By: Palo Rodriguez
Hello… My name is Stephen “Palo” Rodriguez. Born and raised from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m 34 years old!!
Remember when drummers could travel and play anywhere they wanted (except for nursing homes and libraries)? Yeah, those were the good old days. Unfortunately COVID-19 has put a hold on those dreams for now for myself and for millions of displaced musicians, crew, and entertainers. And although quarantine is necessary to protect those who are most vulnerable to this disease, it comes with a heavy price. Fortunately this ban will be temporary and things will slowly but surely return to normal. In fact, this could be the beginning of positive changes in the industry, and perhaps there will be better preparations made for the industry as a whole in the future should there ever be another crisis. Regardless of the situation, I was fortunate that I was able to enjoy life as a drummer on Holland America just before travel bans began.
At first glance, it seems like a paradise to be on a cruise for many months and getting to see the most beautiful views that belong to this great world. But when it comes to a musician’s duty to perform and entertain, you have to make sure that you’re always up for the task – especially as a drummer. While the experience is amazing, it can also be a huge amount of pressure to perform well from your director. You are the time-keeper, the groove-maker, and most of all THE POCKET.
When you work for a company that represents musicians and is helping you to provide your services, it’s important to do one thing as a performer: BE POSITIVE NO MATTER WHAT. Hard times, disagreements, song changes, and last-minute decisions will be part of the job. But during these hectic times, being positive and smiling through it can help you overcome anything!
My experience was with the B. B. King All-Stars Band from Memphis, Tennessee. With musicians from all over the country, we were given 2 weeks to learn 100+ songs from the 70’s, 80’s, oldies, etc. But don’t worry about the short amount of rehearsal time given prior to boarding. You will still find yourself in numerous rehearsals on the ship. This way we are always ready to entertain the guests in a professional manner.
With this group I was playing a wide variety of artists, genres, and music styles. However the songs we performed were primarily soul and oldies hits. I won’t deny it was a lot of work for me as a drummer. This wasn’t because I couldn’t play the music the right way. Frankly, I’ve just never considered myself a “style-specific” drummer but rather a person who tries to learn any kind of music as much as possible and apply my skills to any music style. You will do well if you are either very comfortable with playing these specific music styles or if you can adapt easily to any genre.
So here’s my advice to you drummers out there who want to achieve different experiences such as working as performers on cruises:
8 Tips for Performing on Cruises
- Be professional – Always take your position seriously. If this was an “easy breezy” job a lot of us musicians would’ve done it by now. But unfortunately not everyone gets the privilege that easy. You have to work hard for it!
- Be a team player – You remember that saying, “happy wife, happy life?” Well, apply it with the team you’re working with. You have to put in your part to make it work too.
- Study the music – I know it’s hard sometimes to put a song on repeat you might have heard millions of times from a movie you saw back in ‘92, but when you really focus on listening to the songs you’re going to discover a lot of things that you might have never noticed before. That’s when you get one of those “aha!” moments and then laugh because you never thought they were doing that in THAT part.
- Make note of important parts/structures of the songs you struggle to remember – You can either record the rehearsals or make a drum chart of certain songs. One example of when you should make notes are song endings. Some of these songs from the past did not have definite endings to the songs – they would usually fade out. Once the band agrees on how to end the song, write it down so you don’t appear uncertain during performances. It’s also a good idea to make notes of the tempos and time signatures for each song for a quick reference during shows.
- Be on time – You should know by now that setting up your kit is not as simple as plugging in an amplifier or warming up your voice (no offense!). Give yourself enough time to set up your drums so that you appear ready and comfortable when it’s time to play versus panicked and uncomfortable 5 minutes before the show starts.
- Establish a healthy routine – You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) party every single night on the boat. It’s important to appear professional in front of the guests, and it’s also important to be able to perform your best as an employee. Get plenty of sleep, take advantage of the wide variety of healthy foods at the buffet, and find the fitness center. Use your time wisely! Besides, if you party all night and sleep all day you might miss out on getting to see some of these beautiful places.
- Consider how many obligations you have on land before signing the contract – Do you have a job that you need to give notice to? And will they let you come back if you decide the cruise life isn’t for you? Do you have someone to care for your pets for several months? Do you have a good support system at home who can take care of things for you while you’re away? Does your family support you and are they prepared for you to be gone for a long time? These are things you have to consider and discuss with those who may have to take on some of your obligations.
- Understand and prepare for the fact that your life WILL change – Contracts are usually a minimum of 4 months but can be as long as a year. It’s extremely important to understand that the life you know now will change once you board that ship. Any unfinished business on land will remain unfinished until you return. Your relationships will change – either in a good way or a bad way. You will be working really hard, but you will no longer have the same day-to-day stresses of everyday living on land. Your “normal” life will be gone and it will take time for you to adjust – both once you leave and once you return home to your old life. You will have a LOT of time to really meditate and reflect on your life, and you may return a completely different person. But if you have the support of those you care about back at home and do your job well, you can leave the ship with one of the best experiences of your entire life (and maybe be invited to do it again!).
Stephen “Palo” Rodriguez is an upcoming Endorsed Cruise Artist with Collision Drumsticks.
He is was and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and has had many years of experience as a drummer. We are excited to welcome him to the 2020 Collision Drumsticks Artist Roster!
To learn more from Stephen “Palo” Rodriguez himself, here’s how you can get in touch:
Stephen “Palo” Rodriguez