I’ve made a couple of posts discussing why someone shouldn’t do and who shouldn’t do a cruise ship gig. Since I’ve been a cruise ship musician for quite a while, there obviously have to be great sides to the gig. In this post I’m exploring why musicians should do cruise ship gigs and what benefits come with it.
You’re always onstage
During a contract you usually play 2-4 sets per night, six nights a week for six months straight. That’s a hell of a lot of time for onstage performance. You might say that you practice more on land than you do on ships. That’s true. But, it’s insane how much you get to be onstage on ships. Performing is quite different from practicing. The level of energy the performer has to showcase during a performance is crazy high. Getting your energy levels up every night for six months really affects your relationship to your instrument and to the music in a positive way. The level of energy and enthusiasm during a show is positively affected by the endurance trained during cruise ship contracts.
Performance, no matter what
Since you’re performing almost every night, there are moments where you just hate your life and the last thing you want to do is to be on a stage making music. There are so many reasons why this might happen: bad news from land, relationship drama, fever, hangovers, headaches, seasickness etc. Now, depending on the intensity of those issues you might not be able to perform. But, I think it’s important to push yourself to the limits, to check how far you can go and still deliver a good performance.
Having fun on the Carnival Fascination, 2014.
In the cruise ship world most musicians don’t want to go out of their way for the company. I get it, the company doesn’t seem to care much about you as an individual or as an artist. But, the company and guests are not why I recommend musicians to push themselves to the limits and really explore the space outside of their comfort zone and to step onstage even when they don’t feel like it. I recommend it to musicians, because those are the moments you can learn quite valuable lessons. You get to know yourself better, you get to see sides of yourself you didn’t even know existed, you have to deal with emotions, how good was the performance even though you hated every moment of it, are there ways to make your life easier in case something like this happens again, was stepping onstage worth it?
Reacting while performing
Since you’re onstage so much, issues are going to arise. The problems vary, it might be that the lights don’t work, the ship’s rocking heavily, the PA or the monitors aren’t working properly etc. Because you usually have to perform anyways and do your best even with those issues, you learn to adapt and improvise around them. You can partially prevent a decrease of quality of your performance through distraction by actually being competent at your instrument and the music you’re playing. You can achieve that by practicing, rehearsing and listening. But a large part of the onstage competence can only be learned by actually spending time onstage and having gone through these experiences. Onstage you can learn how not to be distracted easily, how to keep focus on the music & the show and to learn to prioritize instantly. Let’s say the lights stop working, do you stop the show and get them fixed or do you keep playing and fix them during the break?
This picture sums up why musicians should join cruise ships, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.
Prioritizing and properly focusing are a big part of being the Musical Director on ships. There were times when I’d get a phone call from guest services with noise complaints about another venue right before my own set would start. As drummer you can’t really leave your band because you’re about to start, but as Md you think if you don’t fix it now the noise at the other venue will continue for another hour. Now you have to prioritize. I’d usually stay with the band and deal with the complaint later. But it’s hard to not let yourself get distracted during the performance because you’re always thinking about what you have to deal with next, how you’re going to fix it and you know damn well that guest services is calling your cell phone at least three times while you’re performing. There’s obviously no point in thinking about those issues while performing because you can’t resolve them anyways, but it takes a lot of self-discipline and practice to not let yourself get distracted.
All kinds of musicians
You get to share the stage with so many different musicians from all over the world. Each one of them bringing their culture, their musicality and their personality into the mix of the band. It’s not just the nationalities that vary greatly. The age of the different bandmembers varies greatly too, which makes the experience even more interesting. There are many ways to learn from other musicians, you can learn from them while playing and while talking about music. But often it is forgotten that not talking about music with musicians is also quite important because the way we think about music and perform the music is greatly influenced by our non-musical views and experiences.
Part of the Carnival Sensation Music Team 2016, 9 Nationalities
Since the crowds vary greatly in taste and enthusiasm from cruise to cruise, not all set lists work as well. Because we’re live music and we can adjust our show to fit the needs of a specific crowd, we can also alter the set lists. Those moments can be really stressful as often songs are called during the outro of one song and there’s no break longer than the count off for the next song (which was just announced). This means that you have to be able to switch from song to song easily, so you really have to know the music. If during those moments you have to look up a chart you’re basically screwed and are not going to be able to keep up with the show.
Especially the drummer has an immense responsibility as the drummer’s usually the one counting off the songs. I usually try to count off the next song right in time with the last hit of the last song, that way there’s basically no dead air between songs. It can be a pain for the other instruments switching from song to song this quickly as they sometimes have to switch patches etc. So, it’s important to arrange the music with enough open parts (vamps) where the band continues on cue rather than after a certain count of bars. For example, intros can be vamped easily, outros too. Also, open parts give the singers an opportunity to talk and interact with the crowd.
This is just a few points on why musicians should do the cruise ship gig. Another post about this subject is coming soon!