, Top 40, Guest Entertainer & Musical Theater productions. Candidates must be comfortable reading notation and interpreting chord charts as well as soloing in Rock, Blues & Jazz formats.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra Saxophonists are strong sight-readers who perform in many settings on board including Jazz, Top 40, Guest Entertainer & Musical Theater productions. Candidates should cover Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Flute & Clarinet. While sight-reading is essential, Saxophonists should also have a strong improvisational soloing vocabulary.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra Trombonists are strong sight-readers who perform in many settings on board including Jazz, Top 40, Guest Entertainer & Musical Theater productions. While sight-reading is essential, Trombonists should also have a mature tone and a good concept of phrasing, dynamics and vibrato.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Orchestra Trumpeters are strong sight-readers who perform in many settings on board including Jazz, Top 40, Guest Entertainer & Musical Theater productions. While sight-reading is essential, candidates should also have range with consistency and confidence.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Band Vocalists are versatile and engaging entertainers with the ability to work a crowd. Candidates should be able to cover a wide range of genres and styles with strong stage presence and impeccable pitch.

Solo Entertainers perform nightly, either in a dedicated room or a variety of venues on board. You should have a repertoire of at least 200 songs, covering genres from the 50’s to today. Successful soloists are engaging with themed or tribute sets.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Classical Guitar

Instrumental Guitarist who can play it all with a classy feel. Classical, latin, jazz, pop…ideal candidates have an expansive repertoire and the ability to play songs upon request. From Jobin to Santana, this cruise ship musician will have themed sets and the ability to take requests. Performances poolside, in the atrium for afternoon tea or in the martini lounge for pre-dinner cocktails, versatility and the ability to adapt are key.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Cocktail Piano

Aspiring Cocktail Pianists that want to become cruise ship musicians should have a large repertoire of songs ranging from Classical tunes to current Pop and Top 40 hits. Performance times and locations on board may include afternoon tea, early evening sail-away, or after dinner background music in a bar or cocktail lounge. The ability to sight read is benifical for special events such as weddings or anniversaries, as is the ability to add vocals, however, this is not required.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Solo Guitar/Vocals

John Mayer, Jason Mraz, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett…these are just a few of the artists that a Solo Guitar/Vocalist should have in their song list for guest-requests and to create a fun and engaging atmosphere at their performances. This type of cruise ship musician can be found all around the ship in bars, lounges, poolside, on the back deck, or even performing in the theater or main atrium. Sing-a-long styles and guest requests make each performance unique, and an outgoing personality will help to ensure guests follow their favorite performer all cruise long. Looping pedals, harmonizers, and other pedal-effects are encouraged as they can add an additional dimension to performances, however, backing tracks, in general, are not preferred.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Solo Piano/Vocals

The personality to entertain a lounge and 88 keys to help them do it. Our Solo Piano Vocalists are some of the most engaging and entertaining cruise ship musicians in the world. Styles range from the 1950’s to current Pop hits and interactive performances include Theme Nights, Name-That-Tune, and Sing-a-Long favorites. Backing tracks should be avoided and the ability to field requests is required.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Solo Steel Pan

High-quality backing tracks and a talent for fun-in-the-sun Vocals & Steel Pan playing define the ideal candidate for the cruise ship musician position of Solo Steel Pan. Performing in several of the outdoor venues and moslty on Caribbean itineraries this entertainer should have a large variety of songs including Reggae, Pop, Oldies, Motown, and some dance and latin styles.

Ensembles/Bands perform nightly around the ship. Successful ensembles should have at least 200 songs, covering a variety of different genres (Motown, Jazz. Pop. Country, Caribbean). Your group should be engaging and should have themed or tribute sets prepared. These positions offer shared cabins, so bring musicians you want to live with!

cruise ship musician repertoire

Caribbean Ensemble

Including at least one vocalist, Caribbean Ensembles will be comprised of cruise ship musicians performing on the Steel Pan, as well a guitar, bass, keys, or drums. They should be versatile and comfortable performing poolside, at outdoor venues and bars, as well in lounges and cocktail areas. Guest requests will be common and the songs of Buffet, Marley, and Zac Brown will be the foundation of their repertoire.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Classical Ensemble

Classical Ensembles include Duos, Trios & Quartets performing in atriums, lounges and on the main stage. Ensembles must be well versed in Classical, Standards, Show Tunes & Contemporary styles as they set the scene for an elegant unforgettable guest experience.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Dance Ensemble

Four cruise ship musicians that can perform everything from Miles Davis to Miley Cyrus. Dance Ensembles should have at least one vocalist and the ability of other members to cover lead or backing vocals is preferred. A lineup including Keys, Bass, Drums, and Guitar is optimal, however, there are opportunities for band with 3 of the 4, and a lead vocalist.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Two people, one big sound. Backing tracks, instruments, harmonies, and lead vocals all coming from two musicians on a cruise ship. Duos should have a song list of at least 250+ and be able to take requests and create an engaging atmosphere for every performance.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Jazz Ensemble

Real Books, Fake Books, and all of the Ballroom styles should be the wheelhouse for these Trios and Quartets. Keys, Bass, Drums, Guitar, and or Horn are the most common arrangement, and the bands should also be able to perform crossover styles of Pop, Top 40, Funk, and Blues.

cruise ship musician repertoire

Similar to a Wedding Band or Corporate Band on land, a Party Band consists of cruise ship musicians that can bring the party every night. Normally comprised of 4 or 5 members, these bands must have large song lists and it is preferred that multiple, if not all, of the members can add vocals. The most common arrangement is Keys, Bass, Drums, Guitar, and Lead Vocals. Theme Nights, Poolside Sets, and Dance Parties are where the guests fall in love the the Party Band and find themselves having the time of their lives.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be a cruise ship entertainer? Apply now

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Playing Music on Cruise Ships: Know Before You Go

Thinking about playing music on cruise ships? Our first article on this topic, Performing Music on a Cruise Ship: Is This Your Dream? , prompted many additional questions. We decided to ask for advice from drummer Cameron Hicks, who’s currently playing music on cruise ships across the world. He shares great insights and suggestions gleaned from experience.

by Cameron Hicks

1. How musically proficient do musicians on cruise ships need to be?

Orchestra musicians should should be able to proficiently sight read, play with a click, easily handle tempo changes, play several styles (including styles common for production shows, big band, jazz, etc.), and proficiently speak English (may sound weird or biased but is very important).

Lounge musicians should have a large repertoire of recognizable and appropriate music. Each lounge act is its own entity. And cruise lines have pretty specific ideas as to what they’re looking for. For example, they may want a solo guitarist to play guitar and sing, or a jazz quartet that includes a singer (which is almost always the case). That said, I would never tell a band not to send in for a job. You just might be what they want!

2. What have you found to be the best way to go about finding a job performing on a cruise ship?

The easiest way I found is to go through an agency. They generally work with several cruise lines and have quickly found me work.

3. Who is your main contact once you get the job offer? And who is your main “go to” person once you’re on board?

I stay in constant contact with my agent. Agents will let you know about flight details and other important things you need to know.

Once on board the ship, my direct manager is the Bandmaster who is in charge of all the musicians on the ship. This is typically a musician in the orchestra who creates the daily schedule for all the ship’s musicians. The cruise director is in charge of the entire entertainment department.

4. What’s a typical day like on board the ship?

As an orchestra musician, I generally have a rehearsal and/or tech run sometime during the day. The time varies depending on when the performance theater is available. These are either for a production show with the cast or with a guest entertainer. Generally you won’t see the music before this rehearsal.

On days when the orchestra isn’t needed in the theater, we usually play one to four lounge sets – either big band or jazz.

5. In addition to playing music, what are you required to do?

There is one mandatory emergency drill with passengers on each cruise. Crew members are given duties to perform during this drill. This can include crowd management, life jacket demonstration, announcements, etc. There are also emergency drills required of just the crew.

6. Where do you store your instrument? Do you have access to it when you’re not performing?

If you’ve brought your own instrument, you are responsible for it. I’ve seen some ships with safe places to store instruments backstage, but this is not the norm. Musicians generally have to store their personal equipment in their cabins, which are small!

If you have your own instrument you always have access to it. Most musicians are also able to find a place to practice (harder for drummers due to the noise factor).

7.  What can you do to make the most out of each cruise?

It’s a good idea to create a list of two or three (realistic) goals and schedule your personal time around them. I’ve heard people who want to save money, practice, see as many new places as possible, make new friends from as many countries as possible, etc. Several of these are possible but having too many goals can be a problem.

8. What essentials will cruise musicians need to bring with them and keep handy?

  • Valid passport (not expiring just before, during, or right after the cruise)
  • Valid ID (in addition to the passport)
  • Medical exam – each cruise line has a medical exam you must pass to be allowed on board. If you forget the paperwork you will not be allowed on.
  • Your instrument (check with your agent to see what’s necessary)
  • Headphones and 1/8″ to 1/4″ adaptor for click track
  • Visas – your agent will probably help you with this, but do some research about the countries you’ll be visiting regarding visas. It’s possible you’ll need one or two to get off the ship in certain ports (even if you’re an American citizen).
  • And don’t forget to tell your bank/credit card companies where you’re going! Otherwise, it’s likely your card will be frozen after the first few purchases and you will probably not have cell service to fix the problem.

9. What’s the best way for a musician to pack for a cruise gig?

Don’t bring too much stuff!

I mention this for two reasons. First, there is very limited space in your cabin and you will most likely be sharing it with another person. Second, you will be traveling alone and likely end up in a foreign country pushing your way through an unfamiliar airport trying to figure out how to get to your hotel. You will also be carrying your luggage through small hallways on the ship when you get there. Make sure you can carry all of your luggage by yourself!

