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Karaoke Tips: The Three E's of Being a Karaoke Host

Updated on December 18, 2016
PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

Justin W. Price, AKA PDXKaraokeGuy, is a freelance writer, blogger, and award-nominated author based out of Juneau, Alaska.

Karaoke is full of fun, color, and personality
Karaoke is full of fun, color, and personality | Source

Karaoke DJ Versus Karaoke Performer

Whereas performing karaoke has quite a bit to do with singing, attempting to sing or, at the very least, getting the words right, being a Karaoke DJ, or KJ, as we are called is the industry in a whole different animal.

Your job as a KJ is to keep the line of singers moving, to ensure everyone gets a turn, and to keep some semblance of order. Sure, being able to sing and entertain is important, but, it’s not the most important thing. As a KJ, you are paid by the venue to bring people into the bar and to keep them there. You are also tipped (hopefully) based on how well you treat those bar patrons.

As someone whom has been performing karaoke and KJing off and on for a decade, I figured I could shoot over some tips to aspiring KJ’s, current KJ’s, and karaoke performers wondering how they should treat their KJ.

Three Way Karaoke. Some singers find courage in numbers.
Three Way Karaoke. Some singers find courage in numbers. | Source

Its all fun and games until an ear drum gets busted

KJ The Enforcer

It can be tough in a service job to lay down the hammer, but it’s important to do this… In a nice way, of course. One of my previous gigs, the crowd was predominately locals and regulars in their fifties. My initial reaction was to be nice and just let them come up at their leisure and tell me their songs. There were only two problems with this:

  1. It was damn hard to hear, what with the music blaring behind me. And:
  2. On a busy night, it was easy to forget what song was put in, and, perhaps more importantly, the order the songs were submitted.

More than that, sometimes I didn’t have a specifically requested song, or had multiple versions of the song, or I had a singer with special instructions, such as a key change or a request to introduce the songs themselves.

The solution, for me, was to have a notebook where the singer(s) could write down the song and artist, any special instructions, and their name. Busier venues or venues with less regulars might use a slip or even a computer system. But, for my purposes, I used a notebook and it kept some semblance of order… and it kept the halitosis and beer breath out of my face.

Additional tip: with a notebook or slips, place a bottle of hand sanitizer and your tip jar next to each other.

Enforcer also sometimes means turning someone’s microphone off. I once had a drunk "gentleman" go on a racist rant before he began his song. I promptly turned off his microphone and had him sent home for the evening.

KJ the Encourager

Many people are reluctant to perform karaoke without the prompting of alcohol. This is what the bar is counting on. Someone buying three or four drinks will be more likely to perform and stay longer, which will keep the bar happy, which will keep you employed.

Still, there is a good reason many of these people are reluctant to sing. They can’t. They can’t sing, they can’t sing on rhythm, they don’t know the words… I’ll be writing more in the future about how a karaoke singer should select his songs.

Regardless, even though you will on occasion have good singers, your job is to encourage each singer. Applaud and thank them. I often go and greet them by hand after they sing, especially if I am the one that popped their karaoke cherry. Be genuine in your praise, even if you’re hard pressed to find a reason. There is always something. It takes some guts to come up and sing in front of people. YOU, as KJ, may be used to it, but don’t take it for granted,

Plus, encouraging your singers keeps them coming back, and keeps money in your tip jar.

Dancing is encouraged
Dancing is encouraged | Source

KJ the Entertainer

People come to karaoke to be entertained. I have been to plenty of karaoke bars where the KJ didn’t give two shits about his audience. He would choose boring songs, sing too much, or not sing at all. He wouldn’t thank the audience or say much from the microphone.

Not only does this greatly diminish the karaoke experience for your guests, it is not a great way to keep your job. You never know who’s watching. In fact, I got my last karaoke gig when, after witnessing a sub-par performance by the KJ. I asked around the venue, including the bar staff, and they said that it was always like that and that they, in so many words, hated karaoke nights. He didn't tip the bar staff, he took advantage of the free drink policiy, he didn't respect the audience or really interact with them.

It just so happens that I knew the owner of the Karaoke company, let him know his guy wasn’t doing the job well, and was promptly offered the opportunity to take his place.

KJ’s don’t have to be the best singers, but they have to be charismatic and they have to know how to perform the songs well. Kick off the night with an upbeat number that everybody knows, