It Needs to Be Said: Karaoke Etiquette

Good morning, everyone.  I hope your weekends went well.  Vagina Monologues had an EPIC opening weekend:  both shows sold out!  Whoo hoo!  We had an awesome send off for a good friend of ours, Dave.  Cupcake Skull Cake and all!


Speaking of karaoke bars, I noticed over the weekend that there is a surmounting need to share tips and etiquette on how to conduct one self while out drinking, hanging out with friends, and participating in karaoke at area bars.  Karaoke has been around for years but it has really been picking up in popularity.  Problem is, a lot of people aren’t really educated in how to act.  I have been to several karaoke shows since turning 21 and I have seen respectable people be reduced to pouting, screaming three year old children when it comes to going out.  No really, it is THAT sad.

So I spoke with a few people who are experienced with karaoke and they have given me a few cardinal rules on karaoke etiquette.

  • Save the boo’s for another day.  It takes a lot of courage to get up and sing in front of a crowd, no matter how many times you have done it.  Even if the person is tone deaf and is butchering a song, be the bigger person and save your boo’s for another day.  If you can’t handle it, go outside or to the bathroom.
  • One song at a time.  There are still a few karaoke companies out there that use slips for song submissions.  Other ones use sign up sheets.  Rule of thumb when you are working with a sign up sheet: sign up for your song, sing it, and then sign up for another one after you are done singing.  If you go up and sign up for two, three, four songs in a row, it throws the KJ off and then other singers may accidentally be dropped because of trying to rebalance the rotation.
  • Know the rules of the bar.  Some bars will let you get up on the tables and the bar and sing like you’re in Coyote Ugly.  Others will have you thrown out.  If you feel like it’s a little too daring, chance’s are it is.  Don’t do it.
  • Best time to talk to the KJ is while someone is singing.  It may not look like a lot of work from the spectator’s point of view, but it is an intense 30 seconds of work going on between singers.  The KJ has to load up the next song, keep up with the rotation of singers, and load up the song/music video that is playing between singers.  Otherwise there is dead air and that’s no fun.  If you really have a burning question or just want to be sociable, you will have a whole 3 to 5 minutes to talk to the KJ after the next singer has begun their song.
  • The KJ is not skipping you on purpose.  I broke this rule before TRY and I even really met.  I walked up to him and said “You skipped me on purpose because you hate Adele.”  He later replied “I don’t care what you sing.  Truth is, I don’t even really hear the music anymore if it’s something I dislike.  But I never skip people on purpose.  I am not perfect.  I try to keep up with the list as much as possible but if you have gone outside, to the bathroom, or you weren’t listening and missed you name, then yeah, I have to skip over you so the next singer can go up.”  If you show up later on and think you might have been skipped, the best way to go about it is by simply asking if maybe you missed your name being called.  Don’t go up to the sound booth in a huffy mood and accuse the KJ of skipping you.  It’s not becoming.  I stand corrected on this one myself.  If you are nice about it, the KJ will work with you and make sure you end back up in the rotation.
  • Check out the name and song of the singer before you so you know when you will be called up.  Taking forever to get up to the stage after your name is called may only seem like a minute for you, but for other singers, that means they won’t be able to sing at all that night.  The bar and show has a law-enforced cut off time.  Once the bar closes, anyone left on the list will have to wait until the next week.  The bar cannot stay open longer than permitted by the state.
  • Tip!  It’s understandable that you need to tip your bar staff.  They work hard for you all night.  You are their customers.  The KJ works for the bar and offers a “free” service to you the audience.  Sometimes we forget that the KJ works for tips, as well.  Many nights this can mean getting gas in their car so they can get to the next show for the week.  I am not saying you have to tip BIG, but what I do encourage is that every once in a while, drop a dollar in to show your appreciation for the hard work the KJ is doing.  And the more you tip, the better they will make you sound.
  • Say please and thank you.  This one is so simple but it is rare that I hear people say it.
  • Don’t be a rock star.  And by that I mean handle the mike and the equipment with care.  You can jump around, entertain the crowd and get everyone into it, but if you drop the mike at the end of your song as has become customary in a lot of music videos, you better be prepared to pay for it.  A corded mike costs the company $150.  A cordless comes in at $750.  Roger Daltrey can swing has mike all he wants because the guy is a millionaire; he can afford to go through a microphone a night.  Can you?
  • You’re not going to get “discovered” singing karaoke so just have fun.  Last Saturday was a prime example.  One guy came in and sat around for three hours, never signing up for a song.  At the end of the night, fueled by a little too many drinks, he took it upon himself to harass the KJ while he was singing the final song of the night (by the way, don’t bug the singers while they are on stage).  “I have to sing!  I need to sing,”  he said.  Well, as I have said before the bar has to shut down at a certain time.  The KJ told him the facts and the guy flipped out, threw his drink at the wall, and stomped out, leaving everyone feeling really uncomfortable.  Because he couldn’t just shrug it off, reason with himself that there will be other nights to sing, not only did he ruin his good time, but he ruined everyone else’s good time.  You don’t get to sing tonight?  Don’t be a diva.  Get over it.  Have fun!  There is always next week.
  • Just because it’s on the radio doesn’t mean that karaoke is going to magically have it the day of.  It takes time to create a karaoke track.  The company has to hire a band, get the back up vocals in, master it correctly and then they put it out for the karaoke businesses to purchase.  To save money and time, most karaoke companies wait a while before they go and buy the new disks.  So it may take a while.  When in doubt, consult the karaoke book for the song you want.  If it’s not there yet, sing something else, and be patient.  That’s another thing.  Good karaoke companies keep their song books updated.  Don’t ask the KJ if the company has a song yet, consult the book.
  • Finally, get out of your comfort zone.  You might sound fabulous singing that signature song.  But if you sing it every single week, the regulars get bored and annoyed.  Save your signature song for maybe once a month and rotate in new songs that you have never tried before.  If you sound bad with it, choose to scrap it or work on it.  When you branch out like this, you will learn a lot about what your voice can do and also gain even more confidence than when you are just up there singing the same old song over and over and over and over again.

Karaoke is all about having a good time.  Keep it light, keep it awesome, and don’t forget to tip.


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