Do Real Musicians Play Commercial Gigs?

I found a really cutting op-ed article today about musicians that play commercial gigs.  It’s well-written and possibly the best argument I’ve read on what is a very common topic among musicians.

The idea is that you cannot be a real artist and play commercial gigs.  Commercial gigs in this case are, basically, gigs that pay relatively well.  That includes musicals, jingle sessions, and similar gigs that pay musicians to be, as the author says, musical “mercenaries.”

Let me say first that I am a commercial player.  I am one of these mercenaries that the the guy writing this op-ed finds so intolerable.  I would think that there are a LOT of guys that probably feel this way about commercial musicians.  So I might easily find the article insulting, but I don’t see in like that.  This guy has a very good point, and it’s something that I think about all the time.

Frankly, I mostly agree with the guy.  As a commercial player myself, I would admit that the great majority of the music I play is not creative in the way that he defines creativity.  The shows I play don’t change the world, the cocktail sets I’ve played in the past have probably all been forgotten by most, if not all, of the people that listened to them.

I would also agree, I guess, that my creative output has decreased considerably since I started playing commercial music exclusively.  I would say there’s no way around that.  I’m busy working, and it takes away a lot of my interest in writing or producing my own music.

What I don’t agree with, though, is that there’s anything wrong with being a commercial musician.  I never really wrote much of my own music anyway, and when I did, it was just a private little thing I did for fun between me and friends.  I never wrote music to create a legacy, I just wrote for fun when something came out of me.

Everyone is good at different things.  I’m not good at being the type of musician this writer idolizes.  I’m a really good hired gun, a mercenary.  I have a wide range of styles and grooves and ideas and mimicry and other things in my head that people hire me to bring to their project.

I think there is a value in knowing your place.  There are too many delusions of grandeur amongst most musicians.  I know what I’m not and I take pride in what I am.

I don’t wish I was more of an artist – at least not in the narrow definition of “artist” that this guy uses.  I feel really excited and proud to be able to work so much.  I think about the kind of life that this guy is advocating – working a day job, taking low paying gigs in order to play only the music that you want, never making any money at music – I think it sounds awful!  That is exactly the kind of musician I don’t want to be.

My ideal music career, lost somewhere between unicorns and leprechauns, looks like this: I teach one lesson a day, for $100 a lesson.  Tuesday thru Sunday I play one show a day in a Broadway pit.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays I play jingle sessions in the afternoons at a nearby studio.  I take all Mondays off.  In my spare time I arrange charts and arrangements for bands and singers and volunteer for organizations having nothing to do with music.

That completely imagined existence comes in at around $120,000 a year.  I’d settle for half that as long as I was playing music.  What’s wrong with that?

I’ll tell you want I wouldn’t want.  Working a job I hate in an office I can barely stand to be in from Monday to Friday, getting all my fun in at one single jazz gig on Saturday night that 3 people came to and I made $20 and a beer.  Starting it all again on Monday.  No way.  This is life!  Remember that at some point it ends!  Live it while you’ve got it!

So anyway, I see this guy’s point, and the point of thousands of musicians like him, but it is not for me.  I’m good enough to get paid to play so when I play, I want to get paid!

How To Improve Your Sight-Reading

As I mentioned earlier in an article about cruise ship musician skill level, you should have very good sight-reading skills if you are going to work on a cruise ship, especially if you are planning to work in the show band. Its no surprise that sight reading is a big part of most ship auditions.

If sight reading isn’t your thing, I have a few suggestions. I often work as an audition accompanist, which is a job that sometimes requires 100% sight reading for hours on end, so I’ve learned a few tricks over the years.

Take a Breath

I’m careful not to just put the song on my stand and start playing the little black dots immediately. I take a minute and look at the whole thing before I start.

Read the Title

This sounds stupid, but in the rush of smoothing out the music and trying to start as soon as possible, sometimes I skip right past the title and start staring at everything else. Read the title and the tempo/style markings at the top. If I’m playing with someone that knows the tune, I’ll ask them for a tempo. Often when someone gives me the tempo, they also give me an idea of the feel and groove of the song.

Understand the Song’s Roadmap

Sometimes sheet music is just written poorly. DS’s and Codas are dumb ways to save paper, and they are no help to a sight reader. I circle all important symbols before I start playing.

Scan for Key, Meter Changes

Find any key changes, or meter changes. I always sing through the meter changes in my head before I start the song.

Notation as Shapes

As you become a better sight reader, you’ll find that notation often comes in familiar shapes. I find this especially true of piano music. As I’m sight reading, I don’t have time to look at each individual note of a chord as it flies by. Over the years my eyes have become accustomed to seeing familiar chords as shapes. You know what a basic, 3-note triad looks like, right? If the top note is G, I’ll bet you that’s a C major chord, depending on the key signature. I don’t need to look that closely at the other two notes.

You know what a fourth looks like, right? If there are two fourths stacked on top of each other, and you see that the bottom note has one ledger line, I’m certain that chord is C, F & Bb. I don’t need to sit and place each note, I can usually tell what the chord is from the shape of the note heads and the placement or span of the top and bottom chord tones.

You can see melody lines as shapes, too. See all notes as a collection of familiar patterns and phrases and it’ll help your sight reading immensely.

Read Ahead

Beginners always look directly at the note that they are playing. Once they’ve played it they look at the next note. Then the next note. Its a slow process.

I like to be looking 1-4 measures ahead of what I’m are playing at all times, sight reading or not. To be a serious sight reader you need to acquire the ability to create a buffer between what you are reading and what is coming out of your hands.

Its a lot like an anti-skip CD player (remember those?) that is reading twenty seconds ahead of what’s actually coming out of the headphones. If the CD player gets hit and skips, it has 20 seconds to fix the skip before you’d hear it. Its usually fixed in those 20 seconds, so you never hear a skip. The same is true of a musician reading 2 measures ahead. If I get to a difficult part or a key change, I’ve already had 2 measures worth of time to look at it before I had to play it. It makes a huge difference.

Don’t Stop

If I screw something up, I never stop and go back. I make something up, or lay out for a minute, then get back on track. Remember, we aren’t practicing, we’re sight reading. If you are playing with someone else – a singer for example – and you mess up and go back…the technical term for that is “train wreck,” and its bad. Laying out for a few measures is better than stopping if it comes to that.

A Note on Music Notation

As I alluded to earlier – sometimes sheet music is just written poorly, and that doesn’t help with sight reading. Recently I received a piece of hand-written music that was a copy of a copy. The 15th measure was scratched out and it said “To Key of Db –>” with a big “Db” written on measure 16. There was a DS and a Coda. In my opinion, that is an unreadable piece of music, and luckily it wasn’t for a sight-reading gig this time. But I’d seen that and much worse, even in auditions.

You will always do better with a clean, original copy of music. You might not notice what a difference it makes when a copy machine skews the notation, lightens the staff lines, or cuts off the bottom of the page. It makes a big difference to your eyes, and that comes out in your fingers. At the very least, your eyes need the staff lines to be clear and straight.

To Get Better At Sight Reading, You Need To Sight Read

Practice will make it better, but practicing sight reading sucks. I think the best way to get better at this is to put yourself in stressful sight reading situations – again, like audition accompanying. When you start doing this gig, you’re going to screw some things up, and you are going to feel like a real idiot. And I guarantee you’ll learn something and be better the next time.

Also – get some friends together and read new music together. That’s a great way to get familiar with news songs, as well as hone your reading chops.

If you are practicing sight reading alone, play with a metronome. That will keep you from slowing down in the hard parts, and speeding up the faster parts.


The best piece of advice here is to sight read as much as you can. You will get better, and you will naturally begin to absorb the other ideas as you do.

New Music Director (…finally…)

Dave was right.

