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The Basic Rules of Etiquette for the First Time Karaoke Singer

Updated on January 5, 2013

Karaoke can be intimidating. It requires you to march up onto a stage and sing songs in front of inebriated strangers. That's a lot of pressure, but you've decided that the risk is worth the reward and you're going to do it. Congratulations! Karaoke can be a very fun and exciting, if not humbling, drunken fun activity. However, to make your experience the best it can be, there are some sacred and unspoken rules one should consider.


Song Selection:
When you came out tonight, you weren't expecting to actually go onstage and sing, but you grabbed a copy of the songlist book and thumbed through it haphazardly just to pass the time, and then you saw it; your all-time favorite song! Now the Gods of Rock demand that you belt it out with all your drunken heart! The problem is that your all-time favorite song is "Too Much Monkey Business" by Milli Vanilli, a bonus track off of their Europe-only debut album. Literally nobody else on Earth knows this song (...and it's your favorite? What is wrong with you?)
One of karaoke's biggest appeals is getting the audience pumped up and rooting for you. This is predominantly achieved by selecting more popular songs so that the crowd can sing along with you. Why do you think that almost every time you go out to a karaoke night somebody always sings Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'?" It's because everyone who ever grew up in the 80s, and everyone who ever watched The Sopranos, knows that song and drunk people hear that song and go f@#king wild!! Sing that song and you are instantly revered as their God.
Best practice: If you're at a relatively small bar and can therefore get 2 or more songs in on one night, start with the mega-hit song and then finish with your song that nobody knows or cares about. By then, they should all be too drunk to care anyway.

Singing Quality:
Simply put, the worse a person is at singing karaoke, the more entertaining they are to watch. It's always fun to watch a train-wreck in progress. It's called the "Lindsay Lohan Effect."
This is good news for the 85% of us that can't sing or can sing, but get stage fright (even after 6 beers.) The other 15% are a bit of a complication. See, if you're really good at singing you can make everyone in the room cry with your soulful rendition of Joy Enriquez' "How Can I Not Love You?" but you also run the risk of alienating yourself to all the other people who where hoping to go onstage after you. Who wants to follow the next Joy Enriquez? Especially when they know they sound more like Joy Behar when they sing.
Best practice: Sing for the fun of it. You are not on American Idol so you don't have to give it all. There is a slim-to-none chance that a record mogul is sitting in the back of a dingy dive bar in Nowhere, TX waiting to discover the next big talent.

Song Forms:
I just want to briefly touch on this. Do not submit more than one singing request form at a time. You are most deserving of a kick in the groin region if you try to get more than one song at a time. That's lower than cutting in line at Disneyland when the cancer kids are visiting.

Stage Presence:
This is more of a helpful tip than a guideline, but when you're on stage, help yourself make the moment a memorable one by living in it. Move around and act like a bonafide rock star! The audience will respond favorably and may even buy you drinks. I've even heard that the best showmen bring home a few groupies a night. So live la vida loca while you're up there! If nothing else, it will distract everyone from the garbage-disposal-at-full-power that is your voice.
Hey, I'm just keeping your ego in check. No offense intended, buddy.

Respect the Karaoke DJ:
This one is important, yet needs to be stated because when you're drunk you don't often think about these kinds of things. This guy calls the shots and being respectful to him/her can mean the difference between a great night of crazy karaoke and a disheartening singing nightmare. First, the equipment. Do not drop the mic when you finish your song to achieve some desired effect. Let your funky fresh version of Bel Biv Devoe's "Poison" stand on it's own merits without some dramatic finishing move. Do not twirl the mic (if it's corded) either. You could seriously put someone's eye out with that thing, young man.
Next, do not harass the DJ. Asking him, "Am I next?" twenty times will not make you next faster. If anything, the DJ will "accidentally" put your song request form in his mouth and "accidentally" chew it up into a wad of wet wood pulp and swallow it. Accidentally, of course.

Conclusion:
Do not read this article and think that karaoke nights are stressful and full of rigid laws that, if broken, will result in your arrest by the Fun Police. They are merely guidelines. Simple guidelines meant to increase the thrill of your experience and the experience of the other bar patrons (and the DJ). So enjoy the evening, young karaoker (karaokier? karaokist?) and I wish you a lifetime full of filling up on booze, stumbling up on a stage, and singing like a damn rock star in front of equally intoxicated strangers!
On a personal note: Choosing a song that's popular is the unwritten rule, as I stated earlier, but, ultimately, who cares? Choose whatever song you really want to sing. I opened up my karaoke experience with the greatest rock band ever, Rise Against's "Prayer of the Refugee," and only 2 or 3 people in attendance knew it, but I completely let loose singing that song onstage and it was one of the finest moments of my life, even though I sounded awful. My apologies to everyone in the bar that night, and to Tim McIllrath and the rest of Rise Against for butchering their song. (But hey, if a bar is going to have Rise Against on their karaoke songlist, I am going to sing it (poorly) every single time.)

