An In-Depth Look at Cruise Ship Musician Salaries and Perks

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Cruise Ship Musician Salary – How Much Does It Pay to Play?

Cruise Ship Musicians earn a decent salary but that’s only the beginning.  When you consider the types of positions available, on board expenses & the ability to schedule in advance, cruise ship gigs become a lot more attractive. Below we go into all the detalis, from average cruise ship musician salary by job to onboard expenses and everything in between.

What is the Average Starting Salary of a Cruise Ship Musician?

Starting cruise ship musician salaries range from $2,000 up to $3,300/month (USD). Salaries can vary based on experience level but it mostly depends on the specific music position you take on board. If you’re just getting started in the cruise music industry, below are some guides for what you can expect.

Types of Music Jobs Onboard

Depending on the cruise line & cruise ship’s size – there can be up to 25 musicians on board at a time.  Contracts are staggered to ensure that the same number of musicians are on board throughout the year.  These musicians and bands often perform simultaneously.  For example, while the solo guitarist is playing Jason Mraz poolside, the 7 piece orchestra is performing a cirque style show in the theater, with the house band partying to a Bruno Mars tune in the nightclub.  Here are the most commons types of cruise ship musician jobs & starting salaries:

  • Solo Musicians (solo guitarists & piano bar entertainers) have their own cabin and start at $3300/month (USD).
  • Duos (Classical & Contemporary) share a cabin and start around $2400/month each (USD).
  • Ensembles (Jazz Quartets, Party Bands & Dance Quartet) share cabins and range from $2400 – $2800/month per person (USD).
  • Orchestra/Showband Musician (bass, drums, guitar, keys, sax, trumpet, trombone) share cabins and start at $2200/month (USD).
  • Bandmasters are often a member of the orchestra, have their own cabin and start at $2700/month (USD).

These are only the starting salaries and can vary greatly depending on the line and the musician’s experience.  Proven musicians/entertainers that can fill a room are in high demand and thus earn a larger on board salary.  In addition, musicians hired for specialty/book shows often make higher wages.

life for a cruise ship musician snorkling

Onboard Expenses

$2400 on a cruise ship is WAY different than $2400 on land.  Onboard, you don’t have many expenses so your cruise ship musician salary can stretch much further.  Here are some examples:

  1. Travel – Roundtrip flights, hotels & transfers are all covered by the cruise line.  Get yourself to a regional airport and they’ll take it from there.
  2. Meals – Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided – free of charge.  Whether you’re eating in the staff cafeteria, pasta or sushi at the buffet or a steak dinner in a restaurant on board, food is free!
  3. Lodging – You’re essentially living in a floating hotel….for free.  Your cabin is even cleaned & bed made.
  4. Health Insurance – If you’re an employee of the cruise line, you’re covered medically while on board.

Before you set sail on your journey, limiting your land expenses is key.  Rent, mortgage payments, car payments and health insurance aren’t needed and can free you up.  Even with a couple drinks and shopping in ports, performing as a musician on board a cruise ship can really allow you to save.

cruise ship musician salary perk - free breakfast

How Long are Cruise Musician Contracts?

Contracts are generally 4-6 months in length.  That’s 6 months of continuous work….and pay checks!  If the contract is going well, you’ll have the opportunity to schedule another before the first one finishes.  Most musicians like to schedule 6 months on and 6 weeks off to plan ahead.  In this sense, working on a cruise ship offers vacations and job security that musicians hardly find.

How Do I Get Paid…and How Often?

Cruise Ship Musicians are either employees or contractors.

  • Employees – Most Cruise Lines offer direct deposit and/or a bank card.  Funds are deposited directly to your bank account or to your bank card on the 1st and 15th of every month on board.
  • Contractors – Contractors are paid every other week via PayPal or company check.

Are Taxes Withheld?

There is normally a large compliment of international musicians on board.  Taxes are not withheld for non-US citizens.  Federal taxes are withheld from US employees only.

Do I have to Pay an Agency?

The short answer is no.  The long answer is that all cruise lines operate differently.  If the cruise line pays the agency directly, you don’t pay anyone.  If the cruise line doesn’t pay the agency directly, they’ll often increase the salary offered in order to compensate for the agency fee, paid by the musician.

Why Use an Agency?

Cruise Ship Talent Agencies allow for musicians to apply to multiple cruise lines and opportunities at once.  Most cruise lines work exclusively with specific agencies to fill their live music needs.  Working with an agency gives you the best chance to get the best cruise ship music job available.

For more information about life at sea and how to apply to become a professional cruise ship musician, click here