We all get asked this question on an everyday basis, but rarely do have the chance to get deeper into the answer. Here’s another inside look into the life of a cruise ship musician.
“So what’s it like?”
It’s the first question you are asked when meeting someone for the first time or once you’ve gotten to know a guest after a couple days on board. The stock answer of course is that you like it. I have said every variation of “What do I have to complain about?” or “I sing and travel and somehow get paid to do it!” And these are all truthful answers. Working as a musician for the cruise industry has many upsides, and benefits, but there are also times when it gets hard. There are challenges that come from being away from home all the time, and challenges from the job itself. Though, these often go unspoken. To preface, I couldn’t be happier with the amazing opportunity I have to be able to perform music for a living. To quote famous composer Jason Robert Brown, “Some people never find success with their art,” and I know plenty of wildly talented people who are serving tables, working some temp job, or simply unemployed and deserve to be under the brightest of lights. So I do know how extremely lucky and blessed that I am to be able to do this, but with any positive, there is also negative.
In the two years I have had this gig, I have been away from home for 21 of the 24 months. There was a stretch of 15 months where I had 12 days of total vacation. I have missed three weddings, two funerals, and every friend and family members’ birthday. Twice. I have missed anniversaries, old traditions, and spent every holiday on board at least once. Though there is the occasional event that lines up with your vacation time, most of the important events are missed. I am also less than three months away from missing the birth of my first niece or nephew (if it’s a boy, name him David). This begins to take a toll on you. It’s hard to keep up with every single person that you would normally run into as you went about a “normal” week at home. You lose touch. You also develop what I call ‘Facebook Envy’. As soon as a picture is posted of all of your friends hanging out together, especially with some of those that you may have lost contact with, you immediately wish you were there, and that you were part of whatever event was worth celebrating with a picture (sangria Tuesday for instance). The ironic thing is that just over two years ago, any picture I saw of a friend of mine singing on a cruise ship invoked the same reaction from me. I distinctly remember doing this on multiple occasions. The grass is always greener… sometimes…
Performers, and specifically singers, have a whole mess of worries that non-singers may not even know exist. Vocal problems are probably the most feared out of said worries. Before I began to take singing seriously I couldn’t imagine ever using the excuse of my voice being tired to not go out, though now it is a reality that I often face. It’s hard to even explain, really. However, singing four hours a night eventually wears your vocal stamina right down, and if you aren’t careful it can cause you to lose your voice. When you have to sing for your supper, this is a big deal. Having to skip a nightcap with friends, stay in your cabin on your day off, miss a crew party, or not go out in a port of call are all too familiar stories for a vocalist. Though, I have never worn a sign around my neck explaining that I was on vocal rest, and carried around a whiteboard to be able to communicate, we all know a singer who has.
You take for granted the freedom of simple things like being able to get in your car and drive to a restaurant of your choice, or go to an event, a concert, or just drive with no destination. Windows down, music loud, drive. It almost sounds silly, but these are the things we talk about missing the most. Being able to go to the store to buy supplies for a world famous Jimmy D. weekend barbecue. Or even simpler being able to eat meals on your own time, rather than the rigid times that are provided for us. Breakfast only from 7:00 – 8:30 a.m? That’s the middle of the night when you play well after midnight. As alluded to earlier, simple connectivity goes out the window. Cell service is out of the question, and while you are able to purchase internet minutes, it’s as if you are dialing up to AOL circa 1995. I don’t mind buying Internet, but sometimes it’s more of a headache than it’s worth, and causes more frustration than it does enjoyment.
The last thing I want is to convey anything less than extreme gratitude for the opportunity that I have performing music everyday. In one outlet or another, I have been working toward this for more than half of my life. However, when you get real, and you get deeper into the question of what it is really like to work on board, and to be away from your family and friends for six months at a time, these are the things that come up. Though, these are sacrifices that we have all willingly made, and continue to make to have the chance to do what we love. We do love it, and I don’t think any of us would be here if we didn’t.
So, what’s it like? What do I have to complain about?