10 Effective Strategies When Applying for Cruise Musician Jobs

Proship Entertainment is the world’s largest agency for cruise ship musicians. They administer over 1,000 musician jobs a year, including exclusive positions with Cunard, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, P&O Australia, and Compagnie Des Iles du Ponant. Their head office in Montreal, Quebec employs 21 employees and administers a list of nearly 50,000 musician candidates.

We asked Daniel Thibault, Founder and CEO of Proship Entertainment, if he could give our readers some advice on applying for a job through his agency. Read Daniel’s guestblog below to find out how you can rise to the top of Proship’s list.

With over twenty employees dedicated to creating career opportunities for outstanding individuals, I decided to ask our staff what they would recommend. Here are their thoughts:

  1. Be open, clear and honest. By telling the whole truth about your musical abilities, your musical experience, your medical condition and your legal situation, your agent can guide you towards a position and a cruise line where you can be successfully approved. Omitting to tell us about a change in the band line-up, your ‘realistic’ song list, pre-existing medical conditions, use of medication, or a DUI record can have you refused from a line for life. A good agent can work with some of your musical, medical and legal limitations, but he or she needs to know what the reality is to be effective.
  2. Play conservatively and ‘in-the pocket’. Cruise lines cater to broad passenger demographics and therefore the entertainment offerings are within a conservative musical spectrum. Forget about playing original material on a demo or breaking into wild improvisations or playing material on the fringe of global musical production.
  3. Listen to your agent’s instructions carefully. Your agent understands clearly what each client requires; often this knowledge comes from years of interacting with cruise line representatives. Do not underestimate your recruiter’s requests for repertoire, new videos or other promotional material, as these are the tools required to sell you to the client.
  4. Be quick and deliver on time. Timing is everything. Jobs come and go at a fast pace so every discussion is timely, even if the proposed job is a year ahead. When promising your agent certain material on certain dates, be sure to deliver the goods on time as part of the recruiter’s evaluation of you will be your sense of urgency.
  5. Dress the part. Remember you are applying to be part of the entertainment on a luxury cruise vessel, where passengers might wear tuxedos a couple of nights a week. Grand ballroom, Captain’s cocktails, white glove service are the norm onboard cruise ships. Even if you are applying as a party band, you have to look clean and sharp and that goes for the audition as well. There is no second chance to make a good first impression.
  6. Think quality. Send good quality videos, photos, demo recordings. This doesn’t mean to overproduce your videos with overdubs and expensive camera work. Your agent will prefer hear your ‘live sound’, but hear it well and see you well even with a stationary camera.
  7. Prepare yourself for an audition. Make sure you are warmed-up, in tune, well rested, on top of your form musically and dress the part. Do not underestimate the standard of reading and musical ability required to work on ships, thinking that “sight reading” means you will get an hour to look at the chart or it means just reading chords or guitar tabs.
  8. Be available. Regular cruise contracts range from 3.5 months to yearlong employment with pre-planned vacation. If you are only available for a couple of weeks, take a cruise vacation as a passenger. Occasionally shorter contracts occur with short notice, however those are usually reserved for experienced individuals.
  9. Be open. A cruise ship gig is like no other you’ve ever experienced in the past. Going on a cruise is an adventure in an un-real environment. None of the land life parameters exists at sea, such as buying groceries, washing dishes, cleaning your house, driving to the gig. You are at sea and ultimately your boss is a captain, so it’s very different. Avoid having a preconceived idea about what ship life and applying for such position will be like. This is not a “paid vacation”.
  10. Don’t pay any fees upfront. Either for application and/or coaching and/or auditioning, don’t pay anything to anyone, period. Once you get approved for a job, then you will have to pay for a physical examination, passport and visas, but only then. There are many scams out there, so be careful. Some will sell you a book that gives you our agency’s phone number. Use a reputable agency with decades of experience in the industry, preferably one that will not charge you a commission or fee during your employment.

If you have any other question regarding cruise ship employment for entertainers, feel free to contact myself or any of my colleagues. We are here to help.

Have You Worked On a Cruise Ship?

