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This article appeared in ACOUSTIC GUITAR Magazine:

How to Get Cruise Ship Gigs

A cruise ship gig can be a great way to play music while seeing the world.

By Tom Duarte


Wouldn't it be great to be paid to play guitar in an environment where other people spend their vacations? Welcome to playing on a cruise ship! Since these gigs tend to be a little different from being booked on dry land, let's have a look at what's involved.

There are basically two kinds of cruise ship gigs. You may be a "featured entertainer," which means that you have your own show, or you may be hired as a "staff musician," which involves performing either with an orchestra or as your own act in one of the lounges. To play with the orchestra, you need to be able to read very well and do lots of comping and single lines. To work the lounges, you need to cover a specific genre and play the obvious hits. There are many styles of lounge acts, from solo to full band, but again, the common thread tends to be having a commercial repertoire.

Getting the gig is similar to any other commercial playing situation. In my experience, cruise lines don't tend to work with specific agencies to hire onboard talent, so you'll need to directly contact the main office of whichever line you want to work for. You'll need the usual demo package that includes a recording, bio, and a resumé-style list of achievements.

Versatility is a big plus. Being able to play with the orchestra and do a solo gig as a classical, Latin, or jazz player will be to your advantage. A large repertoire of familiar material, regardless of which genre you play, is a necessity for any gig on the ship. Mind-blowing chops are not as important as having an appealing commercial style. As you're negotiating terms, it's good to know that some cruise lines expect musicians to do additional tasks, such as working part-time in one of the ship's retail shops. You also need to attend meetings and safety drills on a regular basis. In addition, the cruise line will have a few regulations on where you can and can't go on the ship, clothing requirements for certain areas, etc.

Once you have the gig, you should bring the most basic rig that you can work with, as space will be a premium on the ship. If you play guitar with the orchestra, bring your most versatile ax and a good effects processor. If you're playing acoustic, definitely bring a guitar with a pickup. Amps will be provided, and all the lounges have their own sound systems, so it's good to have a preamp or processor to interface with what's available. You probably don't want to bring your most cherished guitar, as you can get into some pretty extreme weather conditions. The dense salt air of the Caribbean in particular is merciless-I noticed that a bit of gold plating on the pickup covers of my Les Paul began to corrode after I played just one set out on deck.

Most cruise lines require you to commit to at least a four-month contract, but I've been able to negotiate contracts for as short as five weeks. Airfare expenses to get to the port of departure are usually covered, and all of your meals are provided while on board.

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