Even though you may be away from home for six months at a stretch, don’t worry –– there are laundry and dry cleaning services on the ship.

For more information on packing see How I packed for a two-month Alaska cruise .

10. Which instruments will the ship have on board? And how’s the quality?

The only instruments I’ve ever seen provided are drumsets with hardware (no cymbals), pianos, and keyboards. The quality is decent. If these need repairs or parts, you can talk to the Bandmaster to see how the problem can be fixed.

11. What’s the average age range for cruise ship musicians?

The majority of musicians I’ve met have been in their 20’s or 30’s, but there’s always a range of ages.

12. What kind of non-compete policies have you had to work with?

The only non-compete I’ve seen is with my agency.

13. What if you were to get sick on board the ship? What do you do about health care and health insurance?

There is a medical center on board for dealing with any illnesses that may arise. Check with your cruise line to see how you’ll be covered. Also check with your own health insurance plan. It’s a good idea to have health insurance that will cover you beyond whatever the ship offers.

14. Any final words of wisdom?

Take a camera and have fun!

Cameron Hicks received his BFA in Jazz Studies from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 2012. He is a drummer and composer who performs, tours, and teaches professionally.

Will June 26, 2020 at 12:45 am

What type of agency is he talking about?

MajoringInMusic June 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm

There are entertainment agencies that specialize in helping cruise ship musicians and other entertainers find work. With the changes in the cruising industry brought on by the pandemic, it’s hard to know how this will be handled in the near future, although some of these agencies say they’re still reviewing applications and preparing to hire performers as soon they can. You can learn more by checking the websites of cruise lines directly since some have their own in-house entertainment directors; also try googling “cruise ship entertainment agencies.”

Gary November 12, 2016 at 11:10 am

Outstanding advice. Cameron has succinctly covered all of the must-know facts about working as a cruise ship musician. I would add to try and get in touch with the bandmaster/musical director (MD) prior to departing. That way you can find out about ship-specific things (do you need suits, tuxedo, all black, regs on open-toed shoes for women etc.) You can also find out if any performance prep resources are available like digital copies of production show music or recorded track stored in a drop box account. Emailing the ship’s MD ahead of time may also help you make better packing decisions. – G. Beamon, Lead Trumpet, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

MajoringInMusic November 16, 2016 at 7:49 pm

Thank you for the great suggestions!

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House Band Bass

Featured solo guitar vocalist, band leader.

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House band guitar, house band piano, house band sax, house band trombone, house band trumpet, featured solo steel pan/ vocalist, lounge bands (3-4 piece), atrium/piazza group (2-5 piece), pop/rock party bands (4-6 piece), house band auxiliary musician, jazz trio musician, more information.

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Our House Band Musicians are expert musical shapeshifters, able to transition seamlessly from supporting produced signature Princess Production Shows to headliner-style Guest Entertainers in our theaters and lounges. Our House Bands also provide unique live music experiences for our guests in themed events arranged specifically for our instrumentation, and in high-level improvised jazz catering to an array of tastes.

Interested in becoming one of our House Band Musicians? Think Broadway meets a state of the art recording studio. Our House Band musicians are highly skilled players with world class resumes. All of our house band musicians are excellent sight readers who have theater, concert, studio and stage experience. Think you fit the bill? If yes, then follow the process to apply - we have immediate openings for qualified candidates.

Many musical groups or bands come onboard under the direction of one member of the group. This Job Title will be given to the one band or group member of the specific ensemble (party bands, quartets, trios, etc) who has been identified as the leader, for the time they are onboard. Each group leader will report to the Music Manager, and be responsible for oversight of the group's performance while onboard, including compliance with company Code of Conduct and meeting expected standards.

This position requires providing ambient music in our 5 star hotel atrium or "Piazza" venue with a polished sound. Steel Pan soloist provides a unique and fun element to the live music team onboard – through interactive performances, upbeat songs, sing-alongs, themed sets, and more. Steel Pan soloist delivers musical repertoire reflective of the destination, and are expected to have a wide variety of appropriate repertoire, focused on the Caribbean.

Our Lounge Bands provide a wide variety of music as well as accompany high profile events, and must bring a high-level commercial entertainment product onboard. Lounge band's repertoire should include: American song book standards, various ballroom dancing material (Waltz, Rhumba, Cha-cha, Salsa, etc.), pop dance music from 1940's to present, and Adult Contemporary favorites. Lounge Bands must have a large and diverse musical repertoire. Onboard events include: Cocktail parties, ballroom dancing parties, and various theme nights.

These unique musical groups are an essential part of our onboard music program and provide appropriate ambient music in our 5 star hotel atrium or "Piazza" venue with a polished look and sound. Ensembles types include Mariachi Trio, Classical Duo/Trio/Quartet, Easy Listening Duo/Trio, Tango Quartet/Quintet, and other destination-oriented groups. Piazza groups should be able to provide a 45 minute recital or concert program, as well as accompany a wedding ceremony and/or reception, as required.

Party Bands are the core of our live music nightlife onboard, and must bring a high-level commercial entertainment product onboard. Party Bands work closely with our onboard Entertainment Department to accompany various themed events, including the "Festivals of the World" performances. Party Bands must have a large and diverse musical repertoire, and be able to perform at least two 45 minute showcase sets in the main lounge.

Our Solo Pianists provide music ranging from cocktail piano styles to featured performances. Solo Pianists are stylistically capable of light classical and/or background jazz for ambiences suitable in an upscale hotel, guest favorites and singalongs, and high energy sets relying on careful repertoire selection and/or use of backing tracks.

Our House Band Musicians are expert musical shapeshifters, able to transition seamlessly from supporting produced signature Princess Production Shows to headliner-style Guest Entertainers in our theaters and lounges. Our House Bands also provide unique live music experiences for our guests in themed events arranged specifically for our instrumentation, and in high-level improvised jazz catering to an array of tastes. On select itineraries and/or vessels, an auxiliary position is available which supplements our normal seven-piece ensemble through a combination of auxiliary percussion, vocals, and/or other instruments.

New Resident Jazz Trio position - debuting onboard Sky Princess - Take 5 - October 2019.

The new "Resident Jazz Trio" will be a unique new element onboard the new Sky Princess as of October, 2019, anchoring the new venue "Take 5", under tirection of the Resident Guest Entertainer (RGE) Jazz Trio Band Leader.

Take 5 will feature our Resident Jazz Trio onstage nightly, delivering professional high-level jazz entertainment across all eras and genres of American jazz music. The trio will also perform themed jazz sets that pay tribute to specific eras of jazz, as well as interpretations of familiar modern or classic pop music in jazz styles, in an exciting and engaging format, making use of provided visual media where appropriate, taking our guests on musical journeys to experience the full history and development of jazz.

The Jazz Trio will be led by the Band Leader, a Resident Guest Entertainer (RGE) position, reporting directly to the Entertainment Director, and responsible for oversight of the Jazz Trio's performance while onboard.

Other members of the Resident Jazz Trio will have the rank and status of Musician while onboard.

**JAZZ TRIO BAND LEADER MUST SUBMIT AN APPLICATION FIRST - SEE OUR AUDITION PAGE FOR DETAILS**

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Cruise Ship Musician

Also Called Cruise Ship Entertainer

A cruise ship musician performs music for guests aboard a cruise ship. 

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What does a Cruise Ship Musician do?

Enlisting for tours ranging from four to six months, cruise ship musicians are hard-working players who entertain passengers on luxury liners (i.e. cruise ships).  It's demanding work for musicians with the fluency, chops, and stamina to play four excellent sets of covers every night, week in and week out. 

Many cruise ship musicians follow a six-months-on, six-weeks-off schedule, budgeting time to see loved ones and take care of business on land before heading out on another ship. 

Cruise ships sometimes employ dozens of musicians at a time, placing them in a variety of configurations: solo guitarists and pianists who perform poolside and in bars; classical and contemporary duos; jazz, rock, Latin, and dance ensembles; cover bands that play an array of genres and styles; and pit orchestras for the Broadway-style productions mounted on large, theater-equipped vessels. All or most of the musicians aboard a ship might play simultaneously in different on-board venues, starting after dinner and continuing until the early morning. 

At a Glance

While a gig on a cruise ship is unlikely to advance one's career, getting a regular paycheck while incurring few or no expenses is a major draw for freelance musicians , who might join the cruise individually or with a cover band or other ensemble. The job can have a number of perks,  including free meals and lodging, round-trip airline travel from home, health insurance for the duration of the cruise, and days spent sunning on the deck or exploring ports.

There are two ways for musicians to get a job on a cruise ship—apply directly through a cruise line, all of which have links for musicians seeking work on their websites, or through a recruitment agency such as Warshaw Entertainment ,  Lime Entertainment ,  Proship , or  Landau Music . The audition process is nothing to scoff at; one blogger describes having music emailed to him thirty minutes before a two-hour Skype audition, during which he was asked to play and improvise in a variety of styles.

  • Deep instrumental skills
  • Knowledge of a wide variety of genres and styles
  • Wide repertoire
  • Sight reading
  • Improvisation
  • Stamina (performing multiple shows per day)
  • Flexibility

Living in close quarters with strangers and bandmates requires flexibility and great communication skills. In terms of warming up and drawing in cruise ship audiences, charisma and infectious enthusiasm go a long way. Finally, a spirit of adventure and a strong sense of independence are invaluable qualities when spending many months at sea.

The lifestyle is perhaps the most distinctive thing about working as a cruise ship musician. Cruise ship musicians enjoy many perks, such as a regular paycheck, low expenses, and the opportunity to travel while playing music. But just like  touring musicians , they also make sacrifices: spending long stretches away from loved ones, living in close quarters with strangers, and only getting one night off per week. Most cruise ship musicians follow a six-months-on, six-weeks-off schedule.  For those not suited to it, life at sea can be isolating, depressing, or overwhelming. But those well suited to it may come to love the camaraderie that develops between the musicians and other crew members during a long voyage.

