Karaoke: A time for the common man to embarrass himself in front of a large group of people, imprisoned in a panic attack by a 3 minute song and a microphone OR a time for the common man to get up, grip that mic like a rock star, and show everyone in the bar you are a certified fun time.
I love Karaoke. Am I biased because I [confirmed] have a delightful singing voice and love showing it off? Yes. But you could have the voice of a dying walrus and still get up and put on an immaculate show. Vocals have little to nothing to do with it.
When I was abroad in Rome, I did karaoke weekly for about 2 months straight. It may not be the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell recommends, but I’m somewhat of a karaoke savant, so I’d say my combined half hour or so on stage was more than enough. I brought down the house every night. People would come up to me after and tell me I was electric. When they saw my name come up on screen after “Up Next”, hoards of people would try to get in the front row. I don’t have a lot going for me, so I held on to this gift and ran with it.
Now that I’m in the real world, I’m looking to have fun on weekends. I always have karaoke in the back of my mind (itching to showcase my talent), but I never suggest it because I think so many people are scared of it. Well, have no more fear. Here is my guide on how to MURDER the karaoke stage.
Timing is Everything
Before you go up and do karaoke, you have to put your name in. It’s usually a first come, first serve deal, but you do NOT want to be first. The bar might not be full enough, you don’t know how the crowd is, everyone’s still pretty sober (including you), but you want to get up and do your favorite song before it gets taken, RESIST THIS URGE. It doesn’t matter if you’re singing the best song of all time, if it’s too early it won’t land. My rule of thumb, try to perform about an hour to 45 minutes before you plan on leaving the bar. This will get you and everyone else in prime drunken form AND give you time to talk to people after about how great your performance was.
Don’t Sing Great, Sing Good
This isn’t American Idol. There’s no talent agent in the crowd with a pen and a five year 20 million dollar record deal ready to go. And I can say with 100% certainty that NO ONE is going to remember that you have a nice voice for more than T Minus 20 minutes after you perform. You always see this one person get up who did chorus in high school and feels like they have to have their “big moment” on stage. This isn’t try outs for the spring musical, people just want to have fun. So even if you can sing “At Last” by Etta James and hit that “AND IIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEIIIIIIII WILL ALLLWAYSSS LOVEEEE YOUUUUUUUOUOUOU” perfectly, just don’t. I’m just trying to get drunk and have fun, not start crying to you singing Sam Smith like an angel.
Stage Presence Is Key
It’s not how good you sing, it’s how good you perform. There’s a huge difference. Listen to a Jimmy Buffett song. Does he have a good voice? NOPE. And he sells out stadiums TO THIS DAY. Why? He owns the stage. My guy’s always rocking a hawaiian shirt, probably hammered, just having a good time singing the easiest songs to learn the words to. Here’s a few good tricks to make it look like your owning the stage:
Unbutton your shirt one button. Maybe before you even start singing. The crowd’s gonna go “OW OW!” and get em riled up.
If you’ve got a tough part to sing coming up and you’re afraid you won’t hit it, put the mic out to the crowd. Example: “Whoooaaaaaa we’re halfway there” (hold out mic) “OOOO-OOOH! Living on a prayer!”. The crowd eats it up and if you’re at that last chorus and don’t think your voice is gonna make it through just let the crowd do their thing.
Close your eyes and move one hand. Hilarious move. All the best singers do it so when you get up to do it in karaoke, singing a fun happy hour song, it makes it even better. Adds passion. Just hitting that note doing an air-pull, easy way to look like you’re killing it (whether you are, or aren’t).
- Don’t be afraid to “Old School” it. Add a couple F-Bombs at your discretion to spice it up and get some laughs.
Use a Friend
Notice I said use a friend. Not “do it with a friend”. So many people do karaoke with friends because they’re scared. DON’T. Do it because it would be more fun. There’s nothing worse than two shy people on stage just staring at each other half-laughing half-singing awkwardly to a song they kind of know. HOWEVER, if you go up with a buddy to sing and you’re doing a duet, you’re going back to back, staring in each others’ eyes when it’s funny, it can make for a prime performance. My karaoke buddy abroad, Matt, was the perfect partner. He was comically taller than me, knew when to look at me, owned the crowd: it was pure chemistry. Take a look at this action shot and tell me we didn’t RUN that night.
Another good thing about having a teammate is that they’ll make sure you’re both in mint condish to get up and sing. When my karaoke partner and I saw our names come on screen we knew we had to get to the bar for our special ingredient. Our magic elixir. Our “Michael’s Secret Stuff”.
The Official Alcohol of Karaoke. Take a shot right before you get up (or if you don’t normally drink tequila, a few minutes before you get up. Might need to make peace with your stomach.) Then you’re ready to go and dominate the song you chose. Let’s hope you picked a good one, because that’s truly what it all comes down to.
It doesn’t matter how much charisma you have on stage, if you don’t pick the right song you could kill the mood of the entire bar. Let’s go over the quick Do’s and Don’ts when flipping through that book of available songs.
DO know the words already:
No one wants to watch you squint at the screen and try to follow along with the bouncing dot on top of the words. Pick a song you know all the words to and sing it like you’d jam out to it in your car with your best friends.
DON’T pick a song with musical breaks:
When you’re just standing up on stage waiting for more words to appear on screen and you don’t have an instrument in your hand…it’s weird. Make sure you don’t have a wicked long musical break or solo in your song. I love Baba O’Riley, but if I have to wait for that minute long intro before I can hear words come out of your mouth, I’m gonna be upset.
DO something fun and upbeat:
You want to get the people going. This take might upset people, but even performing a song like “Ignition” (one of my favorites) just doesn’t get the people AMPED. You sorta walk off stage and people want more slow jams. But this isn’t a mellow night, it’s karaoke night baby. You want people screaming the words, fist-pumping, mosh-pitting, having a coachella-esque time at the small local bar you’re doing this in.
DON’T pick a song with bad words
Yes, sometimes swear words can be off-putting…but I’m mostly talking about other words. Like, ya know, racial slurs. Just a rule of thumb, @ white people, DON’T PICK A SONG WITH THE N WORD IN IT. Everyone knows there’s a 95% chance the white people won’t say the word, but that 5% chance they will owns ALL the real estate in your head while they’re singing. Just play it safe! Don’t make anyone feel weird! Pick a white band like Dave Matthews or Zac Brown! The comedic pay-off of a little white girl singing Gold Digger by Kanye just isn’t worth the nerves it causes.
Me being the aux cord prodigy that I am, I have an arsenal of songs I could perform to absolute perfection. Some are easy classics, others a little more obscure, but all would get the people going. HOWEVER, most people aren’t as gifted as I, so, here’s a few guaranteed locks for a solid karaoke song no one can be disappointed by.
Arguably the best song ever.
Don’t Stop Believin’
Overplayed, but it’s a lob ball waiting to be grand slammed.
Living On a Prayer
RE: Pick a song everyone knows the words to.
90’s kids will lose their minds to this.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Once that key change hits, you’re in the jackpot.
If you’re feeling a little risky, here are some ones that take a little more chutzpah, but hit the marks and you’ve got yourself the karaoke act of the night.
A Thousand Miles
Doing the Terry Crews at the violins is a must.
You Belong With Me
If you’re trying to get the ladies to remember you, this is your golden ticket.
Big call and response. You don’t just sing this song, you OWN it.
There you have it. If I missed your go-to song or a secret performance trick you use, let me know.
See ya on the stage.