Earlier this evening, I was requested to share my expertise in the field of karaoke singing. As an experienced karaoke singer (my first solo performance was when I was in fourth grade), there are a few tips that I can share so that you, too, can reach your karaoke-ing potential.
Tip #1: Know your range.
The number one mistake that the novice karaoke singer makes is choosing a song that is either too high/low for his or her voice. There are many good singers out there who see their hopes for success on the karaoke stage dashed when they choose a song that is out of their range and it is not well received by the audience. For example, I would never sing a song by Mariah - I'm an alto, and that's all there is to it. I try to stick with Lauryn Hill, etc.
Tip #2: What song should I sing?
For most typical karaoke bars, you are going to want a fun, upbeat, easy-to-sing-along-with song. Stay away from Celine. Even if you can sing "My Heart Will Go On" with perfect pitch, nobody wants to sit in a dark bar drinking Bud Light and smoking a cigarette while you croon away on stage.
Some songs that are always safe: "I Will Survive," "Piano Man," "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," and "Sail Away."
Tip #3: What genre of music is best?
Some genres lend themselves easily to karaoke: Old school rock & roll and country songs are usually the best. People are familiar with the songs and they are typically easy to sing along with. In general, stay away from rap and/or hard alternative.
Tip #4: Choose a song you know!
When you are choosing a song to sing, choose a song you know. I know that sounds crazy, but if you only know the chorus of a song, that probably isn't the best choice for you. You don't have to know every single word, but it is important to know the basic melody from beginning to end.
Tip #5: Strategies to signing up for songs.
The hardest part of going out to sing karaoke is waiting for your turn to sing. Most good karaoke DJ's will allow you to turn in multiple songs at a time and will just put them into rotation with the other singers. If you aren't sure what songs you are going to want to sing, at least try to have another slip of paper ready to hand to the DJ when you go up for your song so that when you are finished singing one song, you already have at least one in again.
(Note: Back in my hardcore karaoke addiction days, the DJ at my favorite karaoke bar actually had a little filing box and the "regulars" could just keep slips with their favorite songs in the box. That way, we could just pull out the song we wanted to sing instead of having to fill out a new slip each night we wanted to sing that particular song.)
Tip #6: Do I do a duet?
Duets are fine, but the rule of knowing the song you are going to sing applies here, too. Do not allow somebody to talk you into singing a duet if you don't know the song. It ends up just being painful for everyone involved, especially when it is a song that never ends like "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights."
Tip #7: How to correctly position the microphone.
Seems like it would be obvious, but the whole point of karaoke-ing is having the audience hear you. First of all, don't leave it in the stand. It is vital to hold the microphone very close to your mouth. Hold that mic like Paris Hilton auditioning for Deep Throat 16.
Tip #8: Make use of the instrumental breaks.
Nobody wants to feel like a dumbass just standing on stage during the song's instrumental break. While "Free Bird" may give you enough time to go up to the bar, get another beer, sign up for your next song, smoke a cigarette, and try to pick up that hot guy/girl who just asked you to sing a duet, most songs will not. Carry your drink or cigarette on stage with you so that you have something you keep you busy during the break.
Another option that is always a winner with the crowd at the bar is if you are willing to break out a few dance moves (think Napoleon Dynamite) up on stage. Don't take yourself too seriously. Get up there and have fun. Realize that there is no agent out in the audience waiting to discover new talent. Whether it is some classic disco dancing or the Running Man, it takes the pressure off you to have perfect vocals and keeps you from standing on stage like a deer in the headlights.
Tip #9: Correct timing of songs.
Some songs that are always crowd favorites need to wait until the crowd is sufficiently lubricated with alcohol to truly appreciate the humor in them. For example, "I Touch Myself" and "Piece of Shit Car" are usually best reserved for the last hour and a half or so that the bar is open. I usually only sing my trademark song, "The Pussycat Song," as one of the final few songs of the night, when only the real drinkers are still around the bar.
Tip #10: Sing like you're singing in the shower.
If you are going to get up on stage and sing some karaoke, you gotta be willing to go for it. Sing like you've never sung before! There is nothing worse than a meek karaoke singer. Then, when you're walking back to your bar stool, soak in the compliments from your friends and random strangers who are all thoroughly impressed with your mad karaoke skills.