How I've Made Music My Full-Time Gig
As a graduating college senior, I wasn’t big into performing. I was actually a little conflicted about winning the concerto competition at my alma mater Concordia College because it meant having to play with the orchestra in front of an auditorium full of people, which did not excite me.
Originally, I had planned to get my doctorate in music and become a professor. I studied theory and composition and graduate school was the typical next step. But by the time graduation rolled around, I realized I was burned out on academia. So I needed another plan – and fast.
It was my parents who first suggested playing on cruise ships. They had heard that one of my friends from high school was playing trumpet on ships and thought it could work for me too.
Even though I didn’t enjoy performing at the time, I decided to give it a shot. I mean, how could I turn down having no expenses, making money and traveling the world!
My first contract was a 3-month Alaskan cruise with Holland America Line. I signed on as the keyboard player with the HalCats variety band. Pretty soon I was playing production shows, accompanying guest entertainers, and playing dance music, ballroom classics and tropical tunes by the pool. The world of pop music was pretty unfamiliar to me as a classically and jazz-trained musician, but after three months of playing 3-5 hours of a music a day, I actually discovered a love of performing, even if I lacked confidence.
I signed another contract and then another. I even developed confidence in my abilities and was promoted to band leader for my third year. Leading other musicians was a first for me, but I actually found that I enjoyed the role.
In total, I worked on ships for 3 years, traveling to over 60 countries and seven continents. So you’re probably wondering why I would leave ship life behind.
Although cruising the world was a ton of fun, I knew that I couldn’t live in such close quarters forever. It was also tough to have friends come and go as contracts expired. I also felt somewhat isolated from the rest of my friends and family on land (internet access was sketchy at best and we were often crossing time zones, which made things even more complicated).
So in an effort to have some stability, I made a decision to move to Denver and try to make it as a professional musician. Granted, I only knew three people there and had no idea how to find gigs, but we’ll get into that in the next post.
*If you have any questions about playing music on cruise ships, I would be happy to answer any questions you have, either in the comments below or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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Nate Hance is a professional pianist, entertainer and composer living in St. Paul, MN. He grew up in Minot, ND but has traveled around the world playing music. You can listen to the six albums that he has written as well as check out his goofy music videos on YouTube