how to sing karaoke

I have a serious karaoke habit. Despite not being even a slightly talented singer, I routinely have fun at karaoke night. But whenever I bring friends to my favorite spot (Midtown Tavern in Atlanta, for my ATL peeps), there are always a few people who are terrified by the idea of singing up on stage in front of strangers. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are my seven rules for having fun at karaoke. 

1. Don’t try to be too cool.

Fuck your own musical taste, this is about the crowd. If you pick “All the Young Dudes” by Mott The Hoople (I actually did this once), you will get the smug satisfaction of knowing that you have excellent goddamn taste. But the exhibition of fine taste is not what karaoke is about. The problem with picking an obscure Husker Du b-side is that no one will sing along and that three minutes will drag on forever. Karaoke is about crowd participation. In fact, sometimes it pays off to pick the least cool song possible. I once saw two of the corniest dudes I’ve ever encountered in my life practically burn the place down with this one:

2. Don’t try to rap.

You’re not a rapper, you’re from the suburbs, and no you are not “keeping it real.” Not only will you not be able to keep up with the lyrics as they fly across the screen at 100 mph, but Biggie and Tupac rapped about personal shit. It’s not funny watching white college kids ruin “Regulate,” it’s just insulting. Stick to singing

This rule doesn’t apply if you have actual, proven rap skills. But in general, it’s best to avoid rap unless you know the entire song by heart. My boy Johnny Midnight (host of karaoke night at the aforementioned Midtown Tavern) regularly busts out an amazing version of “In da Wind” by Trick Daddy, including singing the hook exactly like Cee-Lo. Remember though, he’s been practicing it for years, and you probably haven’t.

3. Watch out for falsettos and high octaves (aka the Prince/Simon Le Bon Rule).

Songs with falsetto or high notes aren’t necessarily off-limits, but this is where a little bit of self-awareness comes in handy. (I know, I know, self awareness is not something you usually associate with karaoke, but hear me out.) Be honest with yourself. If you can’t sing the high notes, avoid picking songs by certain singers because they lose their appeal if you try to cheat and sing them an octave lower. And don’t even think of singing this one unless you can hit the whistle register:

4. Karaoke is not a team sport.

A lot of first-time karaoke singers fall for the trap of recruiting half a dozen other people to get up and sing with them. You would think blending in with the crowd would make it easier to shake off stage fright, but in the end you end up actually sounding worse. Singing a song is hard enough without trying to do it in unison with Allison’s entire drunken bachelorette party. The notable exception to this rule is for the classic male-female duets. These songs are so fucking charming that you’ll always have the crowd on your side.

5. Be a fan.

Don’t be a dick. Clap for the other singers and congratulate them. Even if they butcher the dumbest song in the world (will probably be “Baby Got Back”), give them a high-five. After all, you’re going to be up there yourself in a few minutes and you want allies.

6. Take a little anti-anxiety drug called alcohol.

NEVER be sober while singing karaoke. There is absolutely no benefit to this at all. In fact, I would guess that approximately 98% of all karaoke audience members fully expect you to be sloshed. The upside is that when if you suck, you can blame it on the eight gin & tonics you just drank.

7. Karaoke is about song selection, not vocal talent.

This is really the ultimate Golden Rule of Karaoke, so I put it last. A lot of karaoke noobs show up and think they have to be capable vocalists to get up on stage. Ain’t no one got time for that! The crowd wants to sing along with you. They want to hear songs they know. They want to laugh their asses off and they’re not really concerned with your ability to hold a C sharp. I can’t sing for shit but the crowd always go nuts when I sing this one because… who doesn’t fucking love this song?

Photo via Flickr.