With over 15 years of private, weekly vocal instruction under my belt you’d think that karaoke would be a breeze in the park.
Not so. I used to get sweaty palms, shaky voice, and worse…shaky mouth singing karaoke. It was a recipe for keeping the fact that I sing completely unknown to all of my normal, non-singing friends. It was terrible and a source of embarrassment.
(This sounds like a bad advertisement, I realize. But it’s true!)
See, the problem with being a “good singer” is that you can’t play the “bad karaoke singer” role. You have to nail it, and be kind of awesome in the meantime – in that unassuming kind of way. Otherwise…people just shift around uncomfortably in their seats. Eyes dart from side to side. And worst..you get comments like, “No, that was really good” from the non-musicians at your table. Ugh. And you’re left saying things like, “Well, if you’d just heard me in church the other day….” And they’ve already tuned you out.
So here’s are my 7 Secrets to Killer Karaoke Performances:
1. Find a friend with a Magic Mic. Magic Mics are these microphones that are really popular in Asia – the land where everyone sings karaoke all the time [cue jazz hands]. One Magic Mic comes with a chip with thousands of songs. With the good ones you can change the tempo and the key of the song and it will even rate you on your ability to sing the song like the recording. Just plug it into your TV, grab a friend and maybe a glass of wine, and start flipping through and singing your favorite tunes. Pretty soon you’ll have a great idea of which songs you actually should never choose as your show-stopping karaoke song. And, you’ll also quickly discover which songs you sound surprisingly good singing.
2. Consider your vocal range. As a soprano, it’s a total pop-culture buzz kill that like EVERY SONG is written for mid-range voices. I shine in the upper regions of the voice. I easily sound like a mangled cat in the danger zone of hitting ornamentals between A and E. I don’t belt like all those popular American Idol kiddies. So finding a song that sits comfortably in the range of your voice that twinkles best is key. Key to have the right key. Otherwise, even if you have the most amazing voice in the world, all of your friends will never know. And then they’ll all rave about the other friend they have who is an amaaaazing singer. Which we all know is really kind of annoying. When you want them to be raving about you!
3. Make it your own. To a certain extent, when people hear a remake, they want the essence of the song they know and love. But don’t try to growl like Dave Matthews, or sass it up like Beyonce if you can’t or don’t naturally sound that way. Just make it your own, keeping it soft where you feel soft, making it stronger where you feel it wanting to be stronger. Don’t whine like Jewel unless the song really calls for it, or if you’re really feeling it.
4. Know the verses and the trick spots. There is nothing worse…ok, well yes, there are worse things…but standing in front of a crowded room full of drinking people, putting on a slow song or a song that changes the tempo of the night and knowing that you’ll rock out on the chorus and then realizing you have NO CLUE how the verse goes….well…that’s awkward. Like, not knowing how to end Queen’s “Somebody to Love” or how to start Mariah Carey’s “Love Takes Time” And it’s uncomfortable when the original version has a wicked cool riff that you really can’t do – so know what you’ll do to fill that time that is uniquely yours. Avoid the awkward moments. Stick with what you know or the karaoke DJ might just take your next request out of the bucket.
5. Consider what the room needs that night. Maybe you sense that there are some lovelorn people needing a little time to wallow in their melancholy. Maybe you sense they need to rock out a little more. Maybe you think they need to stop being so self-consumed and start paying attention to YOU. Don’t let this rule your song choice, but take it into consideration. When you can nail the sweet spot between what the vibe of the room wants and a song you hit perfectly, that’s a great moment.
6. Don’t take yourself too seriously. I realize this is a post about how to dodge the discomfort of karaoke singing. The irony not lost on me. But if you’re classically trained, or prone to getting nervous at things like this, or you generally just take yourself way too seriously, use karaoke as a place to embrace your inner M.C. Get up on the stage, grab the mic, give a shoutout to the people in the bar, laugh at yourself, smile at the karaoke DJ, and shake around a little bit. Especially if you’re iffy on your song-choice, stage presence is key. Otherwise, get ready for the awkward compliments from people. Awwwkward.
7. Enjoy yourself. You might be the unlikely star of the evening, especially if you rejoin your friends feeling comfortable, calm, and more like your bright, happy self. You never know what you stepping up and singing a song might bring to someone else’s life. Try to find that moment where you’re really one with the song. If people are drinking to numb their pain, your song might just do the trick instead. Open them up to their feelings through song instead of substance. Have fun with it. And then sit down and let someone else have their moment.
My now go-to karaoke songs are:
– Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” (an unlikely find, thanks to Magic Mic!)
– Jewel’s “Foolish Games”
– Queen’s “Somebody to Love” (still haven’t figured out the ending, though…)
What are yours? Have any epic clips? Post them here.