Sometimes, rules are meant to be broken.



Seriously, this band can, and will, rock your nards off.
Seriously, this band can, and will, rock your nards off.

As far as first published articles go, what did you think?

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Comments, Thoughts, Opinions and Shenanigans

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    • profile image

      DUBLG 3 years ago

      I have been hosting karaoke at the same bar for 7 years 4 nights a week. I am TIRED of hearing Journey. Please pick a new song.

    • Andy McGuire profile image
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      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      *takes a bow* Thank you thank you

    • jravity1 profile image

      jravity1 4 years ago from bellevue, MI

      The Lindsay Lohan Effect. I almost fell out of my chair.

    • Andy McGuire profile image
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      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      In another article lies the link to my karaoke debut. I won't say which article, but if you find it, God help you. It's awful.

    • freecampingaussie profile image

      freecampingaussie 4 years ago from Southern Spain

      Thanks for a laugh ! We had a party recently & it was entertaining - bit of agony listening to the ones brave enough to give it a go ! Voting you up .

    • Andy McGuire profile image
      Author

      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Yeah, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Though I still sound like the singing equivalent of a dying rhino.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      I have done karaoke at a number of bars here in Oregon. I usually pick ballads, my age I guess. It is always nerve wracking but fun.

    • Andy McGuire profile image
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      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Well, I wouldn't say......yes. Yes I am.

    • Katrin Njalsson profile image

      Katrin Njalsson 4 years ago from Seattle, Washington

      Hillbilly bars in WA huh? What you're too good for us now? :P

    • Andy McGuire profile image
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      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Haha, banished by your own friends? That's brutal.

      Hell yes people still karaoke! It's huge here in SoCal, and even the small hillbilly towns in WA have bars that do karaoke nights.

      I highly recommend going again and if you ever visit Los Angeles, let me know and we'll karaoke till we puke! Or quit, whichever comes first.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 4 years ago from Canada

      The girls didn't want me singing with them anymore. Having a little too much fun, and not paying attention (some folks take their karaoke seriously). Not banned, just got the 'hook' haha. But there were lighter moments, good entertainment for sure. Do people still karaoke? I've not been to a bar in years.

    • Andy McGuire profile image
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      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Banned? How did you swing that?

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 4 years ago from Canada

      Andy, You are brave. I actually got banished (sort of) from karaokeing, but that was a long time ago and I'm so over it. Enjoyed your story. Regards, snakeslane

    • kaiulani76 profile image

      kaiulani76 4 years ago

      ...and that would be why if i karaoke i do it at home!!!

    • Andy McGuire profile image
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      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thanks Nell, I appreciate the comments. The first time I did it I was fairly drunk too, not hammered or anything, I remember the night and more importanly, I remembered the lyrics, but sober I was not.

      After hearing how bad I was, instead of avoiding karaoke forever, I became an addict of sorts. I'd do it far more often if my friends were more into it.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Yes don't put his eye out with the mic! lol! I have sung, well sort of sung, it was more of a banal type of wailing, mind you I was drunk at the time! I did it once and never again! It was supposed to be one of madonnas songs, life is a mystery and so on.... it sounded more like the cat had caught its tail in the washing machine! and yes I did fall of the stage afterwards, and no it wasn't the drink, it was the high heel shoes...honest! lol! really funny stuff Andy, voted up!

    • Andy McGuire profile image
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      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Oh yes, I hope I was able to fully convey that the main point is to have fun.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      The Lindsay Lohan Effect, oh my I hope I don't have that. I like karaoke and don't care what I sound like as long as I'm having fun. Excellent hub!

    • Andy McGuire profile image
      Author

      Andy McGuire 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Mamamantis- Thank you very much!

      KikiCollins- An excellent point!! Yes, tip those poor unfortunate souls whose eardrums are no doubt fried.

    • profile image

      KikiCollins 4 years ago

      An addendum to your last point- Respect AND TIP the bartenders. They have to listen to your awful singing, week after week after week, and they have to do it dead sober.

    • profile image

      mamamantis 4 years ago

      Nearly fell off my chair laughing! Hope to hear more from Mr McGuire!