Performing on the High Seas

By: Edna Landau

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When I had the pleasure of meeting with participants in the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival last summer, I addressed a number of questions that had been submitted in advance. One question concerned playing on music cruises, and how to apply for such opportunities. I decided to defer an answer until I had time to research the topic, hence this week’s column. I have never taken a cruise so I cannot speak firsthand of the experience. However, I hope that what I have learned and the links below will prove beneficial to those interested in going this route.

There are a good number of cruise lines that employ musicians. The large majority of musicians performing on cruise ships perform in the orchestra (sometimes called the showband), accompanying non-classical acts, or in lounges. They may contact the entertainment department of the cruise line (such as Carnival or Holland America) directly, or they may choose to sign up with an agency. They will submit promotional materials and will generally also be asked to audition over the phone. The goal of such an audition is to assess both their playing and sight reading skills. They may typically be asked to perform music that they received 30 minutes earlier. Chamber ensembles, including jazz combos, will be handled a bit differently. They will usually be asked to submit a variety of promotional materials, along with a video and repertoire list.

Certain cruise lines organize specific classical music and opera cruises (which can involve concerts both on board and on land). They typically have an artistic direction department which already has an idea of who they want to book. They will then contact the artist’s agent directly. However, they do give consideration to artists who write to them. I spoke with someone at one of the most exclusive cruise lines, Hapag-Lloyd, and they suggested that interested artists fill out a form on their international website, (Go to “Contact Services” and then to the “Contact Form”.) It should be noted that they are most likely to use American artists for cruises in the U.S., as opposed to European routes. Other classical music cruises are sometimes organized by a variety of arts organizations, such as the English Chamber Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Music@Menlo. In these cases, they are likely to invite artists with whom they are already familiar.

Showband and lounge musicians should be prepared to make an initial commitment of three to four months to the cruise line. If they enjoy the work and do well, they can explore prolonged opportunities on different ships in various parts of the world. They will be provided with accommodations and food, plus a salary. I have found the following guidelines which appear to be current: For orchestra sidemen, $1800-$2600 a month. For lounge entertainers, $2300-$3500 a month. All salaries are subject to federal taxation. It is possible that musicians may have to share a cabin. Some classical music cruises might not pay a salary or fee but will provide access to all of the ship’s facilities and may also allow for family members to come along. The ships will accommodate the artist’s need to find practice facilities and will usually allow them to sell cd’s on board. If you are someone who likes to travel, has some extra time on your hands and enjoys meeting new people, you might want to dip your toe into the water.

Here are some websites that you might find helpful in your explorations:

Agencies that provide cruise entertainers

Oceanbound Entertainment –

Proship Entertainment –

Landau Music (no relation to me!) –

General useful information on performance opportunities on cruises The site offers general advice, as well as the opportunity to purchase online The Cruise Ship Talent Agency Directory and The Cruise Line Entertainment Directory. It also offers Chronicles of a Cruise Ship Musician: An Exhaustive Guide to Working as a Cruise Ship Musician, by Dave Hahn, and Ten Effective Strategies When Applying for Cruise Musician Jobs, by Daniel Thibault. The Complete Resource Center for Cruise Ship Employment (an informative video but somewhat outdated)

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

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