How to Get Your Song to Jump the Queue at Karaoke Without Bribery
Karaoke can be a dangerous endeavor. What can you sing that won't make friends shun you? How can you go balls-out during your next performance? Each week in "Ask a Karaoke Host," RFT Music writer and professional karaoke host Allison Babka answers your burning questions about maximizing your melodious mutterings and minimizing your friends' pain. Ask her stuff by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.
Illustration by Mike Gorman
Are there karaoke songs that you, as a host, are dying to hear people do, but people never sing them because they're too busy doing duets of "Picture" or other terrible things? - Tommy from the Dock
I'm so glad you asked about awesome tunes, because I was starting to feel like a real bitch for putting the smackdown on people's dream songs last week. Karaoke singers are creatures of habit - there are exceptions, but they tend to sing a handful of well-worn songs week after week. I keep my fingers crossed, though, that someone occasionally will treat me to the following gems: "Laid" by James, "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger, "Somebody to Love" and "Under Pressure" by Queen (and David Bowie), "Drunken Lullabies" by Flogging Molly, "Magnificent Seven" by The Clash and "Supermassive Black Hole" by Muse. Bring that funk, and I'll totally high five you. Like, hard.
Why does it seem like karaoke DJs have trouble transitioning between songs? There is never a flow. Is it because of us singers? - I Wanna Dance with My Baby
Yep, it's your fault. I mean, really, a lot of the flow problems happen because you guys don't pay attention to what's going over well with the crowd. Think about it: unless you're purposely listening to one of those spaztastic radio stations that genre hop enough to give you migraines, isn't it jarring to go from a full-bar singalong of "Party Rock Anthem" to a guy doing "End of the Road" with a single tear trickling down his cheek? You force us karaoke DJs to stop the party with your stupid song selections, people.
But good DJs (ahem) have ways to mitigate that nonsense through music and videos between singers as well as inspired karaoke song slotting. Everyone has their own methods, but personally, I like to think of karaoke in genre sets, just like a multi-act concert might be. Before I start the show, I arrange my first hour's worth of in-between music and choose my own karaoke selections from that genre. Sometimes I announce this genre to the crowd ("I'm in the mood for '80s! Give me some Rick Springfield or Debbie Gibson, and I'll high-five you!"), and that often gets people thinking along those lines. As people bring their song requests to me, I arrange them according to submission time, tune speed, genre and other stuff. I note song similarities and start arranging the next hour's genre set around what's popular, periodically reassessing throughout the evening. But obviously, some individual song requests don't fit into any genre during the night, derailing my queue and forcing us into that jarring effect of disparate songs being too close together. I hate it just as much as my audience does, believe me.
My advice: ride the wave of whatever is motivating the clientele that evening or, better yet, be the first one up and set that night's trend yourself.