Average Pay for Cruise Line Musicians

Estimated salary range: $450 – 2,000 a week

When I was employed as the keyboardist in a show band, I made $350 a week, or $50 a day with Holland America. I understand Holland America pays near the lower range of salaries for musicians, but I did hear that they have raised their minimum salary to $65 a day ($455 a week). If you had been with them for many years, you could expect to max out at about 150% of minimum, which these days is probably just under $100 a day.

I can tell you from experience that $50 a day doesn’t go very far. I didn’t save anything (but I did have a good time).

Headliners and guest performers can make much more income, between $800 and $2,000 a week, and probably more. Guest performers also typically work less hours than musicians in the house band or lounges and are housed in single passenger cabins.

There are other aspects of cruise ship employment that add value. Cost-of-living at sea, for example. Say, on land, you spend $100 a week on food – you no longer need to pay that $100, as all food will be provided for you. Also, you live rent free. Same for utilities, gas for your car – maybe you put your cell phone service on hold because you’ll be out of the country. In my opinion, you should factor those savings into your cruise ship salary. Let’s be conservative and say you save $200 a week by living at sea. To make the same value, then, you’d have to find a job that makes $800/month more on land.

In this way we see a cruise job that pays $27,000/year ($75/day) is similar to a job that makes $36,000/year on land.

Whether or not you are able to save money on your job depends a lot on where you are cruising. If you are in Alaska, you will have a hard time finding somewhere to blow your money. In Europe, especially with the current exchange rate, forget about bringing any of that cash home. The Caribbean and Mexico are still cheap – you get the picture.

Little luxuries really add up on a ship, and its typically little things that add up to crew members not saving money. Partying can become an expensive habit, souvenirs for family and friends add up, “cheap” electronics in the Caribbean or Asia are still big purchases – again, you get the picture.

But if you are frugal, you could come off of a cruise ship job with a lot of money saved up – even if you make near the low end of the salary range.

Published by

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn (@davidjhahn) is the co-founder of MusicianWages.com and a former Broadway conductor. He grew up near Chicago, lived in New York City, and settled in California. In 2012, he left the music business to found California Surfcraft, a San Francisco-based start-up that makes high-performance surf gear out of fiberglass-reinforced cork. He is the inventor of the Bodypo®, a sustainable alternative to the traditional bodyboard. He is a cancer survivor, an advocate for unlikely career paths, and, beginning in spring of 2015, a father.

55 thoughts on “Average Pay for Cruise Line Musicians”

  1. Hi Dave,
    If you stay onboard, you don’t need to spend ANY money, correct?
    I had heard you need to tip the people doing laundry service, making your bed, etc…
    Thanks,
    Michael

  2. Yes, you have to tip your cabin steward. Standard is $1 a day. Also, you have to pay for alcohol or soda, that costs money. But if you stay away from drinking, it is possible to pay just the $1/day while on a ship. But if you don’t get off the ship now and then and blow some money, I really feel that you’d go nuts.

    Also, check out this post on tipping.

  3. Dan – Check out the Musician Jobs tab at the top of this site. There are many links there to help get you started. When it comes to musician jobs though, “apply” might be the wrong term. You usually have to actively pursue the work and likely audition in some capacity.

  4. Hi Dave! this is a great blog… I wanna know something please: You have to pay your tiket airplane?? thanks you… Greeting from Paraguay!

  5. Living and working on a cruise ship would a musician have time for a side job? Say, as a web site developer, would a musician have any time to build web sites on the side? Is this usually permitted?

    I imagine having some kind of side job over the internet would help finances a bit.

  6. Hi Dave,
    thanks for the information on the broadway scene. In your opinion how much does the current economic climate affect touring road shows? Are the road shows in for the same fate as the musicals on broadway?

  7. Hi Dave

    I was hopping you could tell me if the ability to read sheet music is a must or if guitarist recieve a full tab literature

    Would love it if you could come back to me on this im really getting desprate

    Thanx man

  8. hey dave,

    i love to sing, my prob is memory! lyrics !!!! i did karaoke before it was karaoke! 1 song per 4 minute cassette! of couse , now i’ve got 130,000 songs on a hard drive and a music stand and away we go! i also have up to 3 girls singing with, but a duet is whats working right now.
    could this work on a ship! plz check out my site and listen. all male vox are myself.

