The Awkward Dork’s Guide To Karaoke

If you’ve never sung karaoke, it might seem like a nightmare. You’re standing in front of a bunch of random people, singing all by yourself, and praying the monitor with the lyrics doesn’t go out. But a lot of your fears are unfounded, and there are plenty of things you can do to ease yourself into the spotlight.

Rent a Karaoke Box With Friends for Your First Time

Karaoke is best done with friends at an establishment that offers private rooms — sometimes called “karaoke boxes” — especially if you’ve never done it before or you’ve only ever cheered friends on. The stakes are lower because the only people that will hear you are friends, and smaller rooms encourage group singing. Best case scenario: you do a killer rendition of “Wonderwall” and your friends high-five you. Worst case scenario: your friends cheer you on and jump in to help when you start to look uncomfortable. The point of karaoke is to have fun, not see who the best singer is.

If there aren’t any karaoke box places in your area, you may still have options. Check the scheduled events at local bars and try to go to the smaller places that have karaoke nights on weekdays. There’s a good chance it will end up just being you and your crew. No matter what you do, though, go with friends for your first time. Coworkers might invite you out, but your first real outing should be with people you feel comfortable letting loose with.

Don’t Go First, But Don’t Go Last

Unless you’re a karaoke veteran, let someone else kick things off. You’ll feel a little more comfortable after watching someone else go and not get chased out with torches and pitchforks. Also, you’ll have time to grab a drink or two and relax. But word to the wise, don’t get sloppy drunk before you sing. Too much liquid courage might help you have fun up there, but believe me, you’ll be the only one having fun.

Make sure you get your song pick in early, though. Going first might be scary, but going last can be even scarier. You don’t want to give yourself too much time to think. Your nerves will take over, you’ll get stuck browsing the books for hours searching for the perfect song, and before you know it, the night will be over. Aim for the middle.

Stick With Songs You Know by Heart

The worst karaoke mistake you can make is picking a song you like and not one you know. A lot of people that get nervous singing karaoke are afraid of messing up. So if that sounds like you, strictly pick songs with lyrics you know at least 90% of without any help. This is especially true if it’s a rap song or other fast-moving tune. Yes, the lyrics will be right in front of you, but they can still catch you off guard.

When you’re picking a song, always ask yourself “Do I know this song? Or do I just know the chorus?” If you’re not sure, pull up the lyrics on your smartphone and check. If you’re fairly certain you know the song, ask yourself “Can I sing it within reason?” You don’t need to know a bunch of music or singing terminology, just think back and try to remember if you’ve ever sung it before. If you did it without straining your voice, go for it. Remember, it’s not about skill and how impressive you can be, it’s about making yourself feel comfortable with the microphone.

If you have a few favourite songs you know you can sing without any help, make a karaoke playlist to listen to and practice with. You can work on your best songs in the shower or car, and you can add more songs to the playlist as you find them. Eventually you’ll have an extensive repertoire to pull from the next time you go out. Plus, the playlist makes for a great reference when you’ve had a few drinks and you’re trying to decide what to sing next.

Start With a Group Song, Then Follow Up With a Crowd Pleaser

Nothing makes singing less awkward than doing it with a buddy. Find a song with multiple parts and ask a couple friends if they want to sing with you. Or pick a song you and your friend love and share the microphone. Just beware of songs like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It is a group song, but it’s hard to sing and it’s long, so make sure everyone is on board before you jump into something like that.

Now that the booze has kicked in and you’ve squashed your fear with a group song, pick an upbeat crowd pleaser for your first solo. People will sing along with you anyway, and you may even get some dancers. It will make you feel great even though the song itself is doing all the heavy lifting. If upbeat pop music isn’t your thing, try to find the closest thing to it you can. You may want to sing that slow, somber ballad, but it brings the mood down and puts the focus on you and how you sound.

It’s also best to avoid songs that are really long, songs with overly-repetitive lyrics, songs that are mostly comprised of musical breaks, or songs that nobody knows. My rule of thumb: if you’re surprised that niche tune is even in the karaoke book, save it for later in the evening when everyone has already had a chance to go.

Be a Great Audience Member

If you cheer and clap for your friends, they will be more inclined to do the same for you. Your buddy might be butchering that Michael Jackson song, but listen along, clap to the beat, dance around, smile, and give a round of applause when they finish.

Don’t boo or make jokes, even if you mean well. They probably know they’re not perfect — same as you — but karaoke is about getting up there and doing it anyway because it makes you happy. So cheer, laugh, and keep that positive vibe going. When it’s your turn to sing, your friends will do you the same courtesy. And when in doubt, laugh it all off and have fun.

Animation by Sam Woolley. Photos by Dan Ox, Schezar, Andrew Yee, Andy Smith, bekassine.


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