Learning new Music
During rehearsals I usually aim for 12-15 songs per day, that way at the end of the week there’s enough time to play through the rehearsed sets and get a sense of what they feel like. 15 new songs a day is a lot, especially on your first contract it’s insane how much work it is. Yes, for most songs there are charts, but they usually suck and many times you spend more time correcting a bad chart than if you’ve had written it yourself in the first place. The rehearsal time is intense, but a lot of fun as all you do is music, nothing else. I’ve learned so much music on ships that when I listen to the radio now, I can pretty much say about every second song that I’ve performed it on at least one of my ships.
You not only learn new music, you also get to learn new arrangements of songs that you’ve been playing already. One of the great things about going from ship to ship with completely different bands is that all bands interpret a song differently. They put emphasis on different parts, have different intros and endings and construct their setlists quite differently.
Carnival Pride, 2015
Sometimes ships get guest performers. They’re usually entertainers like singers, dancers, comedians or jogglers. Sometimes they require the band to accompany them during the show and for those shows there’s usually only a two hour rehearsal, which I think is crazy short, but it usually works. These performers usually bring their own lead sheets with them, which are full of annotations from the bands that had to play these sheets before you, so they’re usually a mess to look at. The lead sheets themselves aren’t that great either. It can be especially hard for drummers, as the drummer has to cue most of the cues from the performer so that the band can follow the drummer and not the performer. Playing those shows is a lot of fun though, as you’re constantly alert for what’s happening next.
Music’s All You Do
Even though it’s a bit harder to practice on ships, you still can practice a lot, especially because you have nothing else to think about. Performing 3 hours at night is great for practice, it’s even better if you add a couple of hours of actual practice time on top of that. There are musicians that say that after a while this gig doesn’t help you improve anymore. These musicians are just not willing to put in the additional work that it takes. It’s always a tough decision; Do I go to the beach and get day drunk or do I stay onboard and practice for 3 hours? How much one improves on the instrument or overall musically is basically up to each musician individually. One thing I'd like to point out is that one of the great things about nightly performances is, is that you can practice something during the day and try it out in front of an actual audience that same night.
Making friends with guests on the Carnival Conquest, 2015
Developing a healthy relationship to music
As previously discussed performing on cruise ships can feel like an office job. I’d argue that that feeling towards the art of music can be beneficial. Many musicians have a quite intense feeling towards music. They think music, they love music, they hear music, their lives are music. That sounds really nice but is arguably not the healthiest relationship to art.
We all know musicians that are so deep into their art that they forget the life outside of music. These are musicians who you’d meet up with for a couple of beers and all you talk about is music. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about music, but in a 3 hour conversation between musicians, the music talk shouldn’t be longer than an hour or so. I mean, as a musician you wake up in the morning have breakfast and do music until you go to bed. It’s just healthy to take a break from music every now and then.
Now, when music becomes a 9-5 job and you end up hating it, you can decide to either give it up or to rethink your relationship to music. I think ships taught me very well what music can and cannot be in our lives, or at least in my life. There needs to be a healthy balance between music and everything else. Obviously, this balance looks different for everybody. To be able to take a step back and look at music from farther away, is a great skill. I find it incredibly dangerous to surround yourself only with music, and to limit your social life to musicians only. Having a limited social environment like that can really narrow your views on certain aspects of life and it’s always beneficial to get many different perspectives from many different people.
Bandpicture with guests, Carnival Conquest 2015
Exposure To Thousands Of People
Something that is often forgotten by cruise ship musicians is the insane exposure they get. Every week there are thousands of new guests coming onboard. What other gig can offer you that? Of course, not all of them are into live music, but you can still approach them and advertise your performances. One thing that cruise lines want musicians to do, is to interact with guests also while off stage. You can use that time to advertise your music and really get a following, assuming you have something to follow like social media, YouTube or even a CD guests can buy. On ships you have the potential to reach people you’d have never had a chance to reach without doing the cruise ship gig.
I recommend all musicians to do at least one cruise ship gig. It’s a crazy fun experience and you can only learn from it, even if you hate the experience.