First time karaoke advice
February 11, 2020 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm going out for karaoke with my coworkers! Yay! But I've never been. Do you have general advice on how to have a fun karaoke night?

Any advice appreciated!

What makes a song a good choice? Anything I should do or avoid doing?

Details in case it's relevant:

- I'm an alto
- I've always wanted to do this!
- The room is public (no booths), but relaxed and non-judgy, say my co-workers
- my co-workers are super fun. One of them is cheerfully terrible at singing. My male coworker even offered to sing "Let it go" with me if I wanted, since he properly surmised that I've been listening to a lot of Disney songs since getting kids. Also, apparently we go on stage in pairs "because we're all too chicken to go alone".
- my taste in music was formed by 80s radio stations and never outgrew that time. I'm the kind of person who likes Bon Jovi and Meat Loaf.
posted by Omnomnom to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Don't choose anything too long - regulars will get pissy. Don't choose anything too short or you'll feel like you didn't even get a chance to relax into the song.

Singalongs are always appreciated. My crowd would always totally shout along to Say It Ain't So. Depends on the age of the crowd. But if you want to show off your voice that's not the way to go.

Non-ballads are usually better if you're nervous, less voice wobblies. But if you can pull of Total Eclipse of the Heart you should.

All this to say, just pick something you'll enjoy singing. What do you sing in the shower? Unless it's something no one will know, pick that.
posted by wellred at 11:41 AM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sing Bon Jovi and Meat Loaf. They are perfect songs for karaoke. I find that songs that everyone knows, and maybe would cringe if they heard it on the radio, are great for karaoke. Boy band songs are good for that too.

Also, when in doubt Wonderwall, assuming that no one has sung that already.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:43 AM on February 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

Have fun. Don't judge--especially yourself--it's not a recital; it's not a concert; it's like darts at a bar: a diversion which is supposed to be fun for everyone. Shorter (3:30 to 4:30), less repetitive songs (that don't have a long instrumental break in the middle) that everyone loves the chorus to are more fun for everyone. When all else fails, smile, do a little dance, play a little air guitar.

I'm an alto (tenor, really), There's a lot of Blondie in my rotation. But the advice to just sing something you always like to sing along with is great.
posted by crush at 11:43 AM on February 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Quick interjection: What I like singing is, in the words of my 70 year old mother, "kind of boring". Like "Hallelujah", "The Rose" and "Follow Me". I think that would be a bit of a mood killer. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" would work.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:50 AM on February 11, 2020

Be aware of those long instrumental breaks. You never remember they're there until you're standing up in front of a room full of people trying to think of a little dance to do for thirty seconds.
posted by missrachael at 11:55 AM on February 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

Oh! And if there's more than one version of a song, make sure you know which one they're playing! I did Paper Moon one time and it was, I think, an Ella Fitzgerald version? With lots of scatting?! Oh god it was a disaster.
posted by missrachael at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Sing popular, happy, melodic songs that you actually know quite well.

Great to do crowd-pleasers- if the crowd can sing the chorus with you, they will love you!

Avoid songs with long instrumental breaks in the middle.

If you’re a great singer you can do anything. Technique will cover you for difficult melodies, tricky rhythmic cues, difficult high notes, or unfamiliar or sad songs.

But if you’re not a trained singer and not a seasoned performer, happy familiar songs will always be the best choice.

If a song got a radio release it’s better than something that was buried on an album. Any band’s biggest hit single is usually a decent choice.

Best to be sober or just a lil tipsy for your first outing... don’t overdo it, as drunk karaoke isn’t as charming. (Until later in the night, then go for it if that’s your thing!)

Number one piece of advice: PRACTICE!! I’m friends with many professional musical theatre artists who slay at karaoke. They all practice. I would choose a few songs and PRACTICE them at home - find the karaoke track on YouTube - and sing the whole thing, with the lyrics!

Smile! Dance! Be silly and joyful! Have fun!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:06 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, as long as you don't pick Bohemian Rhapsody you're all good. That's a private room song.
posted by Grither at 12:08 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

'80s music is notorious for long, repetitious bits near the end; watch out for those!

I personally think Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" is the best karaoke song.