It’s the second day of this cruise, and we are already seeing improvements. The old MD is back, and H. is a lowly sax player again, and nothing more. The one thing we aren’t happy about now, is that H. got away with all of it. The returning MD likes H., and no matter what we tell him, he keeps telling us that it wasn’t his fault. No matter how nasty the stories get, and I have been witness to three other musicians relaying their experiences. But, even though H. got away with it, Y. promised to make it right.

And he already has. Right off the bat, he talked to one of the waiters at the bar that’s in the walkway on deck 6 midship about letting us eat the finger foods after the “jazz” sets. H. told us we can’t do that. The party band was made to play during tenders the very first cruise H. became MD. The problem with playing during a tender, is there is an announcement over the loudspeaker every 5-10 minutes telling the guests when it’s their turn to get on the tenders. Musicians are required to stop when the loudspeakers are on. Why would you make musicians play during known ship announcements? Y. told them he can’t fix that this cruise, but as soon as they hear the first tender announcement, to pack up and leave. H. doesn’t realize apparently that when you’re playing, it’s rude to be regularly interrupted in such a way. Also, Y. promised the party band he will fix the fact that they play under the hot Med sun at port between noon and 5. The musicians and their instruments have been baking. The keyboard is barely usable any more, thanks to fried circuits.

The solo guitar player is promised to have less than six sets a day now. And, best of all, he’s going to try to get the show band to have one day off a cruise! He’s already been arguing with the CD about this stuff, and how the company can’t treat the musicians like this, even if superiors are threatening to bring ratings up or else. He said a job like this isn’t worth getting overly serious about.

I didn’t end up rooming with H. after all. I was put with the new keyboard player, even though he and the sax player were promised their own room from the Miami office. He’s really cool, but I know he wanted to be with his girlfriend. During their first cruise, I overheard H. talking to a guest performer about their situation, and he pretty much said he doesn’t know why they think they’re getting their own room on their first contract; it just won’t happen. I told the piano player what I heard, and he emailed Miami about it as soon as he heard. The supervisor sent H. an email telling him he better make the promise they were given a reality. That night, H. said he would work on it, but not before a lecture on how wrong the couple was to go over his head about this. I went to the CD and asked him to not stick me with H. because I can’t stand him. I didn’t know this, but H. was in charge of the rooming situation, including his own rooming situation. He tried to move around about six people just so he could have my cabin to himself, because it was a decent sized cabin in a very good spot on the ship, but once the singer in the party band was about to be moved from her cabin because of it, she told HR, who went straight after him. I’m now in a smaller cabin with the guitar player in the party band, and the couple got my old cabin. I don’t mind, especially when I think about how I could have had it.

Now, about Y.: He’s a complete NUT! If H. is a right winged individual, Y. is as far left as he can be (by the way, when trying to picture H., picture the 40 Year-Old Virgin). During the “Welcome Aboard” tech run yesterday, we were sitting at the bandstand while the aerialist was doing a run through. Y. started stripping to the music that was playing. He told me that on a ship, you can get away with just about anything, as long as there isn’t an officer looking. But he did advise me not to get drunk and run across the ship naked and jump in the jacuzzi like he did two years ago. He talks to passersby while doing the jazz sets, dedicating the next tune to someone so they feel obligated to stay. If I make a mistake, he doesn’t tell me to get it right or else. He tells me what I did wrong, and to fix it, and pats me on the back. You feel like a real person when interacting with this guy. He’s not trying to make himself look good, he’s trying to make his musicians happy. And that’s where the difference lies. I’d tell funnier stories I’ve witnessed since last night, but they get pretty bad. Two months of misery, and I have laughed more in the last two days than I have since I’ve been on the ship.

Also, the CD leaves in a few more cruises. I like him as a person, but as a boss, he’s way too demanding. He sees the road to improved ratings is by doubling the entertainment department’s efforts. The problem is, when everyone’s exhausted to the point of lower morale, it has an opposite effect. Y. has argued with him
about this, too.

The light at the end of the tunnel just turned on. We’ll see if it stays there. I’m optimistic myself.