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MUSICAL GROUPS

Open opportunities, country duo.

Our Country Duos specialize in a wide range of country hits from George Strait and Carrie Underwood to the Josh Abbot Band in addition to covering American Top 40 Hits from the 1960s through today. These unique duos, consisting of two singer-instrumentalists, deliver an engaging and FUN modern country music experience for our guests cruising on select ships in the Carnival Fleet. 

RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Delivers on Carnival’s brand of live music entertainment by providing high energy and engaging entertainment as scheduled by the shipboard Entertainment Management.
  • Entertain in assigned venues up to five hours per day.
  • Commitment to Carnival Services Values.
  • Complies with all company operational procedures (professional development training, orientations, and other related programming as required and scheduled).
  • Performs ship’s safety function, including “Port Manning”, as required.

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • A musically talented duo consisting of two, talented country-influenced entertainers that demonstrate strong skills as singers and instrumentalists (preferably at least one member performing on guitar).
  • Demonstrated ability to perform completely acoustic and/or with tracks containing high quality samples and sequences.
  • Large repertoire containing at least 200 songs including a large percentage of country music ranging from old-time classics to contemporary hits.
  • Ability to authentically represent the sound and look of a contemporary country artist/group.
  • Applicable performing experiences on cruise ships, resorts, hotels, and high traffic tourist areas.
  • Outgoing and dynamic personalities.
  • Ability to stand while performing.
  • Ability to perform safety functions and pass a pre-employment medical exam.
  • Fluent in the English language and familiar with North American culture and humor.
  • Stage experience preferred (production show involvement is a possibility).
  • Experience fronting a band is recommended.

SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS:

  • Resume outlining previous musical employment, education and performance experience in PDF format.
  • Complete song list containing a minimum of 175 - 200 songs (PDF format).
  • Link to videos that demonstrate your ability to provide high energy, interactive and fun entertainment with the instrumentation required for this position.
  • Promotional photo.

Electric String Trio

Beethoven, Vivaldi, Broadway, Katy Perry, and everything in between! Our classical trios entertain our guests up to five hours each day with an eclectic mix of classics, showstoppers from Broadway and American Top 40 Hits from the 1960s through today. The FUN doesn’t stop there! Using harmonizers, loopers and other cool effects these small groups create beautifully orchestrated arrangements to bring their performance to the next level! 

  • Entertain in assigned venues as strolling musicians or stationary up to five hours per day.
  • Deliver highest quality musical entertainment to our guests in line with Carnival’s brand and live music guidelines.
  • Perform alongside other members of the shipboard music team as assigned.
  • Actively participate in assigned activities including, but not limited to trainings, drills, safety briefings, meetings and performances.
  • Perform ship’s safety function, including “Port Manning,” as required.
  • Musically talented trio demonstrating strong ensemble skills.
  • Instrumentation of consisting of Violin + Violin + Violin or Violin + Violin + Viola
  • The ability to tastefully use harmonizers, loopers, and other technology to enhance performance. Actual experience with this technology is preferred.
  • Huge repertoire of classical, pop, Broadway and standard chamber repertoire along with American Top 40 mainstream hits from the 70s through today.
  • The ability to extend beyond performers into entertainers.
  • Outgoing and flexible personalities.
  • English fluency is required.
  • Applicable experience as a trio for weddings, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, and similar venues.
  • Ability to perform safety functions and meet medical requirements, including standing while performing.
  • Ability to stand while playing for extended periods of time is required.
  • Links to videos that demonstrate the following:
  • Interaction with audience;
  • Strong musical and ensemble skills;
  • Ability to perform our desired repertoire; and
  • Live performances.
  • Additional links to videos that demonstrate the following are preferred:
  • Ability to use samplers, harmonizers, loopers, and/or Ableton Live.

Come experience a world class jazz bar featuring our resident jazz trio! This jazz trio will entertain our guests up to four hours each day with an eclectic mix of classic jazz and hard bop, traditional jazz and New Orleans classics, vocal jazz standards, as well as groovy smooth jazz favorites! The FUN doesn’t stop there! With one of the members of the trio owning the mic and vocals, this piano-based trio will be a must-see in one of the swankiest bars on the seven seas!

  • Entertain in assigned venues up to four hours per day.
  • Instrumentation of consisting of piano (keyboard), bass and drums with one of the three members able to sing
  • Huge repertoire of FUN vocal jazz arrangements ranging from standards to modern pop, classic jazz & hard bop, traditional jazz, New Orleans classics, crossover jazz and fusion, and smooth jazz
  • Applicable experience as a trio for jazz clubs, weddings, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, and similar venues.

Future Opportunities

Caribbean duo.

There’s no limin’ around when the Caribbean Duo are on deck! Providing an authentic island experience as a steel pan/vocalist entertainer or as a duo consisting of a pan player/vocalist and another talented musician, these entertainers deliver high energy, engaging and Fun entertainment to our guests on select ships in the Carnival fleet. They entertain on our outside decks, in our Red Frog Pub, with our Rockband 2.0, with the DJ, anywhere that we can infuse the island flavah! 

  • Performs ship’s safety function, including “Port Manning,” as required.
  • Musically talented duo consisting of:
  • A steel pan player (the ability to sing is preferred), and
  • An instrumentalist that sings lead.
  • A one hundred and seventy-five (175) song repertoire of Caribbean and American Top 40 mainstream hits from the 70s through today.
  • Outgoing personalities.
  • Ability to authentically represent the culture, music, and humor of a nation within the Caribbean islands.
  • Able to perform with high quality tracks composed of superior audio samples.
  • Demonstrated ability to create and lead a party.
  • English fluency and near perfect diction are required.
  • Flexible personality, we’re looking for team players.

The Latin Ensemble delivers high-energy, engaging performances by providing an authentic Latin music experience. This Ensemble may be a duo, trio or quartet consisting of Latin-influenced vocalist instrumentalists. The Latin Ensemble may perform both acoustically and/or with the support of high-quality backing tracks or electronic devices and effects. The Latin Ensemble covers a wide range of traditional and contemporary Latin pop music in addition to selections of American pop music from the 60s through today. In addition, select ships may utilize the Latin Ensemble to provide additional musical support for production shows, branded events or in conjunction with other musical acts on board.

  • Deliver Carnival’s brand of entertainment by providing high energy and engaging musical performances as scheduled by shipboard and/or shore side Entertainment Management.
  • Entertain in assigned venues for four hours each day.
  • Perform acoustically or with backing tracks or electronic support.
  • Perform alongside other members of the ship board music team as assigned.
  • Demonstrate commitment to Carnival Service Values.
  • Perform ship’s safety functions, including “Port Manning”, as required.
  • A Latin Music Ensemble of one of the following configurations:
  • Latin Duo: Set instrumentation of Keys/Voice and Voice/Auxiliary Percussion.
  • Latin Trio: Open Instrumentation with at least two members with vocalist abilities.
  • Latin Quartet: Set instrumentation of Bass, Drums, Keys, and Auxiliary Percussion with at least two members with vocalist abilities.
  • Advanced individual musical proficiency as a vocalist and/or instrumentalist.
  • Advanced ensemble musicianship.
  • Latin Duo & Trio: Ability to perform completely live or with the support of backing tracks.
  • Latin Quartet: Ability to perform completely live without the use of backing tracks.
  • Diverse repertoire containing Bachata, Cumbia, Merengue (Puerto Rican and Dominican styles), Reggaeton, Rock en Espanol, and Salsa.
  • Additional repertoire consisting of American popular music from the 60s through today.
  • Ability to authentically represent the culture of Latin America.
  • The ability to extend beyond a performer into an entertainer.
  • Applicable experience as a solo entertainer for weddings, hotels, resorts, cruise ships or other similar venues.

Latin Quartet

Mainstream quartet, upcoming auditions, austin, tx, usa, nashville, tn, usa, las vegas, nv, usa, barcelona, spain, madrid, spain.

cruise ship musician repertoire

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Corporately Imposed Music Cultures: An Ethnography of Cruise Ship Showbands

Introduction .

One night in the middle of a cruise, amidst the lights, noise, and scantily-clad dancers of an evening production show, the showband pianist quietly slipped off the bandstand and moved to the wings. There was nothing unusual about this; it happened every time the production show was performed. On cue with the singer, he moved to the middle of the stage where a convincing mock-up of a grand piano was spotlighted. He sat down and pretended to move his fingers over the keys, miming to a recording while the singer writhed atop the constructed piano. Finishing, the pianist returned to the bandstand and continued with the show. After the curtain dropped, he put his charts back, made his way to the crew bar for a few drinks, and put the mimicry from his mind. The next day, in the breakfast buffet line, an older passenger stopped him, saying how much she loved jazz and had particularly enjoyed his solo in the show last night. The pianist, not wishing to shatter her illusions, simply thanked her, and moved on to his scrambled eggs and grapefruit juice.

The guest’s misinterpretation of the veracity of the performance is understandable, as the cruise ship entertainment product relies on fabrications of culture (Wilkinson 1999). Aboard a cruise ship, one is accosted by fabricated jazz clubs (Cashman 2013a), surf (FlowRiders), rock-climbing cliffs (Kwortnik 2008), representations of cultural performances (Cashman and Hayward 2013), and gardens (this last aboard some of the Royal Caribbean ships). Cruise ships are “polyvalent leisure environments” and “money traps” (Chardon 1992), and the very essence of post-tourism. 

