Zak Icaza: The Experience as a Hotel Musician

Zak Icaza

If you are a musician, there is a considerable chance that you have heard about jobs as Cruise Ship Musician or Hotel Musician. These particular jobs meet music with travel, comforts, and recurrent income. But, how is the real-life experience?

For some, these gigs are a fantastic opportunity to play music every week and have a steady income through the duration of the contract. For others, although the job can fulfill the economic needs, it falls short to their musical expectations.

Both sides of the table are entirely valid, have their reasons, and we are not here to judge anyone’s needs or intentions. We are here to learn about real-life experiences, and that is why we talked to the Ecuadorian drummer, Zak Icaza, to learn about his recent experience.

Zak was born into a family of artists. His dad, who is a professional drummer as well, introduced him to the world of live music and performance since very young. Zak grew up performing with adults, playing many different events and styles of music. He later got accepted into a music degree at UDLA in the city of Quito, which then opened the doors for him to earn a scholarship and study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

After graduating Berklee with a Music Performance degree, he moved to New York City looking to play with all kinds of bands and to expand his music production knowledge. Then, some four months after he moved to the city, he got a job offer to work as a Hotel Musician which he accepted.

How did you learn about the job?

I was searching for jobs online when I got to New York City last year, and I found the opening with a company of professional musicians. They specialize in the Asian hotel market and will take you there to work.

Zak Icaza
Was there an audition?

Yes. It was all done online. First I sent my portfolio, and for the second round, the company made me record myself playing 20 previously selected songs. The music was all different styles and mostly top-40 repertoire.

When and how did you get offered the job?

I sent the application and heard from them almost three months later. I was about to go to Ecuador but decided to take the job and see what could come out of it. Also, they sent me an email explaining the contract, even rules, schedules, interaction with clients, clothing, etc.

Why did you take the offer?

I had never done anything like it, and I was eager to try it for the first time! It all felt intriguing to go and play music at a country I had never been before, with musicians I did not know.

How was the whole moving process?

I first arrived in Vietnam where the company has its housing and rehearsal rooms for the musicians. I would have a salary, and the company would cover housing and meal expenses. After Vietnam, the company can send you to eight different destinations across Asia: there are always two or three bands in each country. I went to Singapur for two weeks.

And work permits, visas, all helped out by the company?

Yes. However, in my experience, I felt that there are way too many factors that can make the process feel like a nightmare. The Visa factor is hard, I had problems in Singapur with the timing of my Visa, so I had to go back to Vietnam and wait for a month before the company could find me a spot to play. They still paid for my housing expenses.

What else did you do not like?

It is not that I did not like, but all those external factors made the experience, not the most pleasant. Many people give up the work, and many new people come in. It is a constant rotation that causes problems inside the assembled bands. Some musicians would just leave.

How is to work with the company as a Hotel Musician?

I could only work at the assigned Hotel. Not even the time that I was waiting for being reassigned, I could work outside with other people. I found my ways to do new projects and keep playing for that time.

How is it to work in a country and culture you did not know?

I really liked how people would appreciate us, musicians. They would love the fact of us coming there to play for them coming from New York City. The people were nice and I had a really good experience there.

Zak Icaza @ Berklee Caf
What happened later after you got reassigned?

After that month “stuck” in Vietnam at the company’s dorms, finally, I was reassigned to a hotel in the city of Doha, Qatar. It was a huge contrast for me since I arrived in Vietnam and later moved to the really expensive Qatar.

Did you enjoy Qatar?

It is small. I played in hotels, and most people that go to Qatar stay at hotels so most of the time there were people to fill in the rooms. It is mostly tourism, and the musical scenes develop inside the Hotels and restaurants.
I was living well: in a hotel, with good pay, and regular music performance. But, after some time, I noticed the experience did not fill me up as a young musician. I was playing six nights a week, four sets of music each night, and I would rehearse every day, but my energy and desire to know more world is more prominent than that. Towards the end of my time there I was ready to leave Qatar and fly back to Ecuador.

Overall, how was your experience?

I learned many new things that will help me guide my future. I learned how to go out and find the opportunities by myself because no one else will do it for me. I learned things about myself as a human. I learned that being a Hotel Musician is not an easy job and you have to sacrifice some freedoms for it. It is essential to ask yourself if you are that kind of musician.

Zak is now back in New York City while he prepares his move-out back to Ecuador. For him, his “mission” abroad has come to an end for now and is ready to go back home and take his talents and teachings with him.

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