How to Become a Music Director on a Cruise Ship

I found a little write-up today by a music director on Princess about how to get the MD job.  The writing is a little disjointed, but the information is correct.

The position of Music Director (MD), sometimes also called “Bandmaster,” is a management position within a cruise ship’s entertainment department.  The MD, in coordination with the Cruise Director, manages the scheduling, rehearsing and discipline of all of the other musicians onboard the ship.  The largest portion of the music directors time is spent dealing with the show band, in which the MD will also play an instrument.

Music directors are often pianists (on Holland America cruise line the MD must be a pianist or guitarist) but can, in theory, be any instrumentalist in the show band.  I’ve seen pianists, guitarists, drummers, bassists and saxophonists be music directors on ships.

Musicians usually become music directors by being promoted from the show band after 1 or more successful contracts.  It’s usually between contracts that musicians are promoted, as in, after finishing one contract as a side musician, the cruise line or talent agent might ask you to be the music director on your next contract if there is an open position on the next ship.

The perks of being the MD include a pay raise and a private cabin.  On my first ship I made $50 a day and shared a cabin with another musician.  The MD made $90 a day and had his own cabin with a full-size bed and a porthole.  (These rates are only an example and are very likely inaccurate to current pay rates.)

The music director perks are tempered by the burden of management.  If a musician becomes erratic or unreliable, it might be the MD responsibility to fire or discipline him/her.  Any complaints or criticisms about the schedule of music in the lounges would be directed toward the music director.

Personally, I’ve never worked as a cruise ship’s music director.  This past summer I worked as the music director to a guest performer act, but that was a position that only managed the 6 other performers in my group.  My position was more of a liaison to the ship’s entertainment department.

I have worked as a music director in many other situations though – primarily in regional theatre companies and Broadway tours.  Personally, I believe that it is a tough position to be in.  Music directors are invariably stuck in middle-management positions that compromise what leveraging power they are able to manage with.  If an MD wants to fire someone they usually have to ask their boss (in this case the cruise director) for permission, and if there are complaints about scheduling, or living conditions, or treatment – these are often symptoms of mandates that have come from upper management and the MD is usually powerless to change things for the better.  Corporate management, especially on cruise ships, sometimes manages their workers with what many musicians perceive as a general lack of empathy, and more often than not, the MD ends up being the person that delivers the messages from upper management.

For instance, I saw a situation this past summer where the cruise ship I was working on had inexplicably stocked it’s ship with more crew members than it could house.  Many musicians were living with 1 roommate each (as per their contract), but were expected to absorb a 3rd non-musician roommate until the fiasco was worked out.  The music director was expected to relay this message to the musicians.  Of course there was a lifetime’s worth of complaints about this, but the MD was powerless to do anything.  That’s a tough position to be in!

On the other hand, there are some musicians that are very good at being music directors.  These musicians usually have a unique combination of personality, professionalism, communication, charisma and talent that makes them natural leaders among their fellow musicians.  I’ve met guys like this before and I’ve seen them excel in more compromising positions than I just mentioned.  It’s a rare treat to work with somebody like this.

If you are considering becoming a music director, my advice is to put down your music books and pick up a few books on management.  If you are in the position to become a music director, its likely that you already know what you need to about music – but management of people is a whole ‘nother beast.  Pick up a few books on it and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Can I Use Sheet Music in the Lounges?

I., a pianist, asks:

Are you allowed to use sheet music when you’re playing in a lounge? I use a MusicPad Pro (digital sheet music viewer thing) which I have packed full with an obscene amount of real books. Would this be allowed?

I’ve seen those MusicPad Pro things, they look pretty cool.  I’d like to check one out someday.  I was saw Harry Connick Jr.’s orchestra using something similar back in the 90’s, which I thought was pretty advanced.

Yes, you can use sheet music when you play in lounges.  I have always used sheet music.  I even see piano bar guys frequently using sheet music even though the piano bar gig is one that is frequently performed without it.

