Getting a contract to sing on a cruise ship is not easy.
Margo Messenger has been on two cruise ships as a singer. In this video she explains how she and her new husband, Brian, just landed a 6 month contract as a performing duo. She will help you learn how to sing on a cruise ship. Preparation for life as a cruise ship musician and singer begins long before you get a contract. This is what the life of a professional singer and musician is like.
Chuck: Hi Margo.
Margo: Hi Chuck.
Chuck: I am very excited to, to talk to you. We talked last or earlier this week after our lesson all about your exciting new upcoming contract on a cruise ship. And I just, I think it’s really exciting.
Chuck: Really what I’m hoping we can do is help people understand how they could maybe someday grow up to be like you, to be a singer and to be able to perform professionally and to get on a cruise ship and some of those things. Thank you for, for doing this. I really appreciate it.
Margo: Well, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Chuck: Well, yeah. Why don’t you just tell me a little bit about your yourself and your background. Tell us where you’re from it, but tell us a little bit about how you started singing.
Margo: All right. So I grew up and lived most of my life in Russia in a city called Kaliningrad. It’s a cool interesting place or region is located between Poland and Lithuania, so it’s a little European part of Russia separated from the mainland. So it’s an interesting place to grow up. Music kind of always was in my life, probably partially because my mother is a music teacher, so she was she was teaching music in my elementary school and she was also director of vocal studio where I sang for pretty much most of my life. Yeah. And then when I was six years old also I started studying piano.
Chuck: So when did you start realizing that you really liked singing?
Margo: I think I liked singing from the moment I started it was a little challenging in the beginning, especially. I still remember my first performance, my stage performance. I was like six years old and my mom literally had to just push me on the stage because I wasn’t here…. Like, no, I don’t want to do that. But then of course I got a hang of it all right. When I was in my eighth grade, I think I, I was done with my music school. I graduated with a piano degree, so to say, but it’s like children’s music school, right? So it’s not like college or anything like that. At some point I started taking leadership of our vocal group that my mom initiated and that was writing all the,uusheets and building harmonies and teaching them to,uthe girls that were singing with.
Margo: And and then I participated in various bands, a bunch of bands. One of the serious ones was I wanted to mention, I, I was actually a leader of a power metal band at some point. Well, I guess it’s not high school already. I was 20 years old. So yeah, that’s when I started, I started singing in this metal band. It’s called Ghost Hill. And you can look it up on YouTube. I have a couple of music videos. It was pretty fun. But you Chuck, you wouldn’t be, you wouldn’t approve my style of singing them. I bet.
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Chuck: So you’re 20 years old, you’re playing in a metal band. What, where did you go from like doing metal band to, how did you get to the cruise ship?
Margo: I think it was 23 or 24 years old and that was playing gigs with this local guitarist. And one day he just told me like during one of the gigs, like, Hey , are you considering at all working on cruise ships? I’m like, yeah, I very much am interested. And yeah. And we went from there , they already had a band they worked on ships with. It was a quartet. And the thing was that the singer had to leave for a sometime so they had to find another singer. And I was like, I’m super ready. I’m super excited. Could be very interesting. And I joined the band, we rehearsed, we, we filmed the promo video and soon enough, I’m 20 year, 24 years old and I am on the cruise ship, cruising the Caribbean.
Chuck: Let’s just say it’s your first time and you want to get on, you want to be able to perform on a cruise ship and you’ve been gigging and so forth. What do you have to do to get yourself ready to to be able to get a contract?
Margo: So first of all, you need to figure out how you want to join the ship. Do you want to join the ship with the band? Do you want to join the ship as a solo musician? Because there are so many positions, there are people who just play and sing and they’re called principal musicians. It’s one position. Then there are duos, there are quartets, there are show bands. For the show bands every musician comes kind of separately and then they get together and they read sheet music. That’s what Brian’s position was like on the ship. But I guess it depends on many, many things. If you want to just make a band, let’s say if you want to make a duo like we did. For us, the way was to, first of all to make a promo video and the promo video needs to meet certain requirements because we made a bunch of promo videos before we got this first long awaited contract.
Margo: And the problem was that we were pretty stubborn about our approach. And I guess if you really want to join the ship, you need to be very considerate to what is needed from you. And in this in this instance it could be really useful to maybe have somebody whose worked on ships before or you can even ….okay. Not all the agencies are the same. Right? You work with the agencies, that’s your thing. You send all your promo material to the agencies and there are a bunch of them. You can just Google them. There are, I don’t know, not numberless amount, but some of them are bigger than others.
Chuck: When you say an agency, are you talking about an an agent who books all kinds of different gigs? Or are these just cruise ship agencies?
Margo: You know, it really depends. They’re just really bunch of them I guess. Some of them specialize specifically on cruise ships. Some of them do let’s say cruise ships and then hotels around the world entertainment. So there are just, there are a whole lot of them. And yeah, I guess it all just depends on your persistence and you just reaching out there. There was always an agency that you can reach out. There is always there. There are some agencies are really responsive and some agents are really supportive and you can even, like you may want to say, okay, this is the position that I want. What should I do? What kind of video should I make? How should they represent myself?
