Sunday, July 18, 2010

Strategy For Winning Karaoke

A couple of times, I've written accounts of going out for karaoke, alluding to songs picked and subsequent success enjoyed. After doing it a few times, I'm beginning to think I have become experienced enough to make smart decisions that will lead to sure success. That's not to say that I make those decisions, but I will say that I can impart some of the Ben Franklin-style wisdom I've referred to in the past. There's really nothing especially surprising that goes into winning over the karaoke crowd, but that's not to say you don't have to work at it even when the audience is your friends.

The process begins well before you go. There is just no substitute for listening to music at every opportunity. I find I listen to certain songs more than the rest. These are the ones I- and you- ought to pick from. They're the ones you know by heart. You may not know the words verbatim, but you aren't surprised by any of them, and you know the song length, the placement of instrumentals, and the general manner in which to sing the song. Too many times have I settled on a song I liked and thought I knew, only to find I didn't know it so well at all. Don't pick songs you can't pull off. I regret it every time I do. It hurts to realize you have no capacity to sing your favorite song- the one which distills into a few minutes your entire understanding of life, love and everything- but don't ignore that realization.

Now, if I may say a word about how the prominence and popularity of songs should play into your selection: Don't pick the tried and true ones that everyone picks. Why bother with "Hotel California", "Bohemian Rapsody" or "Don't Stop Believin'"? Everyone has done those. Everyone knows them and loves them. That may sound great, but what it results in is the whole room horning in on your action. Better to pick a song they'll quickly learn to love, but that they don't know from the Roto-Rooter jingle. I pick fast songs like "Mississippi Queen" and slow songs like "Keep Me In Your Heart". I flatter myself into thinking also that they are songs right in my wheelhouse.

If you are going to sing multiple times during an evening, you must take into account your probably degrading singing ability. At the start of the evening, you've hopefully drank only enough to give you some liquid courage. Additionally, your vocal chords are fresh and undamaged. Both of those things are likely to change as the night goes on. The wise thing to do probably is to make your most ambitious selections earlier in the night, reserving your last opportunities for songs which you feel it's impossible for you to mess up. For me, that means the energy-intensive ones early, and the slow ones which it's acceptable to rasp one's way through later.

One last word on showmanship: as yet I have not been able to do any more than sing the songs. I grab the microphone, and sing into it while sticking my free hand into my right front pocket. This does not add any value to the performance. It makes me look like Art Garfunkel (a resemblance which I don't need to help along any). I suggest that if you have the wherewithal to, add some physical moves. People love them. The greatest reputations are built on by those who have the nerve to gyrate and thrust. Be prepared to get pigeonholed into that, though. Once you give people a little of that, they remember you and expect it again every time you come back, regardless of the song.

Now you've got a handle on the bulk of my understanding of what makes good karaoke. Go out and do it- the world needs your drunken music now more than ever. When you do, though, take one recommendation to heart if not any of my others: don't ever sing "My Way" by Frank Sinatra in the Philippines. DON'T DO IT.

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