On my last ship one of the piano bar guys had his MacBook right up on the piano with lead sheets in PDF – probably much like your MusicPad Pro.  He also had his iPod plugged into the sound system with mp3 backing tracks.  The guy was a walking advertisement for Steve Jobs.

Recently I heard from one pianist, though, that agents are starting to ask for instrumentalist to have their sets memorized.  The reason, as I understand it, is that they prefer to not have the lounges littered with piles of books that the performers shuffle through as they perform.  If that’s really the reason, though, I would imagine the MusicPad would solve the problem, or at least be a good compromise.

You’ll have to ask your agent or cruise line contact about that to get a more definite answer, but again, I’ve always performed with books during cocktail sets on ships.

What Happens If I Get Fired?

I like to check the traffic stats of this site regularly.  Not because the site gets a huge amount of traffic, just because it’s interesting.  In most stats you can see how people got to the site.  If they found the site through a search engine, it’ll even tell you what term they searched.

Today I got an interesting one.  Some poor devil searched this term:

“musicians i got fired from a cruise ship will i ever work again”

That search term brought them to this website, although they probably didn’t find any information here.  I haven’t talked much about being fired from a gig.

First off, yes, you will work again.  Cruise lines don’t seem to talk to each other, strangely enough.  If you get fired from Carnival one day, you can be on a NCL ship – maybe within the week.  This is especially true if you are going through an agent.  If you get fired from one cruise line, they’ll bundle you off to another cruise line right away.  A placement fee is a placement fee after all.  You’re still good for 12%, even if you got wasted one night and broke into the bridge with your birthday suit and a spa girl (or whatever you did).

The worst thing about being fired, aside from losing your job, is that you usually have to buy your own plane ticket home from wherever you are.  So if you get fired and the next day the ship is ported in Tunisia – you have to buy a one-way ticket home for that day.  There goes all the money you saved.

As far as work on land goes – relax.  If anybody asks, you worked as a cruise ship musician and it was great.  If they asked you point blank if you got fired you’ll have to tell them, but nobody will ask that.  A musician’s career isn’t about credentials and resumes, it’s about recommendations and chops.

Here’s the process:  If you do something wrong (it usually has to do with drinking too much, so be careful) you’ll be called down to the captain’s office.  You’ll get a long lecture and you’ll be fired.  You’ll have to pack your bags and leave the ship that day or the next day.  Usually you’ll be totally responsible for your lodging or airfare from whatever city you get thrown off in.

Also, you will be the source of constant gossip on the ship for weeks and weeks.

Don’t get fired, it’s a total drag.  If you work on a ship though, you can expect to have some member of the crew fired every few weeks or months.  Again, it’s usually for drinking too much and doing something very stupid.  Be careful and follow the rules and you’ll get through no problem.

Instrument Maintenance and Repair Overseas

A few cruises ago, I was doing the farewell show. Right at the end of one tune with the first act, the tension on my G string (of course it had to be THAT one) let up. Naturally, I thought my string broke. The next tune, I had to play on three strings rather than four. I’ve heard stories of great players having to do this before, so I wasn’t worried.

The tune finished fine. At the end of that tune, B., one of the stage crew, ran to my cabin for me and grabbed my baggie of spare strings I brought with me. I brought two basses, and I don’t know why I didn’t just ask him to bring me my Fender. While thinking that, I was trying to change the string. It took about a dozen turns on the tuner to realize that it wasn’t the string at all…it was a broken tuner!

I sent A/V back for the Fender this time, while finishing this act on my broken bass. As soon as it was over, I gave a hand signal to the sound guy to mute my bass, made the change, tuned, and finished the show on my Fender. Problem averted.

I spent the whole of the last cruise on my Fender. I don’t mind, but apparently ship musicians hate the sound of a Fender Jazz Bass. Then again, I think I like playing the cheap bass better, since the more I bring it out of the cabin, the more likely something bad would happen to it. But it took a while to fix it, being in a strange place, not knowing where I can find a music shop. So here’s what I learned.

1.) Come as prepared as you can.