The creation of new and fabricated touristic products is not, of course, limited to cruise tourism, nor to post-tourism. The demands of twenty-first-century tourism include the pre-packaging and commodification of cultural representations. Tourists who particularly seek out cultural experience are referred to as “cultural tourists,” a term used by Erik Cohen (1979) to navigate the counterpoint between Daniel Boorstin’s view of tourists as dupes (1961) and Dean MacCannell’s view of them as seeking (but not necessarily finding) authentic culture (1976). However, the constructions of culture they do find may overemphasize “pastness, exhibition, difference, and where possible indigeneity” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1995:370). The processes of postmodern tourism—also referred to as “post-tourism”—are similar though the intent is markedly different. Post-tourism creates value by the construction of fabricated and hyperreal culture (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1995:396; Eco 1986). Controlled and closed sign-systems invite guests to engage playfully as in a game, an idea core to the concept of post-tourism as originally expounded by Maxine Feifer (1985). Thus, both cultural tourists and post-tourists engage with a cultural construction; however, cultural tourists encounter representations that profess authenticity, while post-tourists (including cruise tourists) engage playfully with an overt fabrication that is not designed to be “real.”

Cruise ships are examples of post-tourism, because value is contained within these constructed sign-systems (Berger 2011; 2004). The constructed onboard culture (especially the music culture), presented as an alternative to the perceived authenticity of cultural tourism, is implemented by the corporate decision of the shipping line. Cruise tourists engage with this constructed culture, aware that the music culture offered by cruise ships is neither maritime nor local, but is a diversion that permits engagement at a superficial and uncritical level. Indeed, the cruise ship goes so far as to actively reject the very physical and cultural environments in which it finds itself (Cashman 2013b) rather than interacting with the oceanic environment in the manner of an aquapelago (Hayward 2012). Rather than comprising an engagement with a visited society, cruise tourism comprises “a social and cultural practice, that . . .  reflects and embodies the values and norms shared by the members of a particular group or society” (Vogel and Oschmann 2013:5). A cruise ship is a container for a temporary society formed of two codependent groups, the guests (“tourists”) and the crew (“locals”). Guests are literally and figuratively encapsulated within the cruise experience for an extended period, obliged to interact with a fabricated, ambiguously “western” culture provided by the cruise line and by the crew (acting under management instructions).

The consideration of authenticity has been a more-or-less constant debate in tourism studies for the past fifty years. For Boorstin (1961) and MacCannell (1976), authenticity was something that existed behind the tourist facade and was impossible to present to tourists. For Ning Wang, authenticity was an existential concept, incapable of being constructed (1999). More recently, for Britta Tinn Knudsen and Anne Marit Waade, authenticity is something negotiated between tourist and local (2010). Cruise tourism, however, is a post-tourism product (Berger 2004, 2011; Nilsson 2007; Vogel and Oschmann 2013; Weaver 2005), and as such, the quest for authenticity is not a significant factor in the construction of cruise ship culture. 

Such fabricated cultural representation is, of course, common within tourism. Hotels from New York to New Delhi co-opt signs of western culture within their hotels and tourism environments, creating such a homogenous western experience that the superficial touches of local culture stand out (Culler 1981). Postmodern and hyperreal tourist destinations including cruise ships, theme parks such as Disneyland (Carson 2004, Pachter 2009), and themed cities such as Las Vegas (Loi and Kim 2009, Loi and Pearce 2008, Wood 2005), construct and represent cultures with which tourists interact. At most of these venues, guests escape to their own lives and cultures at the end of the day. 

This article discusses the construction and presentation of the fabricated music culture of cruise ships. It is an unusual ethnography in that the culture under discussion is not the result of humans living together, but one constructed by corporate decree. The “local residents” of the cruise ship (i.e. the crew) do not inhabit the cruise ship by birth, but for reasons of economic necessity, adventure seeking, or interest in becoming tourists themselves. I focus my attention in this article on the ship’s showband. This ensemble is core to the cruise experience. While other ensembles perform in their particular cruise venues, the showband performs in various locations around the cruise ship. Moreover, the showband typically accompanies the main evening show that frames and focuses the cruise ship entertainment product. 

This research is the result of an extended period of participation/observation as the author undertook employment on several cruise ships. Following this, surveys and formal interviews were conducted with cruise ship musicians, other onboard employees, and shoreside personnel; which created a mixed-method approach to data collection and analysis. As the focus of the research is on the corporate cruise ship culture, interviews were not undertaken with guests, who form a temporary addition to the cruise ship. 

Cruise Ship Music Culture

Cruise ships are now so large that they can be described as “shipscapes” (Kwortnik 2008), as “mobile tourist enclaves” (Weaver 2005), and as mobile geographies unto themselves (Cashman 2013a). The RMS Titanic (1912) that displaced 46,328GRT, was the largest ship in the world at the time. 1 By contrast, the latest Oasis-class mega-cruisers operated by Royal Caribbean International displace 225,282GRT. They utilize solar power, contain sixteen passenger decks, and are constructed as “neighborhoods” with living parks, theatre districts, and dining areas. There are now nine ships over 140,000GRT, all built within the last decade; nine more will be delivered over the next four years. Such large constructed geographies create and define an area within which humans can live, creating temporary cultures which last the length of the cruise, which can be as short as three days or as long as four months.

These mobile geographies have also been referred to as “cocoons,” as they protect guests from the realities of the environments through which they pass (Huang and Hsu 2009; Mastin 2010; Papathanassis and Beckmann 2011; Vogel and Oschmann 2004). For example, ships limit interaction with the natural aquatic environment, while fabricating and mediating guests’ interactions with water (Cashman 2013b). Instead of interacting directly with the aquatic environment, guests are accosted onboard by enormous waterslides, fabricated surfing experiences on Royal Caribbean’s FlowRiders, and water features in atriums. Many companies also lease islands from Caribbean nations, altering the physical environment to match popular representations of island paradises. Disney, for example, unhappy that the original state of its island (which it renamed Castaway Cay) did not match the popular perception of a Caribbean paradise, dredged sand from the middle of the bay, cleaned it, ground it up finely, and deposited it on the beaches (Wood 2000:362).

In the same way, the culture of cruise ships is constructed to keep the tourists (“faux-voyageurs” in the words of Jean-Didier Urbain [1986:295] and John Frow [1990:127]), from interacting with the local cultures through which they travel. In fact, potential interaction with local culture, Robert E. Wood notes, is often disturbing to and unwanted by cruise ship guests (2000:360). Contact with local culture is mediated through “shore excursions” to locally-themed tourist attractions within and around the port area (Jaakson 2004), or through the provision of onboard “local shows,” choreo-musical presentations of local culture (Cashman 2011). 2

Cruise ships delineate western culture by a series of semioses that are purposefully implemented and offered to guests. The external and internal design of the ship is opulent and deemed aesthetically beautiful by western standards. Western linguistic and textual signs are imposed by the use of English in public areas of the ship. 3 Musically and choreographically, western culture is presented by the performance of western music, often popular western music, to guests.  In some cases, representations of other cultures are incorporated into this culture as signifiers for “exoticism,” for example, by the use of a resident Caribbean or Latin band, or of the “local” shows. However, overwhelmingly, the majority of cultural representation is of western culture.

In the constructed and mobile geography of the cruise ship, the “local” residents are the crew. However, these “local” residents are from many different ethnic groups. Gibson notes that in some cases a single crew may comprise more than fifty nationalities (2008:45-50). Typically a single crewmember will undertake a contract that may last a few months or more than a year. The crew thus comprises, in a very real sense, a floating population of individuals coming and going from the ship, living in extremely close proximity to each other and speaking a variety of languages. This comprises an unusual culture in many ways; significantly, it is a culture created by corporate decree. 

The Music Culture of Cruise Ship Showbands

There are several types of musicians onboard cruise ships. There are ensembles of collectively-contracted musicians who perform a popular representation of a particular genre (e.g., jazz, classical, or rock) in a themed venue. Soloists operate in a similar fashion, but are individually contracted and perform on their own. Guest entertainers perform the evening cabaret show and can be musical (singers or instrumentalists) or non-musical (usually comedians, jugglers, or ventriloquists). Production singers and dancers comprise the onboard “cast” and perform in the themed production shows. The focus of this study is on the fifth category, the showband, also known as the ship’s orchestra. It is the showband’s musical responsibility to accompany the evening guest entertainer or production show and to perform in various locations around the ship as needed.

While a version of the showband exists on every large cruise ship, they vary in size and lineup. Most often, the showband consists of between five and nine performers and is of two kinds: the “traditional” showband is a cut-down swing band with a horn section (often consisting of trumpet, one or two saxophones, and trombone) and a rhythm section (usually piano, bass, drums, and guitar). This instrumental lineup permits the group to perform jazz standards well, but some instruments become superfluous in the performance of rock. The “modern” showband, which is used on some Carnival Cruise Lines vessels and on the Holland-America Line, is an adapted version of the band on the American television program Saturday Night Live . It is comprised of a single saxophone and rhythm section (in Holland America’s case, augmented by a second keyboard) and is able to perform rock more easily than swing.

Musical ensembles akin to the showband have existed on passenger shipping since the 1880s (Cashman 2014). The showband is descended from the bands of earlier passenger shipping, such as the famous Titanic musicians. The first ensembles were brass bands on the German Norddeutcher Line, which performed arranged parlour music, light classical music, and German melodies. From the early 1900s, string players appeared on Cunard and White Star, but the emphasis would remain on performing classical music for first-class passengers until the 1920s and 1930s. From this time, dance bands began to appear on passenger ships and would remain until the dawn of modern cruising in the 1960s and the establishment of the showband proper. While the focus of the job has changed from this early time, the fundamental requirements have not. 