David Cashman, a former showband pianist, is finishing his doctorate at Southern Cross University. His doctoral thesis is on the way music is used on cruise ships and the lives of musicians who work those jobs. Obviously this fits in very well with the Chronicles of a Cruise Ship Musician, the section of our site that talks about the same topic.

David is collecting research on the topic and needs current and former cruise ship musicians to fill out two short surveys he’s created. If you’ve worked on a cruise ship, can you help him out?

The surveys are on David’s website. They’ll take about 25 minutes to complete. If you’re currently on a ship and have limited access to the internet, then why are you reading this? I kid, I kid – if you have limited access, contact David through his site and ask him to send you a PDF of the survey. You can carrier-pigeon it back to him at your next port-of-call.

Please spread the word to your fellow and former shipmates.

Cruise Ship Musicians: The Audition Process

As discussed in my previous post, most cruise lines have an orchestra (aka Show Band) on board.  This 5-10 piece band plays the production shows, headliner shows and big band or top 40 sets on board.  Electric bass, drums, guitar, keys, sax, trombone & trumpet are the most common instrumentation.  The most important requirement in securing one of these jobs is your sight reading ability.

No matter what instrument you play, you’ll need to schedule and pass an audition prior to working on board a cruise ship.  Each company has their own audition process, however; here is the industry standard:

Scheduling an Audition

Regardless of the cruise line, the first step is scheduling an audition.  In order to do so, you’ll need to provide your basic contact information (name, address, phone, email, instrument, age, citizenship, availability).  Often, this can be done by filling out an online form.

You will also need to attach your resume/performance bio.  Key things to include: related educational background (ex. major in bass performance), commercial/professional experience (ex. wedding band, studio work), big band/jazz band experience, most recent sight reading experience.

Because sight reading is such a huge part of the audition (and ultimately the contract), your resume should show off this ability.  If your gut tells you that your sight reading isn’t quite up to par, I strongly recommend practicing first THEN auditioning.  Although auditions are free, its better to start a relationship strong, confident and on a good note than vice-versa.

Phone Conference

Once your information has been received, you’ll be contacted to discuss your background and the details of the job.  We like to talk with each musician and go through the job details (contract length, pay, cabin, etc.) before scheduling an audition.  This ensures that you understand and are ok with the job specifics if/when hired.  Again, better to audition for something you can actually do than vis versa.

The Audition

There are three types of auditions: Phone, Video & Live.

*Phone Audition – Email Access, Printer, Phone (land line preferred), Instrument

We’ll coordinate a specific time for the audition. (ex. 3PM EST).  You’ll receive an email 30 minutes prior to the audition (ex. 2:30PM EST). Upon receipt, you’ll print out these charts and have them ready to go.  You’ll receive a phone call at the scheduled time (ex. 3PM EST) and you’ll be asked to sight read/play the printed charts over the phone.

*Video Audition – CD Player, Digital Video Camera, Instrument

We’ll mail you a sealed envelope with sheet music and CD enclosed.  You video record yourself opening the packet and sight reading the charts along with the CD.  Often, we ask you to do a second take after 30 minutes of rehearsal.  You then post the video footage online (www.youtube.com) or mail us music back along with your DVD.

*Live Audition – Instrument

We hold live auditions at Universities around the USA (East Coast, Midwest, West Coast).  You’ll have a specific audition time and place to audition.  At the live audition, we simply ask you to sight read a selection of music for us along with a CD or click track.

The audition type is usually assigned to you depending on your geographical location, availability to do a contract and what openings are available.  Each audition type focus on your sight reading (charts and notation).  Most of the orchestra positions on ships require big band/jazz band experience.  Therefore, reading chord progressions and being able to improvise are definitely a plus!

The Offer

Passing the audition is the hard part.  Once that’s accomplished, its just a matter of finding an opening that matches your availability.  Because most contracts are 3-6 months in length, the more open your availability; the better your chance of landing a job.  We get calls all the time asking for 1-2 week contracts.  While these are sometimes possible, they go to the “re-hires” or musicians that have already successfully completed a contract.  These fill-in contracts also come with 24-48 hours notice.  They are often a result of an unexpected opening.  Bottom line, if you want to work as an orchestra musician on board a cruise ship, the more open your schedule the better.