Because I had two instruments, I saved my rear, because I didn’t have to spend money on a new bass right away. I think I’m going to replace this axe, but now I have some time to shop around.

2.) Find a music store!

Up to this point, the only store I knew of was at the home port in Civitavecchia. It’s not a bad store, but it doesn’t have spare parts. They handed me a card for a repairman in Rome. If I did that, I would have had to wait until next embarkation day and get an early start.

I got lucky, though. In Istanbul, I heard there is a street of nothing but music stores just outside Taksim Square. One of the dancers gave me directions to Taksim. When I got there, I found one music store. After describing what I need to them through the language barrier, they told me they didn’t have parts there, but there are other music stores at the end of the street.

As I walked, I noticed all the clothing stores disappeared and the street was as I heard. Nothing but music stores as far as the eye could see! Actually, that’s not true. There was a record store of nothing but jazz, funk, and classical right in the middle of these stores, too! But the prices were about $30 for a CD. Ouch.
I went into store after store, looking for the parts. I finally found one at the Yamaha store. Turns out Yamaha uses this style of tuners. Cost me $20 for the set of four. So it was less than one CD.


I made the mistake of not taking my bass with me, mostly because I didn’t think I’d actually find a store with the parts I needed. My bass has an abnormal headstock; the three tuners for the lower strings are on the normal side for a regular bass, but the G string tuner is on the bottom end of the headstock. They had the choice of the typical setting: four on one side, or two tuners on either side of the headstock. Not thinking, I bought the set for four, rather than the set that’s for two on each side. Got back to the ship, and realized the tuner was backwards compared to my four new ones. Luckily, Istanbul was an overnight stay. Otherwise, I would have had to wait for three weeks to exchange it. I waited outside the store until it was opened, and exchanged the parts for the right one.

4.) Buy your own tools.

I thought I would have been able to borrow a set of crescent wrenches from maintenance. The problem with that is nobody knows where maintenance exists. When I ask, everyone tells me to go to crew welfare and they will contact them for me. I found one maintenance guy walking around, explained my situation, and he said he would deliver a set of crescent wrenches to my cabin. I waited a few days, and nobody ever showed. So in Paraeus, I went looking for a hardware store and bought a crescent that fit the hardware that came with the new tuners, and an adjustable wrench just in case the old bass had a different size nut.
Once I got back to the ship, I used my new tools and my Leatherman multi-tool (a tool I recommend all musicians have; sound technicians keep one on them at all times as well) and the bass was fixed in less than 20 minutes. But it took well over a week to secure all the right materials to actually fix the bass. But the bass is fixed, and the show can resume like before.

And, finally:

5.) Learn how to perform at least basic repair and maintenance on your instrument.

The MD, a sax player, has lots of complaints about his horn. T., the trumpet player, says his valves are sticking pretty badly, and he needs to have it looked at. That could be something I could fix here, but without a bathtub or a sink with a drain plug, that makes it hard. Either way, what I’ve learned, is out here, you’re pretty much on your on when it comes to maintenance of your instruments. Taking care of your instrument better than you ever have before helps here, too.

How Often Can I Get Off The Ship?

C. is a drummer and asks:

I want to know about port cities. From what I’ve been told, musicians get to go on the port cities just like the passengers do, obviously when we’re not playing, that is. How does it work? Can you plan your day around the port city to make sure you’re back to play a gig, or is it like a doctor, you’re on call on the ship so you can’t go to port?

Visiting foreign countries and cities while working on a cruise ship is probably the #1 reason people take and keep these cruise ship jobs.  I had a good friend once who worked in the gift shop that had traveled to over 120 countries.

Most of the crew members on a cruise ship work too much to be able to get off the ship and see the destinations consistently.  But the same isn’t true of musicians.  For the most part, the majority of your performing will be when the ship is full of passengers.  When the ship is in port all of the passengers are out seeing the destination – so why would the ship provide entertainment?

