A Guide to Musical Arrangements for Cruise Ship Entertainers


I get a lot of questions from singers about how to order musical arrangements for their show. I have been commissioning arrangements for over 20 years and now have had over 500 for all sorts of bands from jazz trio, big band and full orchestra. Most though have been for working on cruise ships and I have learned by my mistakes the best way to go about it. If you want to order some of my arrangements right now, scan down to the bottom of this article.

Commission your own charts

If you want to commission your own arrangements sit down with a pianist, agree keys, cuts, vamps (repeats), play-offs and anything special you want the band to do for you during a piece. Remember, it’s your show. You can do what you like. I love creating arrangements and putting medleys together, it can be a very fulfilling process. Take your time to get this right. A mistake here can be costly to correct later on.

In Cabaret Secrets I interviewed musical directors, pianists and arrangers and cover just about everything you need to know about commissioning arrangements and working with musicians, including:

  • How to make a good first impression
  • When to use instrumental breaks
  • How challenging to make your arrangements
  • The different compositions on bands on all the major cruise lines
  • Tips of how to rehearse with the band
  • Why musicians alter parts

The book’s out now in paperback and eBook formats. Click here to hear free Podcasts from musicians already headlining on cruise ships, Cruise Directors, agents and more. You can just skip to these podcasts from cruise ships MDs: Hamish Revell (Cunard), Joel Pierson (Crystal Cruises) and Joey Mix (Cunard). You may also like this from big band leader Joe Pettitt on how to get work with a big band.


There are a few guys I use to arrange most of my charts for ships. Here are their contact details but just as I earn no commission from them for referring clients, nor can I can’t take any responsibility for their work.

First, Phil Steel. He’s done some great small band and big band charts for me which were very reasonably priced and well received by the band.

Paul Campbell of MusicEtc. is a graduate of the Royal Collage and now arranging for full orchestras and big bands as well as small group. He’s done 100s of charts for me and produces stylish yet very playable arrangements.

Shaun Evans has a large library of cheap arrangements, but I cannot vouch for their quality. I hear comments from some people saying they are too simplistic or plain wrong, but they are cheap and could be a useful way to get going.

Simon Niblock arranges a lot for cruise ship production shows and numerous guest entertainers. He knows the business and what’s required better than most people.

Buy my tried and tested arrangements for only £20

I have decided to release a few of my tried and tested arrangements for sale. Click the button to see the list and make a purchase.

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  1. Gary, this is a great help – thank you so much for posting all this information. I’ll take on board (literally!) what you are saying. Good luck with the travels…You are a star CXXX

    1. How did it go Emma? I am going to make a post soon on putting cruise ship shows together from scratch which you may find helpful.

    1. Hi Ian
      Simon does all of his work by word of mouth, and doesn’t use a website (he tells me his is working on one though). His email address is nibmusic@gmail.com, and I have updated this on the blog.

      Good luck.


  2. hope your in good health.I just been reading your blog on the religious side of life,I think me and you would get on well together,although not a well read person myself(secondary education)life has tought me many things.I beleive in people and its people and the way we treat them that makes our world.I not going to rabbit on too long as being one of the lucky ones ive been at work(gas heating engineer) its not what I want to do but,its living.
    As you know my interest is in music and singing !any way just letting steam off,Ive been youtubing acts and getting frustrated at some of the standard of performance given,i know i,m not brilliant but I beleive Im as good as some of those who perform for a living(your self excluded,if only I could be at the same level)Ive done the apprentiship in pubs/club land but would love to get to the next level,before I get too old.Any words of wisdom before I give up all together ?…dont be too cruel !…Keith

    1. Hi Keith
      Thanks for your kind words. The first thing I would remind you is that you sing because you love it. It’s a wonderful way to express yourself. Finding an outlet for that talent is the most important thing. Money and a full diary, to my mind, are secondary. If your outlet happens to be the corner of the restaurant with a guitarist or a Karaoke bar every Saturday night, so be it.

      I would never recommend any gives up their primary income to work as a singer, unless there is simply no alternative. Having another income allows you to be choosy about the times and the places you sing. With another job you don’t have to sing for money, just for pleasure, and that’s what it’s all about.

      If you want your career to progress, take lessons, watch and listen to other artistes you admire and be the best singer and performer you can be. Take every gig you can and build up as much experience as possible. Always make friends, wherever you go. Present yourself as a professional who cares about what you do, even when no one else seems to. Don’t drop your standards even if you think the audience doesn’t appreciate what you are doing – in the end people always know quality when they see it. Treat your audience with complete respect and give them your best – every time. Pay attention to detail, whether it’s the way you phrase a particular word or making sure your clothes are pristine.

      To do what you love, and love what you do is what live’s all about it. Enjoy! 🙂

  3. Thank you Gary for this comprehensive insight into cruise ship band arrangements. I have a full big band pad but not a ‘second show’ of music theatre songs and so these tips are really useful and very well thought out.
    So true, that all musicians treat parts differently and have their own preferences and as you say, best to respect each and every one of them as it’s good for them to be on our side!

    Thanks again – You are brilliant.x

  4. Hi Gary,Thanks for taking the time to reply, your advice on musical arrangements and tips on the music business in general are First Class. Good luck in the future and look forward to seeing you at Boisdales Canary Wharf on the 27th of April….. Aiden

  5. thanks so much for the great advise!im a singe and currently looking for some already made charts for a good price. I was on david cater’s website but couldnt fnd his email… every time i tried to cntct him, te server would not allow it. do you have his email icould get a hold of?i would really appreciate it. thanks!

  6. Hi Gary, great piece and very helpful tips and hints. I was wondering …a while ago I saw a guy who was doing charts named Shaun Evans…I can’t find him anywhere except for pieces he has put together. Have you ever used Shaun or heard of him and do you know a way to contact him.Regards

    1. I have worked for Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess Cruiselines since 2005 and I can honestly tell you that Shawn Evans charts are the worse charts I have ever played. The horn voicings are appalling and I am far from alone in expressing this opinion. The charts are all over every fleet for one reason only- they are dirt cheap. Go elsewhere because if you buy these charts, you are honestly asking for trouble.

      1. Thanks Alistair. I really appreciate your comment. I have heard the same said many times before. In Cabaret Secrets I talk a lot about the importance of having great musical arrangements. It’s the singular most important tool of our trade. Using cheap charts is like turning up to a job interview in a crumpled suit. It says, “I don’t really give a shit,” and that exactly what your musicians will feel about your show. Good charts will make your look good, sound good and earn respect from the band. As you’ll know, asking good musicians to play crap charts is a crime. They will play your show, of course, but you can be sure they’ll be glad to see the back of you. I use David Carter a lot. He’s great and not expensive.

  7. Hi Gary , Thanks for all the informations and good tips !
    I have been singing in clubs , pubs, holiday parks and hotels but I am started to get bored and I wanted to try different level and want to try singing in cruiseships but I don’t know where to start and where to go to do showcase for cruiseships and most importantly to get a good musical arrangement that I can use . I am looking forward for your reply .
    Many thanks in advance !

  8. After listening to your podcasts for months, I finally purchased the book. Cabaret Secrets is fantastic, thank you for all your insight and shared experience; it is truly invaluable. I would love to hear more podcasts!

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