By now, most musicians know that it has gotten much more difficult to get a job on a cruise ship simply because the demand is smaller than the supply. Knowing how to keep your job is thus more important than ever before. Some of the bands that don’t get re-hired may be puzzled as to why they’re not offered a job, after they have “successfully” finished several contracts. The answer may not even be related to the quality of the band. Some of the best-sounding bands may not be the most successful bands on ships.
The answer may lie in the fact that “successful” may mean something different to the band than it does to the cruise line.
As musicians we often focus on the musical aspect of our performance and may neglect the entertainment value, both of which are entirely different. Let me give you an example that may illustrate this difference.
During one of the recent Montreal Jazz Festivals, my girlfriend (a non-musician) wanted to go see Jamie Cullum the popular singer, while I (a musician) wanted to go see Jeff Beck the legendary guitarist. I picked the latter because I wanted to see musicians that have achieved extreme levels of technical and musical competence, while my girlfriend wanted to hear the songs she heard on the radio. So, we went to see both and first up was Jeff Beck. I was dazzled by their technique and overall mastery for the first 15 minutes, but to my surprise, I got bored rather quickly. It was very apparent that these musicians cared more about displaying their skills, rather than making sure the crowd was entertained.
Jamie Cullum, on the other hand, was just the opposite. None of his musicians’ skills came even close to those of Jeff Beck’s musicians, but Jamie Cullum’s stage presence, and the fact that people knew and loved every single song of his, made this show fun and very entertaining. We were humming and singing along, and we were dazzled by his showmanship.
It might be a good idea to consider the lounge that you’re performing in, your own business. Just imagine you’re the owner of this club and you have to make this business work. If you think about your job in this manner, you may see that the importance is to attract people into your lounge, and keep them there for as long as possible. This way, food & beverage managers will sell way more drinks and they’ll love you for it.
How do you attract guests and keep them in your lounge? For starters, you must have a large repertoire to pick from and you must somehow figure out which of the songs attract and entertain your guests. There are several ways to do this. One way is to ask your music manager and cruise director, as they have obviously learned from previous bands. They have to fill out cruise reports after each cruise, and thus are well aware of what works and what doesn’t.
You can also flat out ask some of your guests what they want to hear. Being able to fulfill song requests is a great way to win them over. If your band doesn’t know a song that’s being requested, just let the person know that you’ll learn it and play it the next night.
Be attentive to the songs that get people to the dance floor and play more of that style of music. Make sure that your band looks like they’re having as much fun as the guests and interact with the latter to keep them interested. Talking to the passengers even when you’re not on the band stand can also reinforce your relationship with them and bring them back to your lounge the next night.
The above tips are just a few of the things you can do to be successful on a cruise ship. The important thing is to focus on entertainment value rather than musical extravagance. Let’s hope some of these things will get you a job and keep you employed for a long time.