Since July of 2018, long-time CSA Member Kyle Marler has been working as a solo guitarist and vocalist for Carnival Cruise Lines. We caught up with Kyle to learn about how this niche pursuit began, the benefits, and the challenges of performing 3-4 hours each night above international waters.
Kyle, how did you get into this?
The short: I applied online through the Carnival Entertainment website.
The extended: I went to Otterbein University from 2008-2012. I was in the Health and Sports Sciences Department, and got paired up with a roommate my freshman year who was in the theatre department. Through his friendship I ended up meeting many other theatre folks. Fast forward 3-4 years after graduation. I would see a few of those theatre folks posting on social media about their jobs working on cruise ships and it looked like fun so I began researching if they had jobs for guitar singers and not just theatrical jobs. Most cruise lines wanted the same thing – someone who could sing 3-4 hours a day and who knew 200-300 songs.
From that point, I began my year and a half long journey of learning new songs and applying to different talent agencies. Eventually, I got a job straight through the Carnival site and didn’t need an agent. It was all done online by submitting a showreel of some live performances at gigs and some shots just playing in my room.
What’s the day in the life look like?
There are 2 types of days. You have what is known as a “sea day” which means your ship will not be docking and you will be out at sea all day and a “port day” meaning you’ll be back at your home port where you drop off passengers and pick up new ones, or at one of the destination ports. On port days I’ll generally hop off when I wake up and have some fun. I’ve snorkeled, grabbed food, played soccer and done some pretty thrilling excursions. I’m generally pretty wiped when I get back so I’ll nap and be sure to wake up with enough time to do a vocal warmup before my sets. On sea days, I’ll get in a good practice session or learn a new song, workout and maybe play a little ping pong. No matter the day, I do 3-4 sets that are each 45 minutes to an hour in length in the afternoon / evening. After my sets, I’ll often head to the bar for a bit or watch a movie in my cabin.
Can you share more about the benefits and challenges?
Benefits. One of the biggest benefits is the amount of people you get to meet, both crew and passengers alike. Most Carnival ships hold around 3-4 thousand passengers each week, or few days depending on the ship’s itinerary. I still keep in touch with passengers and crew that I met when I first started. Being able to travel is also very cool. I recall floating out in the crystal clear ocean in Cozumel Mexico with a fellow musician I had become fast friends with and we were both laughing that this was our life. Musicians, in particular, soloists, get the most free time of anyone on the ship. Knowing you have a set contract for 2-3 months is very financially reassuring. Of course, the obvious, getting to play music for your livelihood quells you with pride. I could keep going with the benefits, but you get the idea. I enjoy myself and the lifestyle quite a bit.
Challenges. In 2019 I had the opportunity to travel to Australia for one of my contracts. As dope as it was, it was maybe the most difficult experience of my life. I had been away from family before, but this was next level stuff, and it was only until those few months that I realized not only how much I love my family, but American culture. I think a large part of the home sickness was a lack of social connection. Every contract is different in terms of friendships and this one just wasn’t great for a few reasons that had to to with me and some reasons to do with difficult personalities. The thing is … you’re living with these people on and off the clock so it makes it very challenging if you’re having social difficulties.
Another challenge is that it’s a lot of singing. You’ve got to be very careful with your voice. Like with any job, it’s easy to get caught up in a bad performance and make it your identity, but I think that’s amplified when you live at work. So, if you’ve got a tough crowd, it’s certainly a challenge.
Thanks Joey and Columbus Songwriters Association for allowing me to share and for the resources you’ve provided and continue to provide to aid in the arts. This is a super brief outline of my experience (I could probably write a memoir and possibly a Netflix comedy special), so if you have any questions for me please don’t hesitate to reach out.