If you want to sing something that makes use of your voice, I like Motown classics. Chain of Fools, Natural Woman, stuff like that.

Group numbers and singalongs are great, especially if you have a big crowd, giving more people a chance to sing more often.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:09 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hello. I was the lead game designer on a karaoke video game and I love karaoke so much. I have been to a zillion karaoke bars and karaoke booths and karaoke parties and I LIVE for karaoke. But I didn't start that way! Karaoke used to terrify me.

So the first thing that makes karaoke fun as a performer is just singing your heart out. The best way to be able to do that is to feel practiced. Make a playlist on Spotify of songs you like singing and play them in your car and sing along. Imagine yourself performing them in a bar. If it has a long instrumental and you're not prepared to play air guitar through it, don't choose it. Have some backups in case they don't have your song or someone else chooses your song!

Feel embarrassed practicing for karaoke? Don't be. The people who are the best at it practice all the time. Because they sing in the shower, they sing in the car, they sing while they make dinner... so you can and should do that too!

Because you need to pick a song you KNOW you know. Maybe the lyrics will jog your memory but you want to feel confident.

There are lots of classic crowd pleasers to choose but I wouldn't bother trying to guess what people want to hear. It varies so much on the mood of the people in the room and the flow of the evening. I have picked songs because they were such unexpected crowd pleasers in the past but they were total bombs the next time. That's because I was trying to please the crowd. You need to pick a song you just really REALLY want to sing.

So you say that some of the songs you like are "kind of boring". So instead, just think about songs you LIKE. Maybe not songs you love to belt it out to but songs you just really love to hear on the radio. Bon Jovi is GREAT for karaoke. Meat Loaf is NOT because his songs are very very long and they often have complicated interludes that require you either standing there like a nudnik or having to do very elaborate and embarrassing choreography.

There are basically two categories of song that are good for karaoke:

1) Upbeat songs with hooky choruses and not very long instrumentals/guitar solos
2) Sassy soulful ballads with a particularly good lyrical hook

You almost can't go wrong with option 1, even if you are a bit awkward people will still tap their feet. You can sort of bop through it and get your bearings and then try again once you are more comfortable.

Your first time is bound to be awkward and a little scary. You will feel weird and awkward hearing your voice through the mic. You will not have mic skills or know what to do with your awkward self during the intro and outro. You won't know how to end your performance when it's over and you will awkwardly hand the mic to the KJ. Just accept it. Getting through the awkwardness is normal and it's part of the fun! It's fun to be a little scared and live through it. :)

Option 2 has a lot of potential for glory, but can be extra awkward and uncomfortable if it doesn't work out. I would still practice some of those songs in the car, in case you feel bold!

The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you will get up there and not actually know the song. Or not be able to find the note. If that happens, you can do one of two things - you can ask someone to come up on stage and sing it with you (or perhaps a kind patron will just DO that if you look like you're drowning) OR you can just go for it, shout the lyrics into the microphone like you are at a spoken word open mic, and get high fives for it anyway.

People want you to have fun. They are not there to drag you! So you can't really lose!
posted by pazazygeek at 12:22 PM on February 11, 2020 [14 favorites]

You're going to have a blast! The last thing you want to do is overthink karaoke. Sing whatever the hell you want, the key is to do a song you know really well so you can have fun with it. It could be helpful to do a little test run in the shower, one time I had too much to drink and decided to do Heart's "These Dreams" and realized it was completely out of my register so I had to shriek it out like a banshee. But that's fun too right?

Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" is a real karaoke standby and people like it. And if you want to go up there solo don't let your coworkers hold you back! Have fun!
posted by cakelite at 12:35 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Others have most of the basics covered and I agree with all of them (short songs, no long instrumentals, make sure it's in your range, practice, pick songs you know really well) but another tip is don't follow the lyrics on screen.

Meaning, sometimes I see first time karaoke-ers up there lagging behind the music/beat because they are waiting for the lyrics to show up before they sing them. The best way to avoid this is to prioritize listening to the music/beat and hitting that over getting the words exactly right. This is part and parcel of choosing a song you know pretty well and don't need the lyrics in front of you - it's best if the lyrics jog your memory rather than fill in large blanks between the chorus.

