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"Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood" 
The Animals

 

Karaoke Etiquette 101

Although some may argue that 'Karaoke' is Japanese for "drunken and tone-deaf", the word actually means 'empty orchestra'. Those of us who have been bitten by the performance bug understand the habit-forming power a successful outing can have. Many regular singers form strong bonds of friendship among fellow karaoke enthusiasts, and audiences frequently request 'signature tunes' by their favorite singers. As far as hobbies and interests are concerned, karaoke singing can be a clean and wholesome activity suitable for all ages.

There are some unspoken rules of etiquette to follow if you want to become a karaoke regular. These are not written in stone, but they will be helpful to observe. As with any other creative or performance outlet, feelings can be bruised very easily through harsh criticism. Karaoke performances are going to run the entire gamut from near-professional to tone-deaf. As a singer and audience member, you have an obligation to support those who may not feel supported.

1. Remember your first time. If a brand-new singer struggles through their first song, resist the temptation to ridicule or otherwise disrupt their performance. Polite applause is most appropriate, as well as an invitation to join your group. If you feel comfortable offering advice, do it privately and with considerable tact. Don't overwhelm a new singer with a hundred nuggets of sage wisdom- keep it simple. If their volume was a major problem, address that first. Suggest ways of positioning the microphone to best suit their singing style. Quiet singers may need to hold the microphone closer, or increase their singing volume. Those who threaten to overpower the microphone should be shown the proper way to back off. Most karaoke hosts will do their best to mix a singer's voice up or down to match their volume level, but sometimes this just isn't enough. Once you've addressed one major difficulty with his or her performance, leave any more advice off the table until the next song. No one wants to be barraged with a laundry list of perceived faults. After a few songs have gone by, compliment the singer on whatever improvements have been made and then address any new issues. Also, practice what you preach and avoid the same performance traps yourself.

2. Rotations and 'Host Relations'. This is a hobby for you, but a livelihood for the host. Respect their efforts by keeping complaints to a minimum. Be polite when inquiring about rotations and schedules.

3. "HEY! That's My song!" The position we hold at Dog & Pony Sound is that no one "owns" a song. Songs are meant to be sung and karaoke is meant to be fun! We have had situations where someone has yelled "Hey! That's my song!"...and to make a point of our position, we have had impromptu 'contests' where, over the course of the evening, 5 volunteers sing the same song and the crowd gives a fun and informal 'vote' at the end of the evening.

This being said, some singers have 'signature tunes' -songs that audiences have come to expect from them. Sometimes new performers will select one of these songs, which may bother the regular performer in the extreme. This situation becomes especially troublesome if the regular singer was scheduled to perform that song next. If you are in that situation as a regular, you could have an alternative song ready to replace the first one. Be courteous. You can always do the original song later. In the same vein, it is never a good idea to deliberately perform someone else's signature song just for the sake of causing strife. Some singers, especially those with limited repertoires, can be hurt very badly by such poor sportsmanship.

4. "I brought my entire family to hear you do that song." For many regular singers, the audience determines hits and misses. Certain songs become synonymous with certain performers, and the audience looks forward to hearing those songs every week. While that may appear flattering, the accompanying peer pressure might be a difficult situation for the singer. Karaoke singers like to be experimental at times, and the temptation to try a new song or two is always there. But the audience may have other ideas, and are more than willing to share these ideas with you. It can be very difficult to reject a heartfelt request for a song, but you may have no other choice. Try to be as tactful as possible when handling audience requests, but don't allow pressure tactics to affect your song selections. Thank the audience members for their support and explain that sometimes a singer enjoys performing new material. Hopefully, the audience will understand and support your new efforts.

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