As you know ship life doesn’t suit everybody. Life onboard is different from life on land and some can’t or don’t want to adjust to ship life. It’s not just the life style that doesn’t suit everybody, the musicians’ job is quite unique as well.
Working for a big company
A cruise line is a big company with thousands of employees. Carnival for example has over 30’000 shipboard and almost 4’000 shoreside employees. A company this big has to be structured and efficient in order to be profitable. Because a cruise line is that big, not as much attention can be given to each and every crew member as one would wish. If something’s not working out between you and the company, it’s just easier for the company to replace you with somebody else than spending a lot of time and energy into fixing your relationship. Being employed by a big company can be challenging especially for musicians that have been doing freelance work on land.
Lifeboat loading: One of the many trainings all crew members have to complete.
Something musicians often struggle with are the hierarchies onboard the ship. The musical director is the one who schedules the acts, puts the setlists together, choses the songs, leads rehearsals, writes evaluations and tells you to be at a certain place at a certain time. The MD basically controls your life, at least that’s what some musicians feel like. As a musician you’re at the bottom of the structure. Your immediate boss is the MD, the MD’s boss is the entertainment director, the ED’s boss is the hotel director, the HD’s boss is somebody shoreside. As you can see the MD is almost at the bottom with you. In addition to having all these bosses you have more supervisors that work in other departments. Like the safety officer, the human resources director or the captain. Hierarchy is something that in my experience many musicians struggle with, especially because the hierarchy is not constructed around musical or artistic competence.
Musicians don’t really have a uniform but there’s a dress code for musicians. This dress code is really easy to follow, it’s got stuff like: ‘don’t wear jeans in guest area after 5pm’. Really easy guide lines to follow in my opinion. But so many musicians struggle with the dress code. I think musicians feel restricted as soon as they hear they’re not allowed to do something and automatically rebel, consciously or not. There are more of these restrictions like: no fraternization with guests, certain times you’re not allowed to eat in guest area or always having to wear the nametag. I guess musicians feel their personal expression is oppressed in many areas of their life and that they can’t be who they are.
My setup on the Carnival Conquest 2015.
You weren't hired to be an artist
Musicians are artists, no matter what kind of music, no matter what kind of performance and no matter what skill level. On ships though you’re not expected to be an artist. You’re expected to entertain guests and to get them to consume drinks from the bar. That’s it. Many musicians struggle with this thought. The cruise line wants to make money. Of course, music also connects people and all that beautiful stuff music does. But the music is offered onboard to make guests feel good, drink, have a good time and ultimately come back for more cruises. As a musician you’re selling a product and that product is not your album, it’s not your artistry or your awesome playing. You’re selling cruises, you want people to consume and to come back. You’re here to please the guests and not to fulfill your artistic vision.
Now, there’s two ways to look at this. You can either feel restricted and not be happy. Constantly feeling like you can’t be who you are. Or you can accept the circumstances and restrictions and decide to work with them instead of against them. In my opinion creativity always comes from restriction and never comes from complete freedom. I recommend accepting the circumstances and start exploring how you can tweak your performance, interaction and technique to still be 100% you. Notice how ships don’t tell you who to be. All that ships tell you is to not do certain things and what goal the company's pursuing. Now it’s up to you how you deal with it. Just be creative and discover new ways to work with limitations.
A second post about this subject is coming soon!