Chuck: So first step is then to get an agent.
Margo: So the thing with the agents is that it’s available for anybody. You just go on the website, they have forms that you just fill out and you, you put the link to your video in this form and that’s pretty much all that is needed for you from you.
Chuck: Okay. Do you have any tips on, in someone choosing the right agency?
Margo: That’s a hard one because the thing is that (I don’t want to call names, right?) but one of the agencies is it provides like 90% of cruise ship entertainment, probably, if not more. So in, in some way you kind of just have to go with, you know, with what works. Because me and Brian, we actually were reached out to a number of agents just to kind of, you know, we kept fishing, you know, we send it to this agency, we send it to that agency. So ultimately you are not limited to how many agencies you apply. You can apply as many times as you want, as many agencies as you want. And then for us personally, it was just whatever gets us a gig, right? But ultimately what could be a good sign of a good agent if he responds, if he reads your emails and he responds to you quickly enough or at all. So just when you feel that there was a human on the other side of, you know, of this connection,
Chuck: When you have your agent or your agency, then what’s the next step?
Margo: Not only the promo video that you need. You also need to submit your resumes. You need to submit your song list, you need to submit your bio. So like, yeah, these little requirements, but sometimes the agent will just reach back to you and say like, okay, thank you for your video. Please send me your resumes and your blah blah blah. One, two, three what they need. So that’s probably the next step.
Chuck: So did you send the video first? I mean is that like the first thing and that kind of gets their attention and then they say, here’s what we, here’s what I’m more interested. Send me more information. Is the video first?
Margo: In majority of cases it is. So sometimes it can be different. Like Brian for instance, he worked with different agency and for different positions and yeah, and this, in this case he didn’t really have to make any video but that was already because he knew the agent and the agent knew him and the agent knew that he is, he is capable of doing such and such. So I guess it can go and can go many ways. In most case scenarios though, video goes first.
Chuck: All right. So what did you have to do to get this contract that you just received?
Margo: [Inaudible]. So for us, just like I said, we filmed a bunch of videos throughout the years trying to get it right and we encountered a bunch of challenges as well because I was going through immigration and I couldn’t leave the country meanwhile. So there were our own things going on. But also we needed to actually make the video, which meets the requirements they, they have,
Chuck: When you say… When you say they? You mean the cruise lines?
Margo: I guess, you know, they work together as a union probably agents and cruise lines. Cruise lines are the ones who say yes or no. And agent will be estimating your promo material and if it’s good enough he will be sending it to and he will be offering it to his clients. The cruise lines. Right. So I guess the final decision is always made by the cruise line.
Chuck: So what, what was it that made it what did you do wrong and what did you do right that finally convinced them?
Margo: I guess one of the things was using backing tracks. And that’s something that me as a singer, you know, really much playing an instrument much. I used to play with backing tracks a lot. Brian though is a jazz musician, educated and skilled. He just doesn’t understand the concept and he doesn’t like the idea, which I can understand of course, but he was really stubborn about and he was like, no, we’re not going to use backing tracks. We’re just going to do our thing and people are going to love it. Which we had proved that people do love it because we played in our town a lot and we got response from people and we know that our thing works. But cruise ship, cruise ship, people need to see that you do the thing that they want you to do and the thing they want you to do is to be able to turn on backing track in case people in the cruise ship want to dance when you play. And that’s a little bit of, what’s the word? So a bit of negotiation. I’m not trying to, I’m not looking, I’m not finding the right word, but it’s like you gotta be flexible. You have to be, you have to be able to play different things. You can’t just say, okay, this is what I play and I don’t play anything else.
Chuck: You’re kind of compromise. You have to compromise a little bit.
Margo: Right, right. You have to compromise. That’s the word I was looking for. Yeah. You have to be flexible.
Chuck: Yeah. And so what was it that you feel like made your, your last video successful then?
Margo: Our friend offered us his studio and our friends also helped us with the sound and we had I’m not sure how to describe it properly, but we had all the sound that we, we were playing life and it was recorded high quality and and Brian having experience with mixing and audio editing, he took care of all this, you know, sound part of it. So the sound was great. The sound was high quality. The video was high quality because we had good cameras and good lights and good studio and yeah, and after that we just, yeah, first of all it was good quality sound and video and repertoire , we changed the repertoire. We played pop songs, we played songs with the backing tracks and we showed variety. I played piano on bunch of songs, so it was just a little bit of everything. We kind of tried to show that we can do anything, we can do pop songs, we can do backing tracks if needed. We can do, no backing tracks. I can play piano if needed. Brian can sing, if needed, we do harmonies. So all of these things combined I think is what made it, what made it happen for us.
Chuck: If it’s an audition tape, did you have to play the whole song?
Margo: It was just little clips of the songs, like let’s say verse and chorus. So our video was about seven minutes long, so they don’t then they don’t really want longer than that.
Chuck: How long did it take you to put that together?