Also some songs you think you know might have a weird bridge you've forgotten about, or the radio edit cut out parts you never knew existed. If that happens, don't worry about it. Have fun!
posted by misskaz at 12:46 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

All of the above advice is excellent. If you want to shake out your nerves/figure out the perfect song, basically every song is available as karaoke on YouTube if you want to try some out. Seeing how songs translate into karaoke-ness can help you choose your go-tos. Make sure to have a handful of options - you never know what the catalogue will have.
posted by thebots at 12:49 PM on February 11, 2020

Best answer: Oh yeah, mic skills! It should be horizontal, not vertical. Watch a performer who is a pro at karaoke and you'll see what I mean.
posted by Grither at 12:55 PM on February 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

You can probably check out the KJ/venue's available list beforehand, which is a good way for you to create a practice playlist. Also, most of them are pretty friendly and if you really want to do a song that falls victim to the 80's long repetitive fade-out, you can ask the KJ kindly to fade it early.

Be sure to put a little something in the tip jar. Clap enthusiastically for everyone. Set the mic down gently.
posted by crush at 1:00 PM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm also an alto and I find Sade to be a crowd pleaser without being something that's sung at least once a night every night. Practice! Listen to the song and sing along before you go. Have a few songs that you've done this with. It'll make you feel much more confident when you go up to sing.
posted by quince at 1:02 PM on February 11, 2020

I don't feel like I can add much more, but:

(a) Karaoke etiquette is not to repeat songs, so if someone gets to your choice first, find something else.
(b) Acting out the songs is a giant hit. People won't care so much about your voice if you make it entertaining to watch you (read "Turn Around, Bright Eyes" by Rob Sheffield for a delightful take on karaoke culture).
(c) Most people at karaoke aren't great singers either and will totally support you, regardless of how bad you are.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:30 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh! And if there's more than one version of a song, make sure you know which one they're playing!

2nd’ing this. My wife requested Fever many years ago, expecting it to be in the style of Peggy Lee, and wound up with a version of the Madonna cover. It was an awkward few minutes.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:42 PM on February 11, 2020

Great! Kareoke is awesome.

Don't freak if people sing along. I did Hank Williams Family Tradition one time in Texas, and five people joined me up on stage. It was great. That's the only time people got fired up enough to come on stage, but lots of people stand up and sing with me.

Some people are REALLY good. My local has one guy who could sing AND dance just like Michael Jackson. If you have to follow someone that talented, just roll with it.

Beware of the ending, if a song trails off or repeats be prepared for the DJ to end it after the last real bit. One time that didn't happen was when a friend and I sang Soul And Inspiration, forgetting that it ends with a minute of OOOOO, ooooooo, ooo ooo. Just about died from laughing so hard.
posted by BeeDo at 1:54 PM on February 11, 2020

Best answer: Make sure you know the verses and bridge of a song before you get onstage. It sucks to think you've got it and realize you only actually know the chorus...

Upbeat stuff is better!

Don't cup the mic

Don't scream into the mic

Pick something you've sung along to before, that's in your range

Cheesy, dramatic crowd-pleasers are better than tasteful and well-composed

Enthusiasm is better than talent

Be prepared for not being able to hear the backing track very well or for your singing partner to be totally off, which might throw you off in turn (those "Uptown Girl" key changes are a bitch if you can't hear the music)

Find out if you're expected to tip the KJ per song (some places do this, some don't)

If you pick a well-known song, generally the KJ can jump in to help you if you're floundering, especially if they know it's your first time and you're unsure of things

Usually there's a "key" option where you can ask to have the key shifted up or down to suit your voice (I never use this so I'm not sure if you need to know the actual original key/new key or if you can safely just ask to have it up or down a step)
posted by music for skeletons at 2:07 PM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

For song choice, I like hearing something just a bit unexpected: like a guy singing Angel of the Morning, or a lady singing Friends in Low Places. I've had a lot of fun singing songs unexpected for my visual gender, which for me is something like Reba.