    Thanx!!
    rob

  9. Hello David! Your blog it’s been very helpfull, thank you for all these information. I want to go and sing on a cruise ship…it seems difficult, but I’m sure it’s not that difficult once you know more information about this kind of jobs! I’d like to send some live video demos, rather then go to audition in some other country…and it seems stupid to audion on the telephone…or on msn?? what sound quality do u have with that? can u show all u know as an artist in this way?? I doubt that! Well, anyway, thanks again for posting this information! Cheers! Greets from Romania

  10. Dave,
    I recently returned from my first gig on a cruise ship. I went out with my trio and we play in one of the lounges nightly. Based on what you posted earlier about pay, we were being pay substantially less money. Why do you think that is? Do bands typically get paid less? Was it because it was our first contract? Hope you can provide some insight. Thanks!
    Adam

  11. Dear Dave,
    Thank you for your insight on this particular topic. It is a job that is rarely described in detail. Do you recommend forming a group or going solo for this type of job? And, what are the best cruise lines to apply for a job with? Thank you again for the post!

  12. Hello,
    I finished a contract with Carnival in August 2009 and they were paying a bit more. I was a showband piano player. I got $600/week but the rest of the band got less, I think between $500 and $550. Apparently they stopped giving raises fairly recently. It certainly contributed to the “darkness”. I think $600 is the maximum showband salary for Carnival.

    Also the contract that you are given to sign when you get to the ship does not always have the right salary listed!! Even though they say “sign it now, we’ll fix that later” don’t listen to them. Get it in writing from the office before you leave for the ship.

    I used this blog to prepare for what to expect out at sea. It really helped. Thanks!

    RK

    1. Is that 500/600 before or after taxes? And are you considered a contract worker/do they take taxes out of your paycheck?

  13. Hi David! I´m from Brazil and i want to know about Bossa Nova bands. I have a band in this style, i´m a singer and i want to know if they really want musicians that play “everything” or if i´ll have a chance when i tell them we are a Bossa Nova band.

    Tks!

  14. Dear Dave,

    We are interested in providing Karaoke on a small, medium, or large cruise ship.

    We have all our own equipment & have over 10,000+ songs of all varieties.

    We have been in the business for 6 years. We are looking for a job on a ship so that retirement pay can be saved.

    Could you please provide advice on how to apply for karaoke jobs on cruise ships.

    Thank you,

    Brian & Lorna Woods

  15. Wondering,.. if on a ship for a length of time, how one pays on-going bills at home. Does the line do a direct deposit? Do you get off the ship and mail a bunch of checks??

  16. Excellent and very helpful site, Dave!
    How about taxes? Does the cruise line deduct them from your paycheck, or is it your responsibility to report your earnings to the IRS? Come to think of it, do you have to report anything to the IRS since, technically, you made your salary outside of the continental USA?

    Thanks.

  17. About the classical ensembles, that they prefer the european groups for less money… it might be true because I wanna go to the cruiseship with a classical ensemble strings. The musicians here in Peru (Southamerica) say that that salary opf the cruiseships can be made at home!

  18. hey David,

    I would Love to get a job on a cruise ship as a pianist or organist or violinsit or vocal performer. I was wondering if I would have to memorize a lot of music. my parents went on an Alaskan cruise for there aniversary a couple years back and there was a pianist playing and he had no music. i am a really good sight reader but not so good at memorizing music? do u think i could get a job still? I have a huge collection of classical, jazz, showtoons, and a lot of other music. I am currently teaching piano lessons and playing in my church. it wouldbe great if u could help! thx. God bless.

  19. sir, i am a band vocalist in the philippines, we play variety of music, from rnb to mellow, to reggae, and 70’s 80’s and 90’s to present. i would like to ask if there’s a possibility we can go abroad, and play on cruise ships..
    as a band of 7 members.. we can play any song, but we need to practice it, but wmy instrumentalist are widow players. (not based on noted pieces)

    1. I can almost identify with that. As long as I practice a tune frequent I could eventually get it down. Though I’m poor at reading notes. I usually play by ear.

  20. All musicians from Philippines must apply only from talent agencies based in the Philippines as you will be required to apply for a US visa as most of the cruiseships are dock in the US ports. The only worries that agencies from Philippines will charge a higher talent fee cut.

    Goodluck

  21. I don’t think any musician on a cruise ship should ever agree to $50 a day. I don’t care if room and board are free, for a pro level musician with a legit resume, $50 is an absolute insult and a joke.

  22. Hi David ,

    Very insightful blog. Thank you ! I am a singer / guitarist . I inquired about a position with an agency in Canada who insisted I have 300 songs in my repertoire memorized and the majority
    need to be upbeat . Is this standard ? Also …….. can musicians accept tips from customers ?

  23. Greetings Dave! What about musicians with a family? I have a wife and a child, are they able to sail with me? What is the schedule like? Thanks for your time!