The Gig

Orchestra contracts are a great way to play music professionally, see the world and get paid for it!  As an orchestra musician, you’ll play production shows, headliner shows and big band or top 40 sets on board.  You’ll mostly perform at night and have an opportunity to get of the ship in several ports of call.  Room/Food/Travel are all covered, so definitely a good opportunity to save money.

I hope this entry helped you to understand orchestra contracts on board 5-Star Cruise Ships and how to go about auditioning for them.  Feel free to call/email/post any questions.

Different Types of Cruise Ship Musician Jobs

If you’re interested in working as a musician on a cruise ship, the first thing to know is the different types of entertainment offered.  Each cruise line has their own entertainment on board; however, generally, these positions are very similar industry-wide.

Show Band Musicians

Most lines have an orchestra (aka Show Band) on board.  This 5-10 piece band plays the production shows, headliner shows and big band or top 40 sets on board.  Bass, drums, guitar, keys, sax, trombone & trumpet are the most common instrumentation.

Cruise Ships Docked at St. ThomasThe most important requirement in landing one of these jobs is strong sight reading ability (both jazz charts & notation).  Working on board a ship as an orchestra musician, you’ll find yourself playing new shows daily in front of thousands, and having little to no time at all to prepare.

In order to assure that you’ll be comfortable in that setting, we want to see/hear you sight read similar charts prior to hiring.  We do live auditions around the country as well as auditions over the phone and via video.

In each case, you’ll be handed several charts and be asked to read them without any preparation.  These charts will range from big band to top 40 to Broadway selections.  Depending on the audition, you might also be asked to play a jazz head and solo over it in order to get a feel for your improvisational skills.

Needless to say, at the end of an orchestra musician contract, you’re sight reading and chops in general will definitely be strong as ever.


If sight reading isn’t your thing, you can also be hired as an entertainer on board.

Lines hire the following entertainers to perform on their ships:  solo pianist/vocalist (aka Piano Bar Entertainer) , cocktail pianist (aka Intermissionist), solo guitarist/vocalist (aka Pub Guitarist), classical guitarist, duo, standards trio/quartet & party band.  These entertainers perform four to five 45 minute sets a night in lounges on board.

Entertainers must entertain!  You would think this would be a given; however, I’m always surprised at how many people don’t get this concept.  Connecting with guests is key.  Taking requests, sing-a-longs, theme nights, talking to guests before and after sets are all essential in a) being hired and b) being a successful entertainer on board.

In order to be hired as an entertainer on board a ship, you must have the following: promo video, song list, performance history & availability to do a contract.  My next blog entry will talk about the top 10 things we look for in a promo video.

Specialty Acts

Some cruise lines hire specialty or variety acts such as comedians, steel pan musicians or a cappella quartets.  The actual job description for these musicians varies, however a promo video is required for all in order to secure employment.

Singers and Dancers

Finally, each cruise ship has their own production cast on board.  This cast is composed of singers and dancers often hired by a separate production company.  The production cast performs Broadway revues, top 40 and classical shows on board and sometimes even have aerialists or flyers included.

These positions are usually secured at live auditions held by the different production companies around the world.

Length of Contracts

No matter what the position, cruise ship musician contracts are generally 3-8 months long in length.  These are continuous contracts where you live on board the ship for the entirety of the contract.  Often food, room, travel and health coverage are included, so there’s definitely an opportunity to save money.  It’s a great way to travel the world, play music and get paid for it!

Thanks for reading and I hope it helped you better understand the different options for working as a musician on board a cruise ship.  Expect another blog entry next month!

Can I Get a Cruise Gig During My Summer Vacation?

I have a question this week from Brad:

My wife and I are steel drummers and curious about a temporary ship gig. We are both music teachers in a public school.

I get another version of this question pretty frequently, and that is, “Can I get a gig during my summer vacation?”

The answer is yes, you can get a gig during your summer vacation.  In theory.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the odds are against you.  Let me explain.

Cruise musician jobs are hired by either talent agencies or the cruise lines themselves.  You can imagine that the personnel department of a cruise line is a busy place.  New employees need to be flown out to the ship, trained and acclimated to the job and this process ends up costing the cruise line money.  This upfront investment of time and money means that cruise lines try to hire crew members for as long as possible.  In the case of musicians, those hiring us are always pushing for 4-6 month contracts or longer.

Sometimes, though, both cruise lines and talent agencies get desperate for a particalar musician.  Maybe Joe Saxophone gets caught toking with the captains daughter in the penthouse suite or something equally scandalous.  They’ll need to fire Joe and get a new sax player to the ship right away.  If they can’t find somebody that will take a longer contract, they’ll take whoever they can find to fill the spot for now and try to get the next person to take a longer contract.

So you see that sometimes they do hire musicians for shorter contracts, but it’s often on short notice and only as-needed.  Furthermore, these short-term sub spots often go to experienced cruise musicians because they are already acclimated to the gig, trained, or just because the person hiring already trusts this musician to not screw it up like the last guy.

Ok, having said all that, I have heard of musicians working their summer or Christmas vacations anyway.  I don’t understand how they got that sweet deal, but there is a chance that you could get that lucky too.  I’ve seen this happen both with musicians that are hired by the cruise line and those with a talent agency – although I would think that the cruise lines would be more sympathetic to this.  When you submit your info or take your audition you’ll just have to let them know the deal – that you are a school teacher and can only work in the summers.  Then cross your fingers and hope you get lucky.  They will probably tell you that it’ll never happen, but again, I have heard of guys getting lucky.

What Are the First Days Like?

A pianist emailed me a question a few weeks ago.  His question:

I was wondering if you could perhaps describe what the average first days are like on a cruise – training etc. Things like how many days is it typical for you to arrive before guests.

I thought I’d open this one up for discussion. If you’ve worked a cruise gig, please post a comment below and tell us what your first few days on the gig were like.

How Old Are Most Musicians on Cruise Gigs?

Angela is about to finish music school and asks:

I’m curious how old entertainers tend to be?

Great question Angela, and congrats on getting to the end of your music program.  The age of musicians on cruise ships varies greatly, but in my experience, there are a lot of younger players on ships.

On my first ship most of the show band musicians were in their early 20s.  The majority of us had just gotten out of college and, not finding any performing jobs on land, taken cruise jobs to make some money and see the world.  In fact, the majority of the crew was somewhere in their twenties.  The crew bar was probably the best impromptu singles bar that I’ve ever found.

Of course there were exceptions to this.  On that first ship our sax player and bassist had each been on ships for 14 years straight.  Both of these guys had divorced somewhere in their 30’s, lost their house and kids and left soon after for cruise ships.  It was a pretty good deal for them – no mortgage, no cooking, an initial escape from troubles. And if you stayed with the company long enough you were sometimes able to reap the benefits of seniority.  For instance, if there were 5 guys in the band and 3 rooms to house them, the musician with the most seniority usually got the single room.  Also, musicians that stay with the company are often able to pick which ships and itineraries they would like take contracts on.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that many cruise ship gigs are supplied with musicians from one of these two categories – the older divorcee and the recent music school grad.

On my second ship, the whole band was older divorcees and certified bachelors.  This particular ship paid health benefits and pension to it’s employees, so it was an even better deal for these guys and they’d been around for a long time.

Outside of the show band, the lounge acts tend to be a more mature bunch. The lounge gigs pay better and usually have better accomodations, and perhaps for that reason, experienced performers are still willing to take those gigs.  Also, I would argue that the lounge gigs are more demanding and require a large repertoire and very young players often don’t have the stamina or experience to fill the spots.  Certainly I know I wouldn’t have been able to hack it right out of college.

In her question Angela also asked if musicians needed to be over 21 to work on ships.  I actually don’t remember exactly what the rule on that is – but if it helps – I at least don’t remember ever working with anyone under 21. *See Ryan and Steve comments below – you can work on a ship you are under 21 and I remember now working with a few cast members under 21.

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.

Are Taxes Taken Out of My Paycheck?

There was a question a few weeks ago from Ryan:

What do you do about taxes? Are they automatically deducted, or do you just get cash and expected to 1099 everything? I’ve heard some people say you only get paid cash, some say you can direct deposit, and some say that Americans get deductions, but generally not anyone else.

