Break It Off  

Tuesday, September 2 : 4:49 AM : 4 comments :

So I've been karaoking a lot the past few weeks and have been carefully observing how the magic of karaoke happens. First off, I love karaoke. In an age where people want bars, clubs, and over-21 fun, it's a refreshing change of pace. Plus it's usually a guaranteed great time, it brings people together, it brings the energy up, and you always leave happy, especially if you end with one of my patented closers: That's What Friends Are For or Puff the Magic Dragon.

What I've noticed recently is that the makeup of the karaoke room is so key. Everyone knows that karaoke is conducted in private rooms right? My experience with public karaoke is pretty much nil and karaoke to me means renting a room and singing your heart out for a few hours among friends. Drunken strangers need not apply. If you need a guide to exactly what public karaoke is and how to excel at it, check out Raina Lee's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," a fantastic and hilarious book.

Anyway, the first key to a successful karaoke time is having people who want to sing. It's not even about who wants to get on the mic but the background singers. Nothing makes a karaoke room feel more dead than when the crowd is distracted, tired, or not into it. There are two ways to combat this. Either have a banging song where everyone just has to sing or have the type of people who just sing because music is playing and words are on the screen. Synchronized noise is good.

Obviously, you can't control who's going to be karaoking. It's by nature a group activity and you never know who's going to be into it or not. You can, however, control the banging songs. So what I'm going to try to construct is a karaoke script. I'm taking this idea from football and more specifically, Bill Walsh's West Coast offense. Back when the 49ers were winning everything in sight, Walsh included in his innovations the idea of scripting the first fifteen offensive plays of the game. This allowed his team to have a consistent strategy to start games. Mike Holgren, coach of the Packers and now the Seahawks, took this idea one step further and scripted the first fifteen plays of the second half too.

Therefore what I propose is constructing a playlist of five songs that's always thrown immediately into the que as soon as you step inside the room. See, what usually happens when a group of people gather together to sing? Ten minutes or more of poring over song books as precious time and money seep away in silence. The scripted songs will eliminate that. Also, there tends to be a warm up period before people find a groove and really start blasting out their lungs. It can be really hit and miss early on. As all karaoke veterans know, the first few songs in can really set the tone for the night. Why leave that crucial first step up to chance?

With that in mind, what songs will be in this script? Well, it's obvious that all five will have to be crowd pleasers. A few common songs that everyone can't help but sing along to. It's more complex than busting out simple crowd pleasers though. First, you don't want to use a money song too early. For example, Living on a Prayer is a karaoke staple but it requires maximum energy and is best left as a third-to-last closer so everyone can walk out hyped up. Along the same vein, a classic like Hotel California, while a good song, isn't appropriate to start things off because it's just too damn slow. Obscure songs are out. Along with all foreign songs. English motherfucker, do you speak it...

Another important factor in selecting songs to script is that they can't be overly difficult to sing. Anyone of mediocre singing ability should be able to pick up the mic and start things off. It helps, of course, to have amazing singers on hand but short of that, you have to create a safe space for amateur singers to sing. This also gives the dual benefit of getting everyone involved from the beginning. Don't let anyone turtle up. Karaoke energy is a shifting and tenuous thing. Participation must be encouraged.

So, no performance numbers where the skill level is too high or the song too well suited to only having one person sing. Anything Mariah Carey is a bad idea. Or Michael Jackson. Anything with deceptive scale changes is out too. Lastly, songs that are only good for their well known choruses shouldn't be considered. The entire song needs to be a hit.

Now, while I'm trying to construct a master list of the same five songs to put in for every karaoke occasion, it's doesn't mean you have to sit through all five songs in full. Feel free to skip some if the energy is already high and the que is bursting with great songs. But this idea is seriously genius because it'll be guaranteed to start your karaoke experience off right.

With that in mind, here's the outline of the five songs I'd like to come up with.
  1. This song might be playing in the background a bit as things begin and so should have lyrics that people will most likely know without even having to look at the screen. Put two people on the mic immediately. It doesn't have to be high energy but it shouldn't be slow. Worst case scenario, go Disney (A Whole New World perhaps but nothing Little Mermaid until later, trust me).
  2. A high energy rock song. Perhaps a little Journey (Don't Stop Believing), Aerosmith (Crazy), or Stone Temple Pilots (Plush).
  3. A kick ass girl song. Do a classic like Madonna. Actually, just do Madonna. Britney or Spice Girls might do. Might.
  4. Guy's turn. Boy band or R&B standard. Guys love to croon and girls love to sing along. Think Boys II Men, N*Sync, Backstreet Boys, K-Ci and JoJo.
  5. Pop in a semi-recent upbeat number. Maybe even rap if you're daring. Otherwise one of Ne-Yo's popular songs. It gets people up out of their chairs and dancing. The key is this song needs to get butts moving.
These are just my initial thoughts of course. I'd like to refine the outline and then come up with some actual songs that would be readily available in most quality karaoke establishments. Then I'd like to have a backup song for each in case a particular selection is unavailable. I'm wide open for suggestions to the outline and specific songs.

[click for archives]