Participants

Showband musicians, through their ethnicity, education, and backgrounds, say much about the focus of the constructed culture of the cruise ship. These musicians are obliged to be well-trained in western popular music, particularly in jazz and rock. They ideally must be both strong improvisers and strong readers, as the showband may be called upon to perform a variety of genres including light classical music, rock, jazz, and ballroom dance music. 

In the welcome aboard show held on the first night of a cruise, a standard line used by many cruise directors makes reference to how well the many nationalities aboard the ship get along. The ship, they say, is a veritable “mini-United Nations,” and “the real U.N. could learn a thing or two from us.” The reality is quite different, with a near-caste system of officers at the top, staff in the middle, and crew at the bottom. Crew from certain countries (particularly Indonesia and the Philippines) are paid less for doing the same job as their counterparts from other countries (Wood 2000:353-358). Musicians, considered to be staff, are in the middle of this hierarchy.

Showband musicians tend to be young, though older musicians also exist. While 30% of the musicians sampled were under the age of thirty, none were under twenty-five. By contrast, 25% were over forty-five, and 7% were over sixty. Showband musicians are far more likely to be male (83%) than female (17%). They may be of a variety of nationalities, but are traditionally from western countries, such as the United States, Canada, UK, and Australia. In fact, showband musicians are more likely to be from western countries than almost any other group of shipboard employees. In recent years, however, there has been an attempt to employ showband musicians from Southeast Asia (especially the Philippines) and Eastern Europe. However, informants report that, from a musical point of view, this has been generally unsuccessful because of the perceived lack of reading ability among Filipino musicians (though they are considered excellent improvisers) and of improvisational ability among Eastern Europeans (though they are considered excellent readers). However, as the salary of musicians from these countries is lower, it has been successful from the financial point of view of the cruise lines. Cruise ship musicians are also highly educated, with 77% of surveyed musicians holding a tertiary qualification, compared to 27% of U.S. citizens (U.S. Census Bureau 2009) and 24% of Australian (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007). Showband musicians are typically contracted for around four months, though shorter and longer contracts exist. They sign onto ship’s articles, meaning that they are governed by the laws of the country of the Flag of Convenience (a process by which a ship is flagged in a country apart from that where the shipping line headquarters is located) and are subject to the discipline of the captain.

The social structure of showband musicians’ music culture is controlled and defined by two aspects: musical ability and social skills. Of the two, musical ability is of vastly greater consequence. Cruise ship musicians, like many performing musicians, are harsh judges of talent and impatient with sloppiness, requiring of others the same standards that they demand of themselves. Showband musician Brett Caine  gave the following advice to a hypothetical guest entertainer:

Hey, here’s an idea. . . . Take some vocal lessons, learn to play your  instrument, study the best comedians and learn from them before you  bring your crap-ass little dog and pony show out here to my ship  where you’ve spent more money on your freaking wig and make-up  than you have on your charts! This ain’t supposed to be amateur  hour, and you’re wasting my time making you look better than you  really are! (Interview, 2011) 4

While social skills are of secondary importance, they also form a part of the social structure. The highest rung of showband culture is the “great musician, great guy,” who enjoys strong support from all players. Lower quality musicians are pegged lower on the structure of shipboard society, even if they are personable. The lowest rung of the social ladder is reserved for those of low social and playing skill. 

While musicians generally feel positive about the cruise experience, the continued commodification of their art coupled with the repetitive nature of the music they create can cause long serving cruise ship musicians to become “dark.” “Darkness” is an industry term for feelings of general negativity, helplessness in the face of perceived harassment by management, and depression. It is manifested in a darkly humourous and aggressive manner among musicians between themselves. Musicians wear their “darkness” as a badge of pride. It signifies that a musician has been on cruise ships long enough to become dark and is unafraid of consequent harassment by the official shipboard hierarchy. This attitude can encourage other musicians to also develop negative attitudes towards their employment. Showband musician Thomas Mason describes the phenomenon of “darkness” as the result of disappointment in musicians’ employment:

Too many of us believe in some mythical, perfect gig out there that  simply doesn’t exist, and consequently we get dark about whatever  job we’re currently on. Normally we’d walk away from the gig at the  end of the night, get up the next morning, and go on to the next thing; but on the ship you do it day after day after day. There is no home to  go to; you live there. You constantly put up with the petty rules and  regulations of a wannabe navy that has little (other than the corporate  office) to keep it in check. It’s a dictatorship, and what the officers say  goes. Combine that with the sheer boredom and monotony that  occurs when you don’t go out of your way to mix it up, and things get  dark fast. (Interview, 2011)

Cruise ship crew, including musicians, have a tendency towards substance abuse, a position tacitly (and sometimes actively) encouraged by cruise ship management. 5 In the documentary, Ships , a cruise ship officer says,

[When you arrive onboard] you have two options: either you have fun, or you don’t have fun. Go for the first option. Have fun! Enjoy what  you do! Be proud of your job. At the end of the day, hang out with  your friends. Have fun! Drink! If you don’t want to drink, don’t drink.  But if you want to drink, drink crazy! (Eldib 2011)

Most surveyed musicians agreed that alcohol abuse is prevalent among cruise ship musicians. They cited three main reasons for this phenomenon: general boredom (71%), the need for a coping mechanism for the stresses and anxieties of ship life (24%), the boring and repetitive nature of the gig (14%), and alcohol’s use as a social tool (9%). 

Officially, any crew member must maintain blood-alcohol content of under 0.05% at all times, considered necessary for efficient handling of the ship in case of an emergency. All shipping lines may at any time run alcohol tests among any of the crew members; however, this is rarely enforced, and may be used to get rid of people or make a point. Showband musician Mike Johnston notes, “If they tested and fired everyone coming out of the crew bar drunk when it closed, they wouldn’t have enough people left to run the ship.” The officer interviewed in Ships states that “on cruise ships, you’re supposed to have [no more than] a certain level of alcohol in your blood. But, to be honest with you, it doesn’t matter” (Eldib 2011).  

The response of onboard management to extreme alcohol abuse varies depending on how useful the performer is. An experienced cruise director, Jack Alexander, recounts a story:

I’d just become cruise director. I was working with a captain who I’d  known for a few years, great guy. There was a singer on the ship who  was great, had been with the company about ten years longer than  I had and . . . was a notorious drinker—notorious. I sat there in a  captain’s meetings one day and the captain said to me, . . . “You need  to tell him to stop drinking.” . . . I said, “No, he’s an adult. He can do  exactly as he pleases. He knows the rules, and if he wants to break the  rules, he can break the rules. He knows the consequences and he’ll  go home; and it’s your decision, Captain, whether you want to enforce  the rules and get rid of him or because you like the guy you just let it  go.” And he was like, “Oh, okay, okay. Well, we’ll see.” . . . The rules  are there and if [musicians] want to drink to excess you can drink, and  the sad side of it is, I did it constantly. No, that’s not the sad side,  because I had fun doing it. (Interview, 2011)

Opportunities for sexual encounters and romance are frequently available aboard cruise ships and can be a strong incentive to undertake shipboard employment. Many crew are young, single, and with few ties on land. The constant turnover of crew provides a flow of possible sexual partners. The opportunity for sexual encounters on cruise ships is so available that crewmembers may become serial monogamists. A female crewmember stated,

It feels like guys have this mentality that you don’t know their past  and their histories, so they can sweep you off your feet if they so  choose—you know, “you’re the only one for me!” But you damn  well know that as soon as you get off that boat, there’s going to be  someone else who is the “only one for them” for that contract. It’s the  fine print, you know? (Eldib 2011)

Most musicians share cabins, limiting sexual opportunities. Arrangements between roommates may be made, such as a previously determined signal that one is with a sexual partner (for example, a tie or a hat will be left over a door handle) or a roommate negotiating a time during which one musician has the exclusive use of the room. For musicians unwilling (or unable) to engage in onboard sexual activity, in certain locations of the world, particularly the Caribbean and South America, musicians may avail themselves of the services available in brothels. More than other crew, musicians are able to leave the ship for the day, making sexual encounters with prostitutes a viable alternative to onboard sexual encounters. 

Ships may encourage consensual sexual encounters between crew, but sexual encounters between passengers and crew are officially forbidden. Crew are not supposed to be in guest cabins at any time. The danger of cultural misunderstandings or misperceptions with consequent legal issues for cruise lines is too great. That said, some crew do undertake illicit sexual encounters with passengers. According to a musician who worked for Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, “Sex between crew and passengers happens all the time. Every cruise, every day. Crew go into passenger cabins, and guests go into crew cabins. Both seek it out, passenger and crew” (Klein 2002:64). Such liaisons have been occurring for so long to have become nearly institutionalized. In the 1970s, 

passing through a crew hallway with the Mardi Gras’ second-in- command at the time, a senior Carnival executive noticed a  young female passenger slipping out of an officer’s cabin, obviously  after a rendezvous. Even in those swinging days, this was a serious  breach of company policy . . . “You see,” the executive said, pleased,  “She’ll be back again.” (Garin 2005:103)

Showband musician Daniel Clarke says, 

Lots of lady passengers come on the ship that are mature-age and  single. Maybe they’ve just divorced hubby and they’ve taken a cruise  on the payout. You’re not supposed to hook up with passengers, but a  lot of guys do. A buddy of mine used to have a thing running with the  security. They’d knock on the door and say, “Mr. John, Mr. John,  we’re coming back in ten minutes” just to give him time to get out and  back to his cabin. (Interview, 2011) 

Generally, the showband’s relationship with fellow performers is warm, except sometimes towards guest entertainers. Guest entertainers receive large salaries and have shorter contracts and vastly greater privileges than showband musicians, sometimes without the essential musical talent that defines and socially ranks showband musicians. Guest entertainers, on the other hand, can perceive showband musicians as jealous, negative, and complaining. There is some truth to both of these perceptions. 