One of my favorites is to do I'm So Vain:

I walk into the party
Like I was walking onto a yacht
My hats strategically dipped below one eye
My scarf it was apricot

Though if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Its Only Make Believe by Conway Twitty.
posted by BeeDo at 2:09 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Avoid something where the words go too fast. I totally lost it trying to keep up with John Denver’s ‘Thank god I’m a country boy’

My go-to song is Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. It’s the right length, people sing along, it’s not overdone, and two people can do silly choreography at the chorus.

It’s supposed to be a bit cheesy. Lean into that.
posted by thenormshow at 3:20 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Song/Artist suggestions for an alto:
Norah Jones - Don't Know Why is really easy to sing for me, and if you can do a reasonable approximation of her breathy voice, it can really wow the crowd
No Doubt - Don't Speak
Lisa Loeb - Stay
Bonnie Raitt - Something to Talk About - fun and upbeat song, the end is repetitive, I hand my mic back before it ends so the KJ can fade it out
Natalie Imbruglia - Torn
Britney Spears - don't laugh, her singing is not too technical which is great for casual singers. And you can lean heavily into the cheese factor :)
ABBA is also fun and easily recognizable
Earlier Madonna songs - Like a Prayer, Like a Virgin

As an alto, you will also be able to do a lot of songs done by men who sing high. So yeah don't be afraid to do Livin' on a Prayer, that is a crowd pleaser, too!
posted by tinydancer at 3:54 PM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do a song you know really well. You don't need to know the lyrics, but you should be ready for key changes, etc.
posted by jb at 7:08 PM on February 11, 2020

I used to be able to sing a lot better than I currently can, but I still like karaoke when I get the chance. Standard rules I have (but, uh, don't always follow):

Avoid quiet, ballady songs. You're in a room full of people wanting to have a good time. Go for something uptempo and catchy over moody and introspective (Friday I'm in Love, not Letters to Alice, for example). Only do a ballad if you can get as cheesy and super dramatic with it.

Avoid obscure, even if it's the best song in the world. People don't go to karaoke to learn new music.

Be cheesy and super dramatic.

Know the song you pick. There's nothing worse than someone on stage mumbling through the actual verse, then belting out the chorus.

Well, there is one thing that's worse. Know the lyrics to the song you're going to sing. Really, really avoid songs with slurs in them, because eww, that's terrible. Dire Straits' Money for Nothing, for example, or, say, In Da Club by 50 Cent at your really, really good friend's birthday party, when you didn't realize just how homophobic the lyrics are, and your friend is gay... (that was over ten years ago, and I still cringe, all I knew was the "It's your birthday" chorus)

As mentioned above, Wanted (Dead or Alive) is a peak karaoke song, and although I utterly and totally own that song, you have my permission to perform it if I'm not there, just make sure you have someone(s) to scream "WANTED" in the background. Gesture wildly. Pat your shoulder when you tell of the loaded six-string on your back. Fingers spread, palm down, slowly move your non-mic hand from one side of the room to the other at "I've seen a million faces", and immediately clench hand into a fist with a triumphant flourish into the air at "and I've ROCKED (pump fist) them all."

Similarly, Backstreet Boys (I want it that way, if you've got a partner, Backstreets Back, also a fine song)

Total Eclipse of the Heart is a fantastic song, go all cheesy with it, and have a partner equally into it.

Hold On, by Wilson Philips had a massive resurgence a couple years back. There's a solid chance the entire bar will sing along.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:14 PM on February 11, 2020

Seconding the long instrumental breaks awkwardness. I personally also try to stay away from a repetitive "ah ah ah"s and "la la la"s because they make me feel weird, but maybe you can pull them off.

I do a lot of karaoke and even as someone who is not half bad for an amateur, I think what matters most is a) matching the occasion/crowd and b) matching your voice. So no Sarah Brightman when you're an alto, and no sad ballads when people are trying to party. You're not trying to figure out how high you can go, you're trying to have fun and feel good about yourself.

Also, if you're going with people from work, you might want to look up any lyrics before you choose a song, in case you consider them inappropriate to sing in front of co-workers. Maybe you don't care, but I would not want to get into "Don't Stop Me Now" and belt out "I'm a sex machine" in front of my office mates.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 7:47 PM on February 11, 2020

"I will survive" is my favourite to kareoke, even if it's a little too high for me. And people love singing along.

