Cruise ships are a fantastic opportunity to make a living from your playing and improve your playing in a variety of styles whilst travelling to every corner of the world in style, but be warned; it could be your dream job or a tedious and claustrophobic nightmare.

GETTING THE GIG

People pay large sums to enjoy a cruise and the entertainment is one of the big pulls. As a result, musical standards are high requiring a thorough audition to pass. These are often conducted via a phone and camcorder with musical files emailed to the interviewee one hour before the audition. You will be required to read a variety of styles along with a backing track and metronome.

Phil Miller, musician casting specialist of Royal Caribbean International says, “Show experience (musicals) is important, excellent reading ability of chords and notation are essential and a background in Jazz is helpful.”  

GOT THE GIG – NOW WHAT?

The company should provide a pre-embarkation list detailing necessary items to pack such as formal suits and deck shoes. You will also need a medical examination, the cost of which should be reimbursed by the company. It is advisable to keep all receipts and find out exactly what the company is willing to pay for. This also applies to flights and hotel bills en-route to join the ship, but double check this before travelling.

Jonnie James has years of cruise ship experience and auditions candidates for the P&O company, having travelled to most parts of the world. He adds, “When packing, it is important to remember the little things like drum keys, sticks, brushes, dampening tools (such as moon gel) and headphones. I always pack a bass pedal too. A lot of companies supply the pedals and the stage managers should supply headphones but don’t ever assume!”

With regards to payment, it is often non-negotiable on your first cruise and what they offer may not seem amazing. However, you should bear in mind that you will have no expenses, which provides the opportunity to build up decent savings. All meals and accommodation are paid for and you may even enjoy a tax free salary.

ROYAL COURT THEATRE - QUEEN VICTORIA

LIFE ON BOARD

The first week is usually the hardest, adapting to life in a shared cabin, as Jonnie explains, “I’ve had to share with everyone from an over-sized keyboard player who stayed in bed at every opportunity to an ex-Cuban army saxophone player who was up at 7am everyday and kept the cabin spotless.”

This first week is also busy spending spare time on stage learning the production show music.
These are 45 minute Broadway-style medleys, each moving through every conceivable rhythm and time signature. Don’t try to impress by sight reading this. Even if you’re a great reader, there are many random time changes to catch you out, so it’s worth putting in the practice.

Once you’ve relaxed into the shows and don’t feel the need to practice anymore, ‘ship-life’ really begins. This is what makes the gig what it is. Most MDs don’t care how much time you spend ashore causing havoc in remote Mexican villages or in the ludicrously cheap crew bar, as long as you’re on stage ready to play well, whenever necessary.

Like the passengers, the musicians can use the cruise to do as little or as much as they like. Often only required to work 4 or 5 hours a day (sometimes only one hour), this leaves plenty of opportunity to explore an island or town. However, this can lead to boredom at sea when there’s little to do except watch TV, go to the gym or relax on deck.

But beware, as Jonnie has seen over the years,“Lateness really is the number one bad quality you could have. Not only does it annoy the rest of the band but you also get a bad reputation with the Cruise Director, not to mention the delayed start of a show with an audience waiting.”      


THE MUSIC

As a drummer, you really only have two options on a cruise ship. You could get a band together, learn 150 tunes and then audition to be one of the Lounge acts that play for cocktail parties, dances, theme nights, etc. This is quite a tough gig mentally, as you are playing for between 4 and 5 hours a night, every night!

Alternatively, you could play in the orchestra. This is a much more varied role usually backing the guest entertainers that come aboard. This could be anything from backing a singer (jazz, Broadway, 50s, 60s, etc), to playing incidental music for a juggler. Also, you must be prepared for playing some
‘alternative’ music. This can include silly things like dressing as a pirate and playing sound effects for a ‘crossing the equator’ ceremony or playing Filipino dance music for the crew show.  

THE GAMBLE

No agency or cruise company will tell you this but there is a certain element of luck when joining a cruise. Some of the variables are:

• Your cabin mate could be a nightmare.
• Your band may not be very good, auditioned by
people with bad judgment.
• Your itinerary may be a little dull (visiting the
same few ports round and round for an entire season)
• The crew may be difficult to get on with so if you are
not good at making friends, stay home!
• You may get claustrophobic.

However, if you fancy playing drums with huge variation in styles to a high standard, making friends with great musicians from across the globe and visiting the pyramids, a Kenyan safari and Rio carnival in your spare time, then maybe a cruise is for you.

So get in that practice room, get sight reading and learn your ‘meringues’ & ‘cha cha chas’.

Check out agencies such as PROSHIP if you want to apply for a cruise ship drumming job.

There is an interesting thread about cruise ship drumming at DRUMMERWORLD that might also be of onterest.