Uh…ok, so I’ve been obviously stalling on this one because I’m not entirely sure of the answer. I don’t really remember what happened when I was a crew member. I’m sure that there are others on the site that could give a better explanation – perhaps someone can leave a comment with more info.

My Father is a CPA (accountant), which probably explains why I know so little about taxes (he does it all for me – thanks Dad!). I asked my Father about this, and I will relay what I remember him telling me about this.

  • Taxes were not taken out while I was a crew member in Europe, but I did have to pay federal taxes, even though I was out of the country.
  • As a guest performer, I was hired by a production company and paid through wire transfer as an independent contractor (again, no deductions).

In both of these situations I had to keep track of my income and pay my taxes quarterly.

Regarding payment in cash, it is true that they pay in cash. If you don’t have direct deposit set up with the cruise line, they will pay you in cash once a month. Obviously, it can get a little hairy to have that much cash sitting around, so unless you’ll lugging along a safe or have some other plan, I would recommend setting the direct deposit up as soon as you get on the ship. Ghostwriter recently reported that he is able to set up wire transfers directly from his cruise ship, so you might consider looking into that too.

Can I Bring My Bike on the Ship?

Starkey is leaving for his first cruise gig this week and has a question about bringing a bike:

I’m an avid mountain biker and would be sad to miss the opportunity to bike through some awesome Mediterranean country side. What are the thoughts out there [about bringing a bike]?

I’m a huge fan of biking. I think it’s a great mode of transportation – cheap, environmentally sound, a good source of exercise, and invaluable source of independence on gigs like tours and cruise ships.

I started thinking about finding a way to pack a bike when I was on a Broadway tour. I did a bus and truck tour which included 25,352 miles on a bus around American and Canada. Blech. I ate at restaurants 3 meals a day, sat on the bus 8-14 hours a day and spent every night in a new hotel room. I felt like one of those poor farm animals that are force fed food and kept in their cages without exercise to fatten them up for the slaughter. I gained 15 lbs and, generally, recreated the movie “Super Size Me” for 9 months. I would have given anything for a bike.

The problem is that bikes are poorly suited for airline travel. They don’t fit very well on trains, buses or, for that matter, cruise ships. If you can get your bike to a cruise ship, some ships have extra storage rooms for crew members where they can store their bikes, which is great because you’ll have a hard time fitting a full-size bike in your cabin with a roommate and all the other stuff.

In other words – if you can get the bike to your ship, you could have no trouble if your ship accommodates crew bikes. (Although, finding out if your particular ship will accommodate bikes is hard to do before you get aboard.)

Also, some ships actually have bikes already available for crew members.

Personally, I’m a big advocate of folding bikes. I know, I know, lots of people think they look like clown bikes. 20″ tires are a little strange I guess. But I own a Dahon Vitesse D7 and I think it’s great (although the color bugs me a little). The bike is so practical for my lifestyle. It fits in a standard 30″ suitcase, it folds up and fits on cruise ship elevators, trains, buses, free cruise ship shuttles, crew rooms – even in a shopping cart if you don’t want to lock it up outside.

Say you’re in the Mediterranean and you’re ship stops at Civitivechia (the port city of Rome). You’ll need to get off the ship, walk 1/2 mile to the train station, take the train to Rome, then find your way around Rome by city bus or by foot. How much better would it be to bike that 1/2 mile, fold up your bike to put it on the train, then bike around Rome like a local. You’ll see a hell of a lot more of Rome on a bike than on foot, for sure.

Or…say you are on a cruise in Hawaii, as I was recently, and you have a friend in Oahu, as I did. You can bike over to Waikiki for the morning, then fold your bike up and fit it in the truck of your friend’s car when they come pick you up to hang out.

OR! You can ride your bike to a cafe a few miles away from the ship. If it starts raining, fold up your bike and call a cab. Try doing that with a standard bike!

