How to Nail a Karaoke Song

So your friends have been bugging you to get up there and sing your heart out in front of a bunch of tipsy strangers. Read this article and you will have a fighting chance to nail it, or at least not be booed off the stage!

First, dress nicely and look appealing. You want the audience on your side, and it helps to have a decent appearance, after all, these folks have likely never seen you before. You will feel more confident if you look and dress the part. Stand up straight and act confident, even if you are not.

Arrive early at the club to sign up and check things out. Is it crowded? How is the mood of the audience? The stage? Any technical problems you should be aware of, like bad lighting or a poor sound system? Next, sign up and pick a song with which you are very familiar. One that you like to sing in the shower, or driving in your car. Something that is not too difficult, unless you are a more experienced singer.

Song choice is extremely important. It’s helpful to have a roster of a few songs you are very comfortable with, rather than starting off cold with a new song every time. It does get easier and easier, I promise.

Try to get on as soon as possible. Sitting there waiting won’t help your nerves, and it will feel good to be done singing especially if it’s a noisy and crowded. On the other hand, you don’t want to be first, that’s a tough spot unless you are a seasoned performer.

Do not drink more than one drink. One can help you relax, but if you’re drunk that may screw up your performance, and you don’t want that.

When your name is called, get up to the stage quickly and start by greeting the crowd and smiling. Note how professional performers go on and off stage, with a big smile and loud, “hello, how are you doing tonight?” That gets the crowd on your side and ready to have a good time with you.

As you perform, smile and act confident, even if you are a bundle of nerves inside. No one can tell unless you tell them, and the audience wants you to succeed.

If you stumble on the words or mess up, just try to catch up as smoothly as you can. Don’t stop to apologize mid-song, the audience doesn’t care, and likely didn’t even notice it as much as you did. Just keep on going.

Make direct eye contact with your audience and smile, and just glancing down to read the lyrics as quickly as possible. This takes practice, and it does help so much if you more or less know most of the song lyrics.

Try to start and end strongly, with clear diction and that dazzling smile again. Finish the song smoothly and gracefully put the mic away, and give your audience a thank you for the applause they are hopefully sending your way. Don’t apologize, don’t make excuses, just do your song and get off the stage.

When you are done get off the stage quickly to make room for the next singer. You don’t want to hog the mic, nor do you want to be rude and take up more than your fair share of time. If there aren’t enough singers, give others a chance, and if no one is volunteering, by all means get up there again if the host is desperate for singers. If you can get someone to do a duet with you, that is very fun and a lot easier than being all alone up there.

A note about microphones. Some mics are very sensitive, and will pick up everything too loudly. Back your mouth off a little from it if that is the case. Some are too quiet, so put your mouth closer to the mic. With practice, this will come naturally to you. Study how professional singers use the mic, backing off and getting closer to it to make their voice softer or louder. You can do it too!

When you sit back down, pat yourself on the back for being a brave soul who had the nerve to get up there. Note to yourself the areas you were good at, and elements that need improvement. Do not judge yourself too harshly, that does no one any good. Practice when you get home alone, you can get an inexpensive mic and amp if you wish, but it’s not necessary. Next time, it will be much easier, and with practice, you will soon feel like an old pro!

It would be helpful to take some voice classes or acting classes to get more comfortable in front of an audience. Join a local choir, or just sit in a piano bar and sing along. Singing is fun and good for the soul, it’s not meant to be an ordeal. If you are enjoying yourself, no matter how good or bad you are actually singing, it’s likely the audience will enjoy themselves too.

A word about vocal technique. Dozens of books have been written about it, a good one is Your Voice at its Best by David Blair McClosky. This article is too short to go into much in detail here, however suffice it to say a good voice is tone on air, clear diction supported by an open, well supported breath that is from the lower chest. Relax and support your tone with good breath control, and enunciate your words, and you are well on your way.

Study the masters, like Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra. Note how they combined polished, assured technical gifts with emotional truth and accessibility. You could hear and feel every word they sang. Some people are born with a wonderful natural voice, but most of us take years to work at it and improve.

And practice, practice, practice. The more times you get up there, the easier it gets. Even performing anything in front of a group will help, from an open mic poetry reading to giving a toast at your cousin’s wedding.

Watch what the other Karaoke singers do too, note what they do right, and emulate them; and avoid like the plague what they do wrong (like going up there tipsy, stumbling on the words, then stopping mid-song, etc.) You can learn a lot just from watching your fellow performers.

And if some stranger comes up to you afterward and says “good job” as I hope they will, simply thank them. Don’t argue with them, they enjoyed what you did, and a gracious thank you is all that needs mentioning.

You did it! Now go have that second drink and celebrate.

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