My first karaoke experience was many years ago near Tokyo, Japan, where I spent an undergraduate year, studying at International Christian University (which was international, but not very Christian...) in Mitaka (about 30 minutes from central Tokyo by train).
This was karaoke in a local establishment, think dive bar, but not very dive-y. Not one of the private karaoke rooms that you’d find anywhere today. If you were gonna sing, you had to do it as the locals did--in front of other locals. As I recall, the English song choices were extremely limited, perhaps two or three Beatles songs. (Eventually, we were able to learn a few Japanese songs, from popular soap operas or children’s songs from My Neighbor Totoro, but that came later.) Yesterday was our go-to song. The problem was that the video that played over the song was one of a half-naked woman washing herself in the bath. I guess we didn’t need to worry that the locals were looking at us…
Despite those suboptimal beginnings, I was hooked! Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ll never be a professional singer, but the energy of the crowd is addicting. After coming back to the US, I went to as many karaoke nights as I could. (Note: This wasn’t many, ass most of my friends were not into it and my husband can’t ever seem to remember that I enjoy it.) There is a small but hardy band in the publishing space that enjoys karaoke, so most of my really fun nights have been with them, including Live Band Karaoke in Chicago which is pretty much the pinnacle of the game (your songs are limited by what the band can play, but having that band behind you to riff off is so worth it!).
Many folks have told me that they don’t like to (or would never) go to karaoke because they don’t want to sing. Never fear, I tell them, you won’t be able to pry the microphone out of my hands! No, I’m not a rude mic hog, I promise! I love to watch others sing. I’m not gonna force anyone to join in; however, some of the biggest karaoke enthusiasts I know started out hesitant, just sayin’...
Because publishing (and library) conferences ramble from town to town, I’ve never had that advantage of being a local, a regular. As things go, the locals get preference. The karaoke deejay knows them, knows how well they work the crowd, knows who will bring the energy level up. It just makes sense--you want to have a fun night for everyone, right? That means that you’ve got an uphill battle as an interloper. So, I wanted to offer my advice on how to get yourself into the rotation, so that a fun time can be had by all!
Step 1: Introduce yourself to the deejay. Ideally, you should do this before the festivities kick off. Things are less hectic then. Don’t just be a name on the list. Smile. Get the name of the deejay and remember it. Let them know that you are there to have fun. This way, when your name comes up, you are somewhat known (and known as respectful). You are less likely to get bumped down the list in favor of a local. (I’m still Facebook friends with two deejays years later, one in DC and one in Dallas. Be prepared, in the event that you come back to town.)
Step 2: Meet other singers. It should be clear in relatively short order who the regulars are. After a round of singing, introduce yourself to them. Complement them on their song choice, their voice, their style. Once you’ve put some names and facts with faces, it will be more fun watching them sing again (and they will). It’s more interesting to watch new friends enjoying themselves than a long line up of strangers.
Step 3: See if someone will sing with you. There are lots of great songs that function well as duets or group songs. Joining in with the locals will give you a chance to sing more--and cement relationships with your new friends! If you play your cards right, you can even get some back up dancers!
Hopefully, these tips will help you gain visibility at a karaoke night near (or far) from you. I’ve already mentioned that I’d never pressure anyone to sing, but I would encourage anyone to consider participating. The karaoke crowd is a very welcoming crowd. Support and encouragement abound! If you struggle as a singer, they are likely to clap even louder for you. Now, all bets are off with your own friends. They may well be jerks (in which case, get nicer friends!). This is one reason why I push for karaoke bar rather than karaoke box--you want folks there that you don’t know. That’s the thrill of it! If you aren’t sure about song choice, ask some folks for advice. If you’re not sure you are ready to go it alone, then ask a friend or a group of friends to join you onstage. Abba songs (Waterloo or Dancing Queen) can be great starter songs, as can songs where the whole crowd joins in (Sweet Caroline). You never know. You might find that you like it--just don’t try to take my mic away!