This isn’t always the case – I remember on one ship I used to have a 3:00-3:30pm set for their fancy coffee hour while in port.  But that set was only scheduled now and then.  Also – there are regular drills for the crew that the musicians always take part in.  They are usually in the morning and last an hour or so.  How frequently drills happen is up to the captain – sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month.

There is also situations where – much like a doctor – a certain number of crew members must stay on the ship on call. This has to do with regulations and making sure the ship is adequately manned in case of an emergency.  If you are designated as one of those people, you’re not allowed to leave the ship.  This is something I’ve only heard about, though, and I’ve never had to do it personally.  I doubt you’ll have to either.

Aside from these situations – yes!  You can see the world while on a cruise ship.  I saw 29 countries on my first contract.  It was great.  Usually your ship will get into port early in the morning – perhaps 7 am – and leave between 4 pm and 7 pm.  You’ll rarely have sets before the ship leaves port, so you are free to explore your port cities just like a passenger.  But – also like a passenger – make you you get back before the boat leaves!

Here’s one thing though – your schedule can be constantly changing on a ship and you’ll sometimes find out your next day’s schedule only the night before.  It can be hard, then, to plan things ahead.

When and What Does the Show Band Play?

Chris is leaving to play in a show band soon and asks:

What I want to know is: when do we play. All I know is about the 8PM and 10PM shows. I am SURE though that there is more, and I’ve been trying to contact the Cruise line for more info. ProShip has given me some info to go by, but I still have questions.

Good question Chris.  This is one of the reasons I put up this site in the first place – because it was so hard to get straight answers about what would be expected of you when you got to your gig (or what to pack, what your room would be like, how to get the job in the first place, etc., etc., etc.).  I’ll never understand why Proship doesn’t do a better job of communicating with their musicians.

Chris, the show band plays back-up for each ship’s nightly entertainment, which usually hits at 8pm and 10pm.  But – you may not play for every show.  If a comedian comes in, or a juggler, or a solo pianist – they may not need the backing band, in which case you could have the night off.  You may not know if the band is needed or not until the guest performer is actually on the ship and tells you.

When I worked in the show band we played shows 2-5 times a week.  My band didn’t play for the dancers production shows (the music was all pre-recorded), so we knew we’d have those nights off.

The show schedule can be really light on some ships (on my last ship the show band only played 1 show a week!), and perhaps because of that, the show band is given other responsibilities on the ship.

Pianists and guitarist in particular are sometimes given solo sets to cover in lounges around the ship.  For instance, I played cocktail piano sets at least once a day while working in the show band.  The schedule for these sets varied widely.  Sometimes I would work 30 minutes in the coffee and tea lounge, sometimes 2 fifteen minutes sets (literally) in the jazz lounge, and sometimes a 2 hour set in the top deck lounge.  These sets were invariably during the day sometimes between noon and 7pm.  Sometimes these sets would be on show days, so I would play a set, then go play the shows.

On average, even on days I would have solo sets and shows, I would only work about 3 hours a day.

For the rest of the band – drummer, sax, bass – the schedule was lighter.  3-4 times a week we would have jazz combo sets in various lounges – again always during the day between noon and 7pm.  Sometimes we would play after lunch on the pool deck, sometimes late afternoon in the jazz lounge.  I don’t remember entirely, but I think they were maybe two 45 minute sets or something like that.

The show band is also sometimes used to give the lounge acts a night or set off if needed.  Sometimes the jazz combo would have a player sick (often the singer) or some other problem, and we would come sit in for the night and play standards out of the Real Book.

The show band would also play for special occasions – New Year’s Eve we would play for the pool party.  I’ve always seen show bands play for Christmas and 4th of July.  As GhostWriter has been mentioning lately, the show band also plays for the welcome aboard show and the captain’s cocktail party (expect maybe 30-45 minutes each).

Again, on average I worked about 3 hours a day, and usually had at least a few full days off a month.  GhostWriter has been sending reports that he’s working considerably more than that, but his MD sounds like a fascist prison guard and his schedule is pretty unusual.