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Walking on Water: Gigs For Commercial Bassists

For many bass players who are graduating from college or are simply trying to make a career as performer, the hope of finding a full-time gig can be daunting. With opportunities in arts organizations and production companies limited these days, the path of a professional bassist can be an uphill battle. But before you walk down to your local Starbucks and fill out an application, please consider something different: audition for an orchestra gig on a cruise ship.

If you’ve never worked on a cruise ship, there is a good chance you know someone that has. There are hundreds of ships sailing every corner of the world, and every one of them needs at least one electric bassist. With ships sailing each day of the year, major cruise lines are always looking for new players to fill their rosters. For commercial bass players, cruise ship employment opportunities are readily available. To be considered for a position, every applicant must undergo a brief audition. Some lines require a video recording to ensure authenticity, but often a phone audition along with credible references are sufficient.

The music played onboard ships require commercial skills. As the bassist in a ship’s orchestra, you’d be playing everything from theater shows, big band shows, jazz sets, and comedy shows. Needless to say, many different genres are played and you would have to be comfortable playing rock, jazz, pop, funk, and Latin grooves. Sightreading is a vital skill in this position as is the ability to follow lead sheets. Most bass positions are for electric bass. There are jazz gigs available for upright players as well, but these are far less common.

There are some considerations to be aware of before accepting a ship gig. Firstly, a pre-employment medical examination with laboratory tests (some lines reimburse for this, but many do not) are an industry-wide standard. The details of each line’s requirements differ slightly, but be prepared for getting a complete physical. You would also need a valid passport (and visa if you’re not an American citizen), and many lines require a criminal background check as well.

As for life onboard, most every cabin design is a bunked bed, shared cabin with another musician. Food is also provided onboard, many ships allow for dining in the passenger buffet area in addition to the staff mess. Complete healthcare, from the moment you step aboard until the end of your assignment, is provided. Also, travel is provided to and from the ship no matter where in the world the ship may be.

Contract lengths vary from three to seven months, depending on the line and urgency of the opening. People often wonder if there are short contracts available. They do exist in emergency situations but are not generally scheduled in advance.

The questions are endless when it comes to life on a cruise vessel. It is such a unique lifestyle that each person experiences it differently. There are concessions to be made for this kind of employment, namely being away from home for extended periods of time and living in small quarters. However, cruise employment can take you all over the world, provide steady employment, and introduce you to other professional musicians all while making money in an environment with very little expenses.

If you would like to audition or more information on cruise employment, please contact the author of this article at:

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