Margo: Oh, that’s a good question. Well, okay, we’re not going to count rehearsing and practicing. That’s you know, behind the scenes. So it took us, okay, it took us probably three hours to film the video. It took us couple of hours to set up, so it’s already five. Right. Then it took Brian, I don’t know how many hours to edit the audio. Let’s say 10, I don’t know, 10 hours of editing the audio and then I edited the video and it took, I don’t know, 15 hours, let’s say. So we are like, let’s say 30 hours just because you know what? Some videos that we’ve seen are pretty DIY. You know, some people don’t really put too much effort in it. And you know, I was trying to discover the algorithm or logic in what actually makes the band hireable. And you know what? I have no clue.
Chuck: Well I, I’m going to say one word and it’s probably a big part of it. Persistence.
Margo: That’s a very good point.
Chuck: You know, you guys have been working hard at it. Tell me about your gigging, because that’s a part of your preparation. What have you been doing, you know tell me what’s been going on in your community with your singing.
Margo: So I guess for last three years or so, pretty much as soon as me and Brian got together, when I first came to Arizona, we started practicing and we learned a bunch of covers and I started playing more jazz, even though I was already familiar with the jazz. But that was the whole another extent because duo jazz is a very exposed thing and you have to be really, you have to be really exact in what you’re doing. But that’s when my training again and when in, in this area
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Margo: So, and we started learning the songs and after a certain point we started playing open mics to begin with. Then we started booking gigs. Connections, help, but they’re not, they’re not essential. You can just as well reach out to the venue, any cafe or restaurant or bar or coffee shop and just reach out and call like, Hey, do you book music here? Do you hire musicians? And that’s pretty much how it works.
Chuck: You submitted your reel or your, your video to the agent. The agent sends it to whoever decides on the ship, I guess. And then how do you find out?
Margo: Our agent just emailed us. Are you available November 24th and yeah and I mean our contract was till May, so, so are you guys available and interested and we’re like, Oh yeah, we are,
Chuck: What’s kind of the range of, of pay scale for, you know, I know you can’t speak for all of the cruise ships, but there’s probably kind of a general area, I guess .
Margo: As a general rule it will be in like upper two thousands, like 2,500 to 3000 in general. But it really depends. Like when we just started applying…..Per Month? …Per Month per person. Yeah. But when we just started applying for a cruise ship jobs one time we just had an offer for like 1700 and we were like, Hmm, I’m not sure if it’s worth it. So it really depends. But mostly it will start somewhere around like 2,400 and will go up to 3000 and then it’s really depends on your position because for let’s say, cast members for singers and for singers on this musical shows, on the cruise ship, they will have 3000 plus for sure. And they’ll have better conditions to like there are better living conditions on the ship they will have single cabin. Whereas for, for the bands it’s usually shared cabin or like principle musician, if you play and sing, like played the guitar and sing or play the piano and sing and you can do it for like three hours straight every day. It also will be 3000 plus and you will have single cabin. So
Chuck: And plus all…. Then you have, you have all your expenses paid.
Margo: You don’t have to worry about a rent or about food, but ultimately you, it’s all up to you how much you want to save up.
Chuck: Congratulations. Then you’ll be gone for like six months. And then how hard is it to get another contract?
Margo: It really depends. Like, yeah, I guess it really depends on how good you are. You gotta be good.
Chuck: Yeah. Well this is your third round personally, isn’t it?
Margo: Yeah, it is.
Chuck: Yeah, you must be okay. [inaudible]
Margo: Trying to work on it anyway.
Chuck: All so where can people
Chuck: Find you and Brian, cause you’ve got a website, right? Yes, it’s margoandbrian.com
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Margo: When was it… In just in August. We released our first CD, so it’s all originals, eight songs, and it’s all available on our website. It’s available on Spotify and Amazon music and whatever, whatever music service people use, it’s available on most and all the major music services. So yeah, I will. Yeah, we’ll be happy if you guys will be interested in checking it out. You can order downloads, you can listen to it on the website, you can support us with your purchase. So yeah, they’re just going to our website or you can find us on Facebook and find us on Instagram. We’re, we try to keep it up to date.
Chuck: Also I’ll put your link down in the description below the video.
Margo: Oh absolutely. That’d be awesome. Thank you.
Chuck: I’m learning a lot about the well getting, getting gigs on cruise lines. I mean, it’s really amazing and you’re, you’re very experienced at it and, and it’s also an honor and a privilege to work with you. I really enjoy our time together. So…
Margo: Thank you so much for saying this. You’re, I’m so grateful for all the information that you share and for all the help that you, that you gave to me. So, yeah. And thank you for all this you’re doing. That’s, I’m sure that many, many people will agree with me. It’s very, very helpful and it’s, it’s a big purpose, you know, to, to bring it out in the world. You know, how, how we can sing with this, like you say, with power, confidence and how does it go? You can sing higher with beauty, confidence, and power. So, yeah. Thank you so much, Chuck. Yeah.
Chuck: All right. Thanks Margo.
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