  24. Hi Dave, I am a jazz vocalist. Currently I perform in a trio and a quartet playing jazz standards. My bands could not commit to a job on a cruise ship. However, I can and would love the opportunity to sing on a ship. Is there a website of bands that already perform on ships that might have lost a musician and are looking for a replacement? Example: female jazz vocalist needed for cruise ship band.

    Thanks!!

  25. Your estimated salary for a guest group. Is that per week for the group or per week per musician in the group?

  26. hey how are you i am a musician who has a well groomed group in South Africa who are known basically in S.A i am looking at selling our music internationally is it possible to get a Job on a cruise ship to let our name be known out there?

  27. hi dave,
    iam from india,presently working for grand circle cruise line in europe as a one man band with back up tracks.mostly american passengers from 35 yrs age to 90 yrs.i have succeeded completing 2 seasons with good ratings.my dream has always been about music career,is there a way to get on ocean lines like carnival cruise lines..i play music by ear,inst guitar ,drums n a little bit of keyboard.if i could send my cd across along with my resume as i hold c1/d u.s visa.if there is any opening in this field will be grateful.
    thanx.

  28. hello everyone…I’m a musician (keyboardist)from Philippines.I was in full band before but now im a sequencer player for 6-7 years.I have already been performed in different countries…Please, anyone could refer me a cruise ship agency in Philippines? I can sing different languages..I really wish to get a booking on cruise ship if theres an opportunity…I have 1 vocalist right now (Duo) and willing to add more vocalist if needed…We play variety songs from oldies to present…Best regards…Thank you..!!!

  29. You have to count the cost of internet at 10 cents a minute on the ship. It racks up. I think most people like me can’t live without logging on once a day. The trick is to log on. Have all the pages you want in your browser to load. Then log off. Type your emails in Word and then paste them in when you log back in.

    This will save you money on the ship. I spent about $80 a month for internet.

  30. I see more and more philopino and Ukrainian cover bands coming on the ships replacing the American British etc, bands. Which means that they are paying them shit wages like $100-300 a week per person. I know a guitar player on the NCL DAWN. He’s american and the rest of the band is Ukrainian. He can’t even communicate with them. Imagine him trying to tell them to take the bridge out of a song. LOL! Corporate cruise line mentality.

    1. I don’t know about that.

      When I worked on my ship, my roommate was a Filipino guitarist in the party band, which was all Filipinos. I was working with the show band. We talked about pay and were making the same amount.

      Just because someone comes from a different country doesn’t mean they’re getting paid any less.

    2. No, Ben. YOU saying a shit.
      I’m ukranian musician and can assure you that your salary is the same as mine. At least it depends not on nationality.
      Do not tell the bullshit about 100-300@ per week. You considering yourself like firstclass guy and better musician? You are definitely not. Be more modest.
      Sometimes english skills are not perfect. But usually its enough for cruise ship gigs. Do not exaggerate.

  31. Hi David. Is there any work on cruise ships for tribute acts? I’m new to the profession as a ‘Sinatra’ and would love to build up some experience in such an environment. Very helpful site/s by the way!Thanks

  32. i am a drummer cum a band master for all band instruments. i am eagerly to get into a job on this ship.what r the possible ways to get.i am playing in a indian music for the all south indian languages and iam now playing in night club.

  33. Good afternoon mr. Hanh. Me and my wife we are from Brazil. We both have classical training. I work in two orchestras as double bassist and my wife (who is pianist) works accompaining opera singers and other players. We forme a due and we play bossa, american and latin music, movia scores, tango and etc. I hope you answer how can we get a job as duo musicians in a ship. We struggle for living in Brazil, so we do not spend our money in nothing. We are very professional and serious people. We hope you can answer us. Thank you very much.

  34. I have a quartet of highly skilled professional musicians .We can play classical .dance, sets, and contemporay We are made up of violin,cello,guitar,and bass,and we use a rhythm machine for drums.We would like to go on a ship .The mimnimum that we could go out for is $500 a week per person. Do you think the cruise lines would be OK. with that.? We have all worked with big name act s and are not begginers.We have been playing about 30 years on the average

  35. Cruise ship gigs are cool but I notice that most musicians and bands doing them have a very limited repertoire of songs and really lack originality. You can cover any song and make it your own if you have enough musicality. I have been doing weddings and corporate parties for years and now also have my own original rock band and we really are original and have very strong songs with great hooks. My band plays with taste and feeling and chops and really, we can play anything. I think a lot of musicians suffer from lack of creativity.

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