Kiss, John Mayer, 311, Kid Rock and many of the best-drawing acts in the music industry are finding big success in an unlikely venue—cruise ships.

The concept has been around for a while. It began simply enough with music-themed cruises, such as 70s and 80s party boats with DJs and era-based costumes and decorations. Live acts from those periods began to join, and the scope of the music cruise started to expand. But over the last several years, the concept of a headliner act chartering a cruise ship and offering their fans “The Ultimate Rock ‘N’ Roll Cruise!” has gained great popularity. With titles like “Shiprocked!,” “Shredders from the Deep!” and the “Axes & Anchors Festival at Sea!,” theses floating music and concert events have become big business.

These are not small or simple productions for the AV systems in use. The Monsters of Rock cruise, for example (according to their website), is a 4-night, 5-day metal music event featuring 34 acts, including Europe, Extreme, Queensrÿche, Night Ranger, Tesla, Lita Ford, Faster Pussycat, Kix, Stryper, Krokus, Y&T, Honeymoon Suite and many more. These floating festivals often feature several headliner-level acts, rotating through a range of different on-deck and below-deck shows and activities. Throw in plenty of opportunities for fans to rub elbows with their idols at the breakfast buffet, the water slides and the casino tables, these events are not inexpensive, and they sell out fast.

For sound system and AV professionals, the concert cruise offers a unique opportunity to get on board the action (pun intended). Consider that there’s a wide range of venues on these ships, and each has very unique characteristics. There’s a mix of indoor and outdoor theaters, ballrooms, dance floors, dinner halls and staging areas—and all must deal with a lack of space, unusually shaped areas, challenging or non-existent rigging and hang points, and an audience that’s much more up close and personal than average. And, of course, all venues have the potential of actually rocking and rolling with the waves, so stability is a real concern.

With a more than enthusiastic fan base just a few feet away, the very nature of these shows requires good, high-output but controlled sound systems that perform optimally from the smallest footprint possible. Systems need to be extremely reliable and flexible and probably need to be raised/lowered, repositioned and reconfigured several times over the course of the cruise. House AV systems that can stand on their own and be used to support larger, brought-in systems are a must. The common mantra for producers and system designers on a concert cruise is definitely “Do more with less.”

No doubt these tight and ever-changing venues are making use of today’s high-density line array systems with their full-range focused patterns, power efficiency and great sound quality at all levels. From acoustic performances to all-out metal shows, sound quality, flexibility and control are key. For more insights on this AV system design opportunity, read the AV Club article, How Do You Organize a Rock-N-Roll Cruise?

Do you have experience with designing sound systems for cruise ships and similar venues? We’d like to hear from you in the comments!

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