Due to the social status derived from musical ability, talented guest entertainers establish a certain respect among musicians. These performers are lauded for several virtues: short rehearsals, superior charts, acceptable responses from the audiences, and the rare privilege of a night off (if the performer does not need the showband). In some cases, when an act may not be as entertaining as other acts, showband musicians may still support them if they are perceived as good musicians and respectful of the talents of the band. Other guest entertainers are despised among the showband musicians as weak performers with bad charts, who are perceived as using the showband to make themselves look good. Showband musician Joshua Davies reported,

The feelings of the showband vary quite dramatically towards the  entertainers. This depends a great deal on the quality and attitude  of both parties. Although I can recall perhaps a dozen entertainers  whose shows were of high quality, many were not, and there is a  certain amount of resentment in playing for people who seem to have  a lower skill set than the band who earn significantly more than you.  One such example to me was performing the show of a saxophone  player of considerably lower standard than myself. (Interview, 2011)

The social ability of guest entertainers is also important. A weak or unmusical guest entertainer who buys the band a round of drinks after the show to show their appreciation may get a certain grudging respect. However, guest entertainers less than pleasant in their dealings with the band create antipathy among the musicians. This hostility can manifest itself in various ways. A musician may simply play the chart as written (known as “phoning in” a performance) rather than “stepping up to the plate” and playing to the best of one’s ability. They may have a few drinks before the main show rather than waiting until afterwards. They may not smile on stage. Joshua Davies notes,

The great guest entertainers . . . tended more to galvanise the band  both on and off the stage, socialising and endearing themselves to the  musicians so they wished to perform to their best for these  entertainers, who had become their friends. Some entertainers had  significant egos, and, in line with most musicians, this is a defense  mechanism for their own flaws. In the same way that when I have met  Phil Woods, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, etc., they have not been  bitchy, only encouraging. . . . The “bitter and egotistical” kind of guest  entertainer is, however, more common on the whole, and the better  ones more of a rarity. (Interview, 2011)

One guest entertainer in particular, asked showband musician Daniel Jackson to write some charts for him in 2005. According to Jackson, the payment offered was a case of beer (which would cost twenty-four dollars as opposed to the standard price of $150 per arrangement). When Jackson declined, the guest entertainer grew hostile and said, “Well, it’s getting late. You know, I think I’ll have a sleep in tomorrow morning. Enjoy your boat drill, boys,” crudely rubbing his higher status in the musicians’ faces. For many years after that, whenever this particular entertainer played with musicians who knew the story, there was a certain sullenness about the band (Interview, 2011).

Performances, Repertoire, and Spaces

Within the themed cruise entertainment product, venues, as the subencapsulators of the musical experience of the cruise ship, deserve specific consideration. Vision has long been held to be of significance within in tourism studies (Gillespie 2006; Scarles 2009; Urry 1990; Urry and Larsen 2011), although in recent years other senses have come under scrutiny (Pine and Gilmore 2011; Schofield 2009; Brambilla et al. 2007; Everett 2008; Dann and Jacobsen 2003; Hall and Sharples 2003; Hjalager and Richards 2002). Venues contextualize and physically situate performances utilizing physical and arising aural signs to convey the particular theme of the performance. 

Specifically, cruise ship venues are designed to create interaction between the audience and performers. Michael S. Minor et al. note, “The spatial layout and functionality aspects [of performance venues] are of high importance for the service encounter due to the purposeful nature of the service encounter” (2004:10). The design and functioning of a performance space directly affects patrons’ enjoyment of musical performance, and this is nowhere more evident than aboard cruise ships. Onboard theatres and performance spaces are designed with care and consideration. Seats in theatres are usually comfortable, and venue sizes are appropriate to traffic and audience sizes. Often they are themed to the point of becoming fantasies of their genre (Cashman 2013a).

Physical factors uniquely impact upon the design and experience of performing in cruise ship venues. Due to the ever-present possibility of violent movement on cruise ships, chairs in theatres are usually immobile, unable to be moved at a passenger’s whim. From a safety and venue management viewpoint, sudden ship movement cannot be permitted to scatter chairs. Large internal spaces such as the theatre weaken the physical structure of the ship and require large support columns running from the ceiling to the floor, supporting the weight of the upper decks. Such columns can create sightline issues, and venues must be carefully designed to allow the areas behind these columns to be free of seats. Cruise lines construct their entertainment to be inclusive and powerful. Jack Alexander, the previously quoted cruise director, notes that guests must be physically close to the performer; as he says, “up close and personal with the drum kit” (Interview, 2011) Venues are thus designed with little space between the performers and audience, encouraging interaction. 6  

The Evening Show

The evening show is different from other performances. One important goal of most onboard performances is to attract guests into a venue where they are encouraged to consume alcohol, the second-biggest onboard revenue stream (Becker 2006). However, at the evening production show, guest alcohol consumption occurs only marginally; the musical performance is of primary import, and socialization among guests secondary (the reverse to most shipboard performances). Evening shows exist to provide a focus for shipboard entertainment and to prevent guests, as much as possible, from retiring for the night. 

The most typical performance space for showband musicians is the theatre, a venue that forms a representation of an opulent land-based theatre including semiotic signals for high social class and theatricality. The theatre aboard Cunard’s RMS Queen Mary 2 is typical of the cruise ship theatre. The large thrust stage reduces the distance between the performer and audience, encouraging interaction despite the barrier of the high stage. The showband may be placed at the front of the stage in a pit that can be raised or lowered, or (more typically) at the back of the stage. The red hues of the decor and the chandelier above the stage area encourage the perception of the theatre as a special place associated with luxury, high class, and expense.

Production shows are themed choreo-musical performances performed by the onboard cast and showband. They are described as “Vegas-style” (Gulliksen 2008; Wood 2004) or “flesh-and-feathers” (Dickinson and Vladimir 2008:59), but are carefully sanitized to remove anything that may cause offense. Blandness and “cheesiness” are criticisms often levelled at cruise ship entertainment (Minarcek 2011; Ritzer 2010; Clemence 2012). As a single production show is typically performed twice on its designated night to the necessarily broad demographic of guests, production shows need to be of wide appeal and devoid of anything offensive. The latter is dealt with by careful implementation and a general lack of dialogue in shows. The former is dealt with by careful matching of production show themes to the guest demographic.

Theming a production show permits guests to easily contextualize the production show before they have seen it, and the theme is usually clearly identified in the title of the show as well as the onboard advertising; thus, Princess’s Motor City is about Motown, Carnival’s X-Treme Country performs country music, and Cunard’s Zing Went the Strings is about music sung by Judy Garland. Based on the responses of interviewed showband musicians, by far the most common themes revolve around western popular music. Other themes that are significant include musical theatre, jazz, western dance, and film—themes that are somewhat more esoteric, but certainly of broad interest. Only one musician reported a production show that explicitly addressed world music cultures, and it involved a world tour in popular music; France was represented by a can-can, Italy by Dean Martin’s Mambo Italiano , and so forth. 

In a time frame of forty-five to sixty minutes, a production show needs to present a musical representation of the theme. Necessarily, this involves a sampling of a large number of songs from the genre. P&O UK’s production manager Michael Bee says his production shows “are very punchy, very bright, very fast moving.” Audiences weaned on television programs such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are “used to seeing shortened numbers, medleys, and a lot of visual stimulation” (Quinn 2011:22). These techniques are used to sample large numbers of songs very quickly; for example, the Supremes medley in Motor City contains eight different songs sung by The Supremes.

The production show is currently changing. Royal Caribbean has replaced production shows on its larger ships with trimmed Broadway musicals such as Chicago , Hairspray , and Saturday Night Fever . Further, the showband’s role in the production show is declining. Several lines now use pre-recorded backing tracks. Some musicians report having to mime production shows, reducing their role from specialist performers to instrument holders.

The guest entertainer show focuses attention on a particular cabaret entertainer who is contracted for a period of time, which may be as short as a few days. The guest entertainer provides arrangements, which are rehearsed in the afternoon. The show itself is performed twice in the evening. The repertoire chosen by the singer should be familiar and entertaining. Songs are chosen for one of the following reasons:

  • To showcase the talents of the performers: a pianist may choose an  overly technical but accessible work, such as Liberace’s “Bumble  Boogie,” to showcase their technical ability. A singer may sing a  “pattersong” far too fast to demonstrate their talent.
  • To form a bond with the audience: the relationship between the  performer and audience is important, and the performer must be  liked. Thus, singing a song with which the audience is familiar and  likes will assist that relationship.
  • To affirm the audience’s appraisal of them as significant artists: a  singer may sing songs from the shows they have performed on  Broadway or in the West End.

Helen Lewis, a guest entertainer says,

My goal is very simply (on a cruise ship) to keep them interested,  involved, and awake! My rule of thumb generally is to do a mixture  of songs they know and comedy songs. Maybe occasionally you can  throw in an unknown number, but only if it’s extraordinary and  there’s an interesting story behind it. I think we all use “the tricks”  too—picking songs with big and long notes at the end and also  pattersongs sung at ridiculously fast tempos. (Interview, 2011)

When evening shows go wrong, they go very wrong. I performed in a comedian’s show in an onboard 1100-seat theatre and, because of the perceived old-fashioned show, there were perhaps twenty guests by the end. As the pianist, I was forward of the orchestra, and I watched guests streaming out the exits after perhaps ten minutes. This was a potential disaster for the line, as there were now eleven hundred disgruntled guests onboard who were possibly heading back to their cabins. The show had failed to engage the audience, an essential aspect of cruise ship entertainment.

Evening shows are significant onboard events. As they are designed to engage guests and prevent them from retiring for the night, both types, the production show and guest entertainer show, must be engaging and not overly taxing on audiences. They must be energetic and uplifting, and place guests in a good frame of mind to go out and enjoy the amenities of the ship, even when they are tired from a day in port.

