Often the cruise industry is misunderstood so I figured I may as well attempt to set things straight by getting the information from the horses mouth(s).
“Cruise Ship Musicians” is a series where I interview various musicians within the cruise industry, with my aim being to help translate the life of a musician at sea and what is involved.
To open the series I got to interview Musical Director David Morehead with nearly 20 years of experience with Royal Caribbean.
What’s your favourite part of being a cruise ship musician?
Getting paid to travel the world.
How did you get into the cruise industry and how long have you been in it?
I did a few short contracts when I was younger (college summer break and right after college), then took 7 years off. I decided I wanted to go back to ships in 1997 and I have been with RCCL ever since then.
Have you always worked with Royal Caribbean?
No. I worked for Chandris and Dolphin cruise lines. Also, I worked on a gambling ship that was based in Galveston, TX.
Have you worked under any other positions in the industry (guest entertainer etc)?
I created my own show in 2005 and performed it as a matinée and also performed it at night when it was too rocky to do the Tango show.
How much time do you spend at home in between contracts?
2 – 4.5 months.
How do you manage your living arrangements between life on land and being at sea for so long (Do you own property, travel and/or rent during vacation etc)?
I stay with family near Chicago. I will be buying a condo within the next three years.
Given that a career in the cruise industry includes being away from home for so
long, how have you managed to maintain strong relationships with family and
friends on land?
I keep in touch via phone and Facebook. My family is used to me being gone for long periods of time. They understand that is what I love and they are very supportive.
From your experience, what’s the biggest difference from working in the cruise
industry as a performing musician verses working in the music industry as a
On a cruise ship you have to work with the talent you get. On land, if you don’t like working with someone you can try different bands.
What’s the weirdest experience you’ve had while working on a cruise ship?
Can’t say because I don’t want to embarrass anyone.
What (if any) changes have you observed within the industry that’s had an impact
on your career?
The company is growing fast so there are more opportunities to see more of the world.
Do you have a prediction for the future of live music in the cruise industry?
It is hard to say. I hope that RCCL continues to set the standard and keep as many musicians on board as possible.
What key skills does a person need to succeed in the cruise industry as a
Must be open to change. Things change all the time on ships and you have to go with the flow. You need to be a good reader and be able to play many different styles if you are in the orchestra. You also need to be able to handle being on a ship for many months at a time. Cruising is not for everyone.
What’s the hardest part of being a Music Director on a cruise ship?
The hardest part is always ensuring you are as fair as possible. If you play favorites you will lose respect from your team. Also, telling people information they don’t want to hear can be challenging. Always be as calm and diplomatic as possible and don’t make it personal if you have to give some constructive criticism.
What’s the most valuable career investment you’ve made to get to where you are
Buying Finale. I use it all the time and have made a lot of money doing arrangements over the years. I also write charts for our orchestra to ensure we have the songs we need for the current demographic on the ship.
Do you find time to practice in between your managerial work?
I have time but I don’t practice. I usually just warm up before our performances.
What would you say to a musician looking at making the move to the cruise
Be prepared to leave home for a long time. Also, be realistic. Sometimes you will get to work with really good players and other times, not so good players. You have to make the best of whatever you get. Work on your sight reading before you get to the ship. Bad readers waste a lot of people’s time during rehearsals. This is something you can work on daily before you get the ship. Listen to lots of different types of music. Not just one style. Even styles you normally wouldn’t listen to. (Country, classical, etc…) You never know what you are going to have to play on a ship.
What’s your mission as a musician?
To always play the music the best I can in the correct style. I always keep the audience in mind (not just what I like) when I choose my set lists. I want to learn as many styles of music as possible.
Any other comments or insights you wish to share?
If you start to work on a ship and find out you don’t like it, please leave immediately. Don’t stay and be negative and drag everyone else down. No one is forcing people to be on ships. It is not for everyone. If you stay always keep a positive attitude. There is always something to learn from every situation.
David is also a talented photographer and finale tutorial enthusiast so if you want to check them out head to the links below.