Performing Aboard Cruise Ships

By Michael Christian Durrant, Classical Guitarist

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Performing aboard cruise ships presents musicians with a wonderful opportunity to travel the world, play music and earn a reliable income. Since graduating from LCoM, classical guitarist Michael Christian Durrant has developed a successful career in the music industry and continues to perform aboard cruise ships as a Guest Entertainer.

How long have you been performing aboard cruise ships?

My first contract performing aboard a cruise ship was with P&O Cruises back in April 2014, so I’ve been working as a Guest Entertainer now for just over three years. My first contract was aboard a P&O ship called Aurora on a Mediterranean cruise that called at some amazing ports, including Cadiz, Sicily, Corfu, Venice and Dubrovnik. It was definitely an incredible way to kick things off and I enjoyed every minute of it. Fast forward three years and I’m about to head out to the Norwegian Fjords with Holland America for my thirty-second cruise contract. I’ve now worked with most of the major cruise companies including P&O, Cunard, Fred Olsen, Saga, Holland America and Seabourn. It’s been a rollercoaster of experiences and I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world playing music – a dream come true!

 

It sounds like a great way to see the world! What are your favourite places that you have visited so far?

There are so many great things about performing on cruise ships, but having the opportunity to travel the world and experience so many different countries and cultures is undoubtedly at the top of the list. My first contract with Cunard was a cruise around Australia and New Zealand aboard the Queen Mary 2. I have a wonderful memory   of sailing out of Sydney Harbour past the famous Opera House as fireworks lit up the skyline of the city – that was a pretty special moment. Other highlights include spending Christmas in the Caribbean, sailing into San Francisco under the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway – unforgettable.

 

Is  performing  aboard  cruise  ships  a  good  way  to earn money?

It can be very lucrative and provides a great way for a musician to build their income. Performance fees do vary between different cruise companies, so it’s worth looking into all of the different companies and discussing the different fees with your agent.

In addition to the performance fee, musicians are presented with the chance to increase merchandise sales by selling CDs and other products to the passengers who attend their onboard concerts. Remember, these people are on holiday and a CD or other merchandise item associated with their trip makes a great souvenir. I would recommend aiming to produce high-quality items from the outset, as you’ll often need to get these verified by the head office for most companies before you can sell them onboard. Be aware that you’ll often be required to pay the onboard shop a commission of 15-20% so you may need to adjust your merchandise prices accordingly.

From my experience, a standard onboard sale price for a CD is £12.50, or $20.00. Don’t be afraid to be creative with your merchandise – I’ve encountered other acts selling T-shirts, posters and books and these are all great options for a musician to explore in order to generate an additional income stream on top of their performance fee.

 

Apart from the opportunity to travel the world, what other aspects of performing aboard cruise ships do you enjoy the most?

One of the greatest aspects for me is definitely the concerts themselves and the amazing venues that one gets to perform in. Most ships have theatres that hold over 1,000 people and it’s a real adrenaline rush walking out onto the stage and playing for audiences in  such large venues. It’s a great opportunity to fine-tune your repertoire and to develop your approach to performing  in front of large audiences. The audiences themselves are always warm and receptive, which offers you the chance to network and widen your fan base. This has actually been a great way for me to build up my mailing list and it’s now pretty common for people who have heard me performing aboard a cruise ship to subsequently engage with my online content and attend a concert in the UK. As well as professional networking, I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet some great friends and connect with some amazing people from places all over the world.

 

You’ve mentioned liaising with booking agents; is working with a booking agent essential for musicians who are interested in performing aboard cruise ships?

Each cruise company employs a land based entertainment manager that liaises with their network of booking agents to fill the various opportunities onboard their fleet of ships. For this reason, it’s essential to connect with a booking agent if you are interested in working aboard cruise ships. There are several large booking agents based in the UK that liaise with cruise ship companies and a quick online search will present you with many options. I would encourage checking with the Musicians’ Union or a solicitor before you sign any agreements or commit to working with an agent. They will be able to check over any paperwork and advise you as to whether a booking agent is reputable.

It’s important to have first-rate content before  contacting an agent and I would encourage you to have  a well developed brand identity, great photographs, professionally produced HD videos and a clear, attractive website established before doing so. It’s a competitive market and you don’t want your pitch to get lost in the hundreds of others that agents receive due to a lack of patience in getting your content in order beforehand. Be prepared to spend the money on this and if cash is tight then be on the lookout for career development bursaries and other sources of funding to ensure that your profile is the best and most representative of your abilities it can be before contacting agents.