Ballroom Dance

Music to accompany the social and choreographic practice of ballroom dance forms a significant musical repertory performed by showbands. This music is arranged and performed to accompany ballroom dancing, images of which are strongly associated with pre-war passenger shipping. Cunard vessels contain a second showband (known as the “Queens Room Orchestra” that performs this music in a designated ballroom, but most lines co-opt the showband for this role, performing once or twice per cruise in a shipboard venue that has a dance floor. 

Venues for ballroom dancing contain a bandstand and seating, but also a dance floor between the audience and band. The onboard ballroom descends from earlier steamship ballrooms, which were themselves recreations of hotel ballrooms of the 1910s and 1920s. As such, modern ballrooms reference these earlier shipboard ballrooms, attempting to recreate the glamour of earlier shipping. They are luxurious and opulent and focus attention on the dancers rather than the musicians; however, they are also increasingly rare on cruise ships.

Onboard ballroom repertoire reflects traditional ballroom dance repertoire and is commonly drawn from popular music of the swing era, though examples drawn from earlier or more recent music are not necessarily excluded as long as they meet the demands of dancers. Cruise ships collect large numbers of arrangements to permit ballroom dancing. One such collection of dance music, called the Princess Dance Book , used across the Princess fleet, contains 155 arrangements covering the ten official styles of international ballroom and Latin standard dance. The vast majority of these arrangements are by a few arrangers, including Dave Wolpe (a Florida-based arranger who contributed more than half the charts), Dan Higgins, Rusty Dedrick, and Tom Kubis.

Other Performances

Showband musicians are employed to be versatile, equally able to sightread and improvise, and to temporarily adopt the role of an ensemble or soloist. Such performances may provide an additional performance of a type that exists onboard, or may provide an addition to onboard offerings. In the former instance, such performances may provide additional offerings to the shipboard entertainment schedule, performing small-ensemble jazz in a cruise ship that already has a jazz ensemble onboard, or performing a cocktail piano set additional to that performed by the soloists. While these may vary the original onboard offering (by the addition of horns to a jazz set usually performed by a piano trio, for example), they replicate the purpose of the original set. Showbands are typically jazz-centred ensembles and perform rock—even  the tame rock provided on cruise ships—with difficulty. In the case of a small cruise ship the showband may form the defacto ensemble, providing all onboard music. Even in large ships with a range of performers, the showband can be required to provide special shows. In the author’s experience, the showband of the Grand Princess in 2007 was obliged to play popular representations of traditional jazz when leaving New Orleans.

It is important that all such performances are accessible. A shipboard jazz performance, for example, caters to the touristic and popular culture image of the jazz band at sea and provides high-class popular cultural signifiers. However, it tends to be conservative rather than innovative and may include traditional swing works from the 1930s and 1940s, such as “Satin Doll,” “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” and “Take the A Train.” Guests attending a performance will be comfortable with such jazz standards. Musicians, however, often prefer to perform 1950s and 1960s jazz or 1970s jazz-rock, which is of more interest to them. Such jazz-influenced performances conflict with the desires of the audience for listenable tunes that stay in the background. Songs that merge rock or funk beats with a strong melody (such as “Sidewinder” and “Cantaloupe Island”) are performed as a compromise. Similarly, tunes that have a strong melody and musically interesting chord progressions (such as “Blue in Green”) may be used. 

Performances that do not adhere to this rule of accessibility may find themselves at odds with the cruise ship aesthetic. Classical performances, a style that signifies the high-status required by cruise ships but which are less accessible to the guests, has the potential to cause problems. Thus, shipboard classical repertoire is drawn from the popular classical canon for that instrument with an emphasis on popular classics. A harp may perform Pachelbel’s Canon, or a pianist may perform Chopin’s Op. 9/2 Nocturne or the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata . However, the illusion of performing classical music is more important and acceptable than the reality. Joshua Davies recounted the following story:

When I was on the Star Princess . . . we had a classical piano  player come on in Europe who was a guy called [name redacted], and  he was world class. Carnegie Hall piano player, did concertos with the New York Philharmonic, had CDs out under his name. And he did  a beautiful recital where he played pieces by Liszt and Chopin. He  even tried to dumb down his products by doing some Gershwin. He  told the story about when Gershwin was interviewing for Porgy and  Bess , that the first singer came in and sang “you say potayto and I say  potayto, you say tomayto and I say tomayto,” (laughs). So he really  tried. But he got fired that evening because people just walked out of  his show. The piano player in the orchestra and myself knew the level  of this guy, having spoken to him earlier in the cruise. So we went  to the second show, bought a bottle of wine and just sat a couple of  rows from the front. Be the time we got to the end, everyone else had  left. I’m not exaggerating, literally, by the end of it, only the two of us  were sat there, listening to the best pianist I’ve ever heard. (Interview,  2011)

Other musicians recounted several similar stories. Cruise ship guests are interested in the fabrication of classical music culture, rather than the reality.

Showband performances outside the ballroom and theatre may take place in any venue on a ship. Often they occur in permanent venues such as onboard bars or the atrium. Sometimes they take place in temporarily adopted venues, such as on the lido deck. However, showband performances are more general than others, which are typically related to a particular genre, and so rarely occur in themed venues. 7

Performances of Music of Destination

While musicians have limited opportunities to stray from the repertoire associated with the constructed and cocooned onboard culture, they do occasionally reference the cruise ship’s destinations by the performance of popular music that is associated with the destination. More unusual destinations, with a greater sense of exoticism such as Hong Kong or Mumbai, are more likely to be referenced than more typical cruise destinations such as the Alaskan inside passage or Acapulco. 

The showband occasionally references the destination of the cruiseship, albeit in a westernized and popular manner. When performing music for ballroom dance, a showband may play a popular and recognizable song strongly associated with the destination, such as a cha-cha version of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” the night before arriving in Turkey, or a quickstep version of “Waltzing Matilda” before arrival in Sydney. When I was performing on a ship out of New Orleans, during sailaway the band would attempt to portray traditional New Orleans jazz through the performance of Dixieland tunes before reverting to the standard repertoire with which we were more comfortable. Such performances are popular representations of the destination best understood within the dominant western culture of cruise ships.

Onboard performances other than those by the showband can represent a fetishized “exotic” culture, but these too are typically drawn from musical styles already popular in western musical cultures. For example, many ships carry a “Caribbean” band. While the performers are usually Caribbean islanders, the repertoire performed by these bands incorporates Caribbean music made famous in the west over the last fifty or so years (Cashman and Hayward 2013). Calypso and 1960s reggae is more common than more recent genres such as dancehall and reggae fusion. These performances, typically occurring beside the pool in the afternoon of a sea day, are constructed to represent “exoticism” and “island culture” rather than local Caribbean culture. 

On rare occasions a ship may be in a particularly exotic and unusual port such as Tahiti or Buenos Aires, a place where passengers may require a closer (if mediated) encounter with local culture. Choreomusical performances may take place as part of local tours, or (if the ship is overnighting, itself a rare occurrence, or sailing late), a “local show” may be performed onboard. These performances involving local performers need to be, in the words of one cruise director, “classy and colourful” (Logan 2011) rather than representative, an approach to touristic cultural portrayal that Linnekin describes as the “ Reader’s Digest approach” (1997:232). 

Material Culture

Physical objects on cruise ships used for musical purposes are divided into objects directly used in the process of and in response to musical performance (designated musical objects) and those used indirectly (non-musical objects). The provision of instruments varies by instrument. If instruments are portable enough, musicians supply them; this group includes horn players, guitarists and electric bass players. However, ships always supply pianos, keyboards, and drum kits due to their impracticality as luggage, and they may also supply upright basses. However, this can result in performance on old and poorly maintained instruments. Drummers often choose to bring their own cymbals, as ship-provided cymbals are usually very poor quality due to shipboard economic priorities and occasional contact with sea air. The decision between playing a known instrument that musicians have to transport themselves and playing an unknown instrument that makes for an unpleasant performance is a difficult one for musicians, but one that is usually made by cruise lines.

The problem is exacerbated for pianists, who are at the mercy of large and heavy shipboard instruments, and is compounded by cruise lines regarding pianos less as musical instruments and more as pieces of furniture imbued with semiotic meaning. Most modern ships are equipped with Kawai or Yamaha mid-size grand pianos in performance venues. The constant motion of the ship causes shipboard pianos to go out of tune more quickly than land-based pianos; however, maintenance can be haphazard as pianos are maintained in turnaround ports at the request of the musical director, and in some parts of the world it can be hard to find competent piano tuners. Out-of-tune pianos are consequently endemic on cruise ships. Static pianos are held in place by piano chucks that are attached to the floor of the ship. Stage pianos that must be moved are held in place only by the friction of the locked wheels of the piano trolley. 8 Ship designers place grand pianos for their visual properties as much as or more than their musical properties. A pianist in a tuxedo playing a beautiful, shiny, black piano is an important image for cruise ships. Some pianos are placed for visual reasons rather than performance and are rarely played. Performance on poorly maintained and poorly placed instruments can make quality performance difficult.

Musical notations form another designated musical artifact. Showbands, formal dance bands, and classical ensembles all use notated music. Charts are typically provided by the cruise line or by the leader of the ensemble. Charts used by the showband are usually stored in large black folders in a central location, and are the responsibility of the individual musician. Production show charts remain in order from one show to the next, allowing the musicians to quickly turn to the next chart. Dance-set charts are usually maintained in alphabetical order and are “pulled,” (or physically ordered so as to allow uninterrupted accessibility to arrangements in the correct order) before playing, a process that may take fifteen minutes. After the performance, these are carefully replaced in the folder in the correct order. Besides the instruments, these notations form the most important physical artifacts for musicians.