I dig my folding bike for all kinds of reasons, but I can understand why others wouldn’t. Especially, maybe, in Starkey’s situation, where he’d like to go mountain biking overseas (although Dahon does make a full-size, folding mountain bike). Starkey, in your case, you might find it worthwhile to box up your bike and pay the extra fees to get it overseas. It might be more convenient to rent a bike when you’re there, but that could be hard if you don’t speak the language. Another way would be to buy a bike when you get there and try to sell it before you get it home, but expect to sell it for less than you bought it.

Provided Backline Equipment

David asks:

What is the backline like? Do they use in-ear monitors?

David is referring here to the sound gear that is provided by the cruise ship for it’s performers – amps, monitors, etc.

Usually, cruise lines have great gear. After all, they can afford it. As a keyboard player, I usually find top-shelf keyboards (Roland, Korg) and Roland keyboard amps.

Cruise ships make generous use of “hot spot” type monitors (small, powered speakers usually placed close to a performer), especially for lounge acts. These speakers have their strength and weaknesses, but usually work well enough for the venue.

I’ve never seen an in-ear monitor system specifically. Shared headphones amps and cheap over-ear headphones is more like it.

You will find headphone-based monitors if you are in the showband and you are playing with a click track. If you are in this situation I recommend bringing your own headphones, as the quality of the ones you’ll be given can be suspect. I also recommend using an open-ear design, such as the Sennheisers pictured to the left, as it allows you to wear both headphones on your ears and also hear the sound of the other performers around you.

Working as a Production Singer on a Cruise Ship

Sharon, a singer, asks:

Can you tell me about the singers on the ship? Are they really good? Do they have to be able to dance? What are rehearsals like? Do you learn the shows on the ship or before?

By singers I think you mean the singers in the production shows. There are other singer gigs on ships, but I don’t think you’re referring to the lounge acts.

I don’t have any direct personal experience with the production cast gig, but I can tell you what I’ve heard or seen from my friends that do that gig.

Most production shows are put together with the same formula. There is a tall, blond soprano (called F1), a male singer that plays opposite her (called M1). Usually there is a shorter, brunette, alto (called F2) and also a guy opposite her (M2). F1 never has to dance, but F2 sometimes does (same goes for their male opposites).  Behind these two couples are 8-12 dancers split evenly as male and female.

The shows are often revue based (one song after another), although I’ve heard of some cruise lines performing actually book shows (i.e. Smokey Joe’s Cafe). There are lots of flashy sets and lots of costume changes. The shows are usually performed to pre-recorded accompaniment tracks, but the band often plays along with the tracks so that the cruise lines can make sure the musicians hate their lives as soon as possible.

The singers and dancers on these shows audition for the job. The talent agency I’ve heard most about is Stiletto Entertainment, based in L.A. You can go to their Cruise Ship Entertainment homepage to find more information.

Cast contracts range from 6-12 months, with 8 months being about average in my experience. One month of that time is spent in a rehearsal studio (often in L.A.) learning and rehearsing the show. Casts perform 1-3 shows a week and sometimes have to perform other tasks on the ships like work the library or help with excursions. What other tasks you have to perform would be outlined on your contract when you get one.

F1, F2, M1 and M2 generally have a pretty sweet gig. They usually have their own cabin (no roommate), are paid twice what a musician makes and work very few hours. They are also sometime called “headliners” and don’t usually have to perform extra tasks like the library. The only gig that’s better would be a guest performer position.

Dancers on the other hand, are sometimes stacked 4 to a room and are often at the center of a great deal of drama and stress on a ship. That’s maybe a bit of a generalization, but prove to me it isn’t true and I’ll rescind. Dancers are often young, beautiful and party-ready. Combine that with cheap drinks, casual relationships and tons of free time and that’s where all the trouble begins.  Still, dancers usually make more money than musicians.

As to whether or not the singers are very good: sometimes they are very good. Very, very good. And other times they are American Idol wannabe’s. There’s a great range – which is the case of every entertainment position on ships. Some people are very good, others should never have been hired. You’ll see this over and over on ships. How the bad ones get hired and stay hired is a constant source of astonishment for most ship performers.

I hope that answers some of your question, Sharon. Take this with a grain of salt, though, as this info is all from an outsiders perspective. If you need more info about the gig, drop me an email and I’ll see if I can get you in touch with some of my cast member friends – webmaster [at] preservationrecords dot com.