Once an agent has shown an interest in working  with you, it’s important to establish a  commission  rate  for  the bookings that you’ll be taking. It’s normal for a booking agent’s commission to be between 15-20% of your performance fee, so don’t enter into an agreement in which you’re expected to pay a booking agent more than this. Again, seek further legal advice if you have any questions about commission rates before agreeing to any terms or signing any contracts with a booking agent.

 

How do you approach preparing material for your concerts and decide upon the repertoire that you’re going to play when performing aboard cruise ships?

Audiences are generally enthusiastic, encouraging and friendly. It’s really important to remember that they are on holiday and that their primary aim is to enjoy themselves. Considering this, I would encourage performers to be mindful of that fact that they will be a member of the ‘entertainment’ department when performing aboard cruise ships and that this is what you should be aiming to deliver: entertainment! The tastes of audiences do differ between the different companies and it’s important to consider that the audiences aboard P&O and Fred Olsen cruise ships might welcome a more mainstream repertoire selection than those who are travelling aboard ships operated by Cunard and Seabourn, who tend to be more familiar with classical repertoire and might enjoy pieces that are a little more aurally challenging.

From my experience, what tends to be less successful is the somewhat formal approach to  performance  that a lot of ‘classical’ players might adopt. You need to engage with your audience and ensure that you are providing entertainment through a blend of storytelling, humour and expertly executed musical performances. Strike a balance and you’ll be wonderful! Also, be aware that engaging with your audience doesn’t stop when you walk off the stage. You’ll be recognised around the ship and viewed as a celebrity whilst onboard, so take time to answer people’s questions and be genuinely interested in the conversations that you have with them. Every contact you have with the audience is an opportunity to ensure that people like you and want to keep coming to your shows. You would be amazed at how many career enhancing  conversations  I’ve had whilst ironing my concert shirts in the onboard launderette, so get out there and network!

 

What do you mean by  ‘Guest  Entertainer’  and  are  there any different  types  of  performance  contracts  for people to consider when looking into working aboard cruise ships?

There are a multitude of different performance opportunities aboard cruise ships for musicians to consider and these can be split into two categories:  Guest Entertainers and Crew Members. Guest Entertainers are usually headline cabaret acts or classical artistes and generally work shorter contracts, command a higher fee and enjoy more perks through their ‘passenger status’. Performers who are Crew Members are usually band members, cocktail pianists or lounge entertainers and work longer contracts with fewer onboard perks. However, working as a Crew Member also has its advantages and  it’s important to research all of the options thoroughly before making a decision as to what would suit you and the music that you play.

 

What advice would you give to LCoM students and graduates who are interested in procuring work performing aboard cruise ships in the future?

  • Make sure that your playing is as good as it can possibly be. Put the practice hours in, don’t cut corners and always strive to improve your performances.
  • Work towards developing an engaging repertoire and a strong visual identity – this is really important to help set you apart from the crowd and get the attention of booking agents and audiences alike.
  • Always be professional – this means in the way you work, talk, look, act and treat everyone around you. The music industry is a small world and any examples of unprofessionalism could come back to work against you when it comes to securing long-term work and respect within the industry.
  • Be social – it’s important to develop an outgoing aspect to your personality even if this does not come naturally to begin with. In the main, this is a very social industry and if people are pleased to see you then it’s likely that they will want to work with you too.
  • Always be well prepared and make the most of your first opportunity – first impressions go a long way and will set the foundation for future opportunities to be built upon. Like all new businesses, it will take patience to set things up. You may find that you only get a few bookings to begin with and this is to be expected. You must first prove that your musical performances are of the highest level and that you can operate at the top tier of professionalism.
  • Most importantly, be resilient. See any setbacks as  an opportunity to grow and strive to create as many opportunities as possible. All the successful people that I know share this trait. If you have a clear vision of where you want to get then it’s well within your creative powers to fill in the spaces and reach your goals through a combination of hard work, positivity and dedication – be that one person from your year who has the courage to never give up.
  • Oh, and get yourself a great camera – you’re going  to need it to take photos of all those amazing places and experiences!

 

Michael Christian Durrant

Classical Guitarist and Artist Development Consultant

 

Email: michael@michaelchristiandurrant.com

www.michaelchristiandurrant.com

By Michael Christian Durrant, Classical Guitarist

Michael+Christian+Durrant,+Classical+Guitarist +Photo+5 (1)

Performing aboard cruise ships presents musicians with a wonderful opportunity to travel the world, play music and earn a reliable income. Since graduating from LCoM, classical guitarist Michael Christian Durrant has developed a successful career in the music industry and continues to perform aboard cruise ships as a Guest Entertainer.

Perfect opportunity from the @ASurteesTrust for students and @LCoMAlumni whose work is rooted in, or influenced by,… https://t.co/ZnOnmDxM6Z
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