The amount of performance space required on the bandstand varies from player to player. Pianists, drummers, and keyboardists need the most space with their large instruments. Bass players, guitarists, and trumpeters have a relatively small “footprint.” Trombonists need space in front to allow for the slide, and saxophonists need both space in front to hold their instruments, and space to the side to place their doubles. Onboard sound and lighting equipment are important to cruise ship musicians who wish to be heard over the guest conversation. Even relatively small venues such as Carnival’s piano lounge will have a built-in entertainment system. Performance spaces and equipment must also be designed so as not to affect the ship’s buoyancy (Dickinson and Vladimir 2008:54). 

At the start of this paper, I argued that cruise tourism (as other forms of post-tourism) utilizes a different model of touristic engagement; unlike many other forms of leisure tourism, the cruise industry does not seek to construct a representation of the destination. To a large extent, it rejects the destination and constructs a play area within which tourists engage in a constructed manner. To Robert E. Wood (2004), cruise ships form a deterritorialized destination, one that has had all traces of actual physical and cultural location excised, designed to focus guests’ attention on the ship rather than the destinations, and encourage guests to consume, and creating, in George Ritzer’s words, “cathedrals of consumption” (2010:9). 9 The cruise ship experience does not reflect reality, but creates a hyperreality that, more than distorting the cultures through which the ship travels, attempts to sanitise and expunge them from the ship. The vessel forms a barrier that separates tourists from the physical and cultural environments through which they travel.

Onboard musical performance colludes in this cocooning, constructing a homogenized and bland western music culture, and enveloping guests in the familiar and western rather than the different and local. Musical performances are typically by musicians of western nationalities performing cosmopolitan western popular music. This is particularly so with the showbands, which, made up of predominantly of American, Canadian, British, and Australian musicians, present the carefully managed production and guest entertainer shows. 

In a recent study of tourist motivation for undertaking a cruise, Hung and Petrick (2011) found that the most important reasons cited were self-esteem and social recognition (e.g., “I cruise to do something that impresses others”). Learning and discovery (e.g., “I cruise to experience other cultures”) were much further down the list. Within this motivation lies the key to understanding the postmodern tourism product of cruise ship music. The cruise industry demographic wishes to be pampered and to retreat from daily life in the context of a safe vacation, albeit one that is seen by others as exotic. The cruise industry responds to this need by providing huge mobile holiday resorts that cruise between exotic destinations with which cruise guests need not actually engage. Instead, tourists experience a relaxing, undemanding, and fun entertainment product in an encapsulated and fabricated environment rather than a mediated cultural encounter. Guests that engage more exclusively with this onboard experience—which includes live musical performances—are more likely to spend larger amounts of money and contribute to the profitability and success of the cruise industry.  

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  • 1. GRT stands for Gross Register Tonnage, a measure of the permanently enclosed volume of the ship. One GRT is equal to 100 cubic feet (2.83m2).
  • 2. Between 50 and 80% of guests partake in shore excursions (Klein 2005:93-95). Ocho Rios in Jamaica is one example of a carefully-controlled tourist environment offshore (Garin 2005:276).
  • 3. It should be noted that some lines, notably Costa Crociere, Iberocruceros, and Croisières de France do cater to non-English speakers. However, they still represent a western culture.
  • 4. Names given in this article are pseudonymous as requested by some of the participants.
  • 5. On Regent Seven Seas Cruises between 2007 and 2010, musicians received a $100 per month drinking allowance to be used in passenger areas.
  • 6. For more on cruise ship venues as spaces for engagement, see Cashman 2012.
  • 7. See Cashman 2013b for a discussion of the role of theming in cruise ship venues.
  • 8. The researcher had the experience of playing a guest entertainer’s show when the ship hit an unexpected wave, and the piano started rolling towards the audience. He managed to hold the piano until the technical staff ran onstage to assist.
  • 9. The concept of deterritorialization been discussed by Appadurai (1990) and Deleuze and Guattari (1972).

David Cashman's picture

Dr. David Cashman is a Senior Lecturer in music within the School of Education and the Arts at Central Queensland University. His research track record is around the areas of music and place, particularly the nature of music and touristic representation, and popular music in India. As well as ongoing research in music and tourism, he is undertaking an ethnographic and social research project into English-language popular music in Delhi.

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We began sourcing musicians for the cruise ship industry in 1987. Since then we have booked over 20,000 contracts for entertainers all around the world. Cruise lines, hotels, casinos and other entertainment venues seek us out because they know that our connections and ability to match opportunities with performers are second to none.

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Proship is on your team, working with you side by side to find you the best possible performance opening. We provide you the support you need to get the gig and make the most of the experience. Work opportunities are only as good as the people behind the scenes making it happen for you. The majority of our staff are career entertainers who understand your needs and concerns and will help you find the opportunity that will best compliment your talent.

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Proship is your support partner throughout the entire employment process. We audition and evaluate each performer we find to ensure you perform with other qualified individuals. We seek employers that offer outstanding opportunities and negotiate work conditions that make a difference to you. Once hired, our contracting department will support you through the entire logistics process assisting you with physical examinations, visas, rush passports, background checks and contracts. You will also have access to a live 24/7 emergency travel support line from anywhere in the world.

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There are countless opportunities for skilled musicians to work all over the globe! Whether you work solo or as a group, whether you are a sight-reading musician for the pit orchestra, a member of a contemporary band for a dance club, a string ensemble for a lobby, a solo instrumentalist for the main stage, the hotel, resort, casino and cruise ship industries are interested in your talents.

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The showband musician or orchestra musician is a member of the show orchestra performing and supporting all main stage performances. If you play piano, bass, drums, guitar, trumpet, sax, or trombone and can sight-read and improvise we have opportunities for you.

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Life as a Musician on a Cruise Ship

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Being a musician on a cruise ship has its ups and downs (like everything else in life). In short, the pay is good, you get to travel, and do what you love. However, the not so great parts about it is that you have to deal with being judged, cater to guests, and deal with maritime ship laws. Life is certainly great as a musician on a cruise ship, but it certainly has its drawbacks. Specifically working as a musician on a cruise ship is is different in a few ways from just working on a cruise ship in any other position. I worked as a venue musician so much of my work revolved around performing in the lounges, stages and the grand foyer. I specifically worked for Celebrity Cruises, so all of this information may not apply across the board, but it gives you some insight as to what it's like to be a musician on a cruise ship for Celebrity Cruises. #cruise ship musician #cruise ship musician life #cruise ship musician audition #cruise ship musician salary #cruise ship musicians wanted #cruise ship musician repertoire #cruise ship musician trumpet Watch On YouTube

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    House Band Bass. Our House Band Musicians are expert musical shapeshifters, able to transition seamlessly from supporting produced signature Princess Production Shows to headliner-style Guest Entertainers in our theaters and lounges. Our House Bands also provide unique live music experiences for our guests in themed events arranged specifically ...

  15. Cruise Ship Musician

    While a gig on a cruise ship is unlikely to advance one's career, getting a regular paycheck while incurring few or no expenses is a major draw for freelance musicians, who might join the cruise individually or with a cover band or other ensemble. The job can have a number of perks, including free meals and lodging, round-trip airline travel from home, health insurance for the duration of the ...

  16. MUSICIANS & DJs, MUSICAL GROUPS

    These unique duos, consisting of two singer-instrumentalists, deliver an engaging and FUN modern country music experience for our guests cruising on select ships in the Carnival Fleet. Our Country Duos specialize in a wide range of country hits from George Strait and Carrie Underwood to the Josh Abbot Band in addition to covering American Top 40 Hits from the 1960s through today.

  17. Corporately Imposed Music Cultures: An Ethnography of Cruise Ship

    While musicians have limited opportunities to stray from the repertoire associated with the constructed and cocooned onboard culture, they do occasionally reference the cruise ship's destinations by the performance of popular music that is associated with the destination. More unusual destinations, with a greater sense of exoticism such as Hong Kong or Mumbai, are more likely to be ...

  18. Proship Entertainment

    We match professional musicians and performers to venues worldwide. We find gigs on cruise ships for pianists, guitar players, drummers, bass players, trombone players, singers, pianobar entertainers, showband musicians, party bands, Latin bands, lighting technicians, sound technicians, and more.

  19. Musicians For Cruises

    Musicians For Cruises. Public group. ·. 15.4K members. Join group. Musicians For Cruises is for anyone looking for a gig on a cruise ship or bookers and recruiters looking for available musicians and entertainers.

  20. Life as a Musician on a Cruise Ship

    Being a musician on a cruise ship has its ups and downs (like everything else in life). In short, the pay is good, you get to travel, and do what you love. However, the not so great parts about it is that you have to deal with being judged, cater to guests, and deal with maritime ship laws. Life is certainly great as a musician on a cruise ship ...

  21. Working as a Cruise Ship Musician

    To be a cruise ship musician, you'll need great instrumental, sight reading, improvisational, and people skills. Additionally, you should be flexible regarding genres and style, have the stamina, and know a vast repertoire of music. Contents [ show] The Cruise Ship Musician Lifestyle. Life on a cruise ship can be exciting, but also quite peculiar.

  22. Cruise Ship Musician Catalog

    Wellcome to the CRUISE SHIP MUSICIANS CATALOG! We are not an agency but the FREE VIRTUAL PANORAMA for all agencies and agents. Link your music video and you can enjoy this group! We are not an agency but the FREE VIRTUAL PANORAMA for all agencies and agents.

  23. Repertoire, performance, implementation and standardisation in music

    Repertoire ranges from standard 1930s big band hits to 1960s and 70s film music and 70s funk. The cruise industry realises formal dance music in two different modes: aboard ships that have a ...