Friday, March 14, 2008

Karaoke Tips from a "Semi-Pro"

Hi All - It's been a while since I blogged. I was in Hawaii, I didn't have anything interesting to say, etc. Anyway, last week I was in a bonafide karaoke competition. How did I get into said competition? Well, I sang enough songs one week that the staff at Nolan's (one of my favorite karaoke bars) voted me into the nightly finals. I sang vs. my friend Carl and another guy and the crowd voted me the winner. Go me! What I didn't realize at the time is that $25 and an info sheet for the finals I'd just qualified for would soon be thrust into my hands by a DJ named Biker George. "You've qualified for the finals! You will have to come back in February to sing against the other weekly winners. You could win $300." A) I'm super competitive. So much so, in fact, that it may be a problem...but I don't care! I unabashedly love to compete. The actual event is unimportant. B) $300 is awesome...and I compete better when there is money on the line. Thanks Dad, for genetically handing down to me the A Game/B Game genes.*

I was so excited...for a brief 12 hour period. When I got to work the next day and went to put the contest on my calendar, I was devastated to realize that it was to take place while I was in Hawaii. Granted, I was going to be in Hawaii so I wasn't crying myself to sleep over it...but still. Devastated.

Then, a reprieve. About a week before I left I got an email changing the date of the contest to March 5th...right after I was to return to DC! I was SO PUMPED. I publicized the hell out of my pending performance and last Wednesday I arrived to find 10 of my best friends waiting for me at the bar. It was awesome. I had strategized long and hard over my selections for the evening, and I was ready.

Unfortunately, though I had to check in for the contest at 10pm, it didn't start until midnight (on a Wednesday, no less), so I lost a lot of my crowd before the contest even began (read: we are old and have jobs). What filled that bleak, bleak 2 hr waiting period were the bleatings of random people who had signed up for karaoke. At that point, I realized that my strategy could really be helpful to anyone thinking of delving into the dark world of karaoke.

I don't care how well you sing, or how sure you are that you're going to ace "My Heart Will Go On." You are going to put the crowd to sleep immediately, and you're likely to get sarcastic slow claps at the end if you don't sing well. Seriously, the info sheet for the karaoke finals said in bold letters, "Do Not Sing Ballads." They're pros dude...they know of what they speak.

2) Pick Songs People Actually Know
Obscure songs are great for your iPod and for torturing your friends on long car trips...they are NOT good for karaoke. You want songs people can sing along to because A) it endears you to the crowd and B) if you stink at singing, the sounds of the crowd singing along will help to drown you out. There's a reason people sing "Livin' on a Prayer" at every karaoke night ever.

3) Switching Genders Is Risky Business
It is easier, as a girl, to find high male songs to sing than for guys to sing songs originally sung by women. I tend to sing songs by Journey because Steve Perry had a high fact, lots of 80's rock is sung by high-voiced guys making them decent marks for girls with no shame and questionable taste in music (aka: me). It's really the only material I've heard that facilitates gender switching. On the flipside, it is a rare, rare dude that can make Aretha Franklin songs sound halfway decent. I watched one of my guy friends maul a Toni Braxton song to death not long ago. Don't be that guy.

4) Know the Lyrics
Yeah yeah, there's a screen to show you the lyrics...but it's 100% easier if you already know them pretty well before you go up to sing. Take for example my first ever foray into the world of karaoke: I was hosting a karaoke night in college and since no one had signed up yet, I had to fill time by singing. I picked John Denver's "Country Roads." I quickly realized that I only knew the chorus, so I spent the verses mumbling. On myself. It was sad. Don't be that girl.

5) Know Your Audience
I sing at straight frat-boy type bars and at a gay bar in my neighborhood in which the average age of the clientèle is 45-55 years old. Guess which one loves my disco repertoire?

6) Don't Just Stand There
Your job is not just to stand there meekly with a microphone and squeak out a is to entertain. Whether you do that through actual singing ability or simply "going for it" while you're on stage doesn't matter. I've seen people sing reasonably well, but put no energy or charisma into it and get very lukewarm reactions from the crowd. I've also seen borderline tone-deaf people kick out some amazing jams through pure showmanship and stage presence. Act like you mean it and the crowd will love it.

So that's it. Those are my six tips to karaoke success. I followed these pretty faithfully in picking songs for the contest. I had to provide four to the judges, then sing one of my choice and one the judges got to choose. I ended up singing "Flashdance (What a Feelin')" by Irene Cara and "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey. I didn't end up walking out with that sweet, sweet $300 but I did feel as though I put in worthy, respectable performances...performances which make me comfortable in referring to myself from now on as a "semi-pro karaoke singer." The girl who won is trying to make it as an actual singer, which makes me glad she won. She was on a whole other level, and it would have been sad for her to be beaten by a semi-pro karaoke singer...regardless of my sick A game.

*My Dad was a HUGE golfer...a very competitive golfer. When he played for fun, he used his B game. Put money on the line though, and out came the A game. I watched many, many an opponent fall prey to the A game in my years as a tournament spectator.


At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I know who your near-tone-deaf but with charisma friend is!! Charisma does make up for a lot! :)


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