"And now you're back / from outer space..."

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is long, but delightful - and a great number for a group (you can do different parts). "Leaving on a Jet Plane" is great for a belting alto.
posted by jb at 8:10 PM on February 11, 2020

Yeah, as long as you don't pick Bohemian Rhapsody you're all good. That's a private room song.

Respectfully disagree! We did Bohemian Rhapsody at a big kareoke and it went over wonderfully. It did help that my friend and I know all the verses well.
posted by jb at 8:13 PM on February 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you feel you can carry even half the notes in Total Eclipse of the Heart, and if you like it, being essentially a Meat Loaf song, after all, sing that song. It's aged well and karaoke people everywhere love it.

Short of that, sing something popular that you love.
posted by kensington314 at 9:11 PM on February 11, 2020

It sounds like you’re going with a good group, which is honestly the key to having fun.

Copacabana has one of those long instrumental breaks you’re being warned about, so my advice on that song is AVOID AVOID AVOID.

I like Cecelia by Simon & Garfunkel because it’s short so you’re in and you’re out.

Midnight Train to Georgia is fun with friends, I love being a Pip and working out spur of the moment coordinated dance moves. Runaround Sue is also fun with a group.
posted by slmorri at 9:18 PM on February 11, 2020

I’m an alto and I usually do Fleetwood Mac (Stevie Nicks) or Patsy Cline. I have also been known to do Total Eclipse of the Heart and You’ll Be Back from Hamilton (tenor songs are good for me).

The best Bohemian Rhapsody I ever saw at karaoke was my friend’s husband who totally cannot sing but he committed ONE HUNDRED PERCENT and the whole bar was yelling every lyric along with him.
posted by matildaben at 9:39 PM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

I used to get wrapped around the axle trying to pick a song from the list at the bar. I find it really hard to decide whether I know a song well enough to do it on stage while someone else is singing an entirely different song at the same time.

So, seconding the list idea. I made one playlist of songs for me and a second of duets for my wife and I, so I have a set of songs that I know I can do, even if I can't remember how it goes while someone's belting out "Total Eclipse..."
posted by chazlarson at 6:53 AM on February 12, 2020

Bust a Move by Young MC is the best karaoke song. It's short, fun, easy to sing, sounds good male or female, and has no long instrumental break. I strongly recommend it, even for us hacks!
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2020

Oh! And if there's more than one version of a song, make sure you know which one they're playing!


I was at a sober retreat a couple of years ago and karaoke night was their icebreaker. Someone requested "Downtown", expecting the old Petula Clark classic. The Macklemore song by that name is... very very different.
posted by hanov3r at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2020

Best answer: Lots of good advice in this thread already, so just a few extra notes:

1) On the subject of "Bohemian Rhapsody": I've noticed that it's a real divisive song. Some people think of it as the ultimate karaoke song (maybe because of its popularity, theatricality, and/or sing-a-long-ability) but others consider it a crime to pick for karaoke (maybe because of its length or difficulty to pull off). I lean more towards the latter, but I recognize that opinions differ considerably. Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" is, I think, similarly divisive; as is a certain Grease medley/mega-mix that shows up on a lot of karaoke song lists. However, I would suggest that absolutely no one should be picking Don McLean's "American Pie"; it's way, way too long and not nearly catchy enough for its length. For your own sanity, maybe stay away from anything over 5 minutes. It's a long time to be up on stage, especially for your first time.

2) If you're falling behind or missing some of the lyrics, your instinct might be to try to catch up by rapidly saying/singing the lyrics you missed. Don't worry about. Just drop the missing lyrics and pick the song back up mid-sentence. It's fine. This is especially the case for songs that start with essentially no intro (e.g.: Amy Winehouse's "Rehab"). You can just accept that you'll probably miss the first couple of words (or even the first line altogether) and just jump in whenever you can pick it up.

3) Rapping is not the same thing as singing. Before attempting any rap, make sure that you can, well, actually rap. There are way more words and they go by way faster than you might expect.
posted by mhum at 1:08 PM on February 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Disney songs are super fun for karaoke. “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid is great.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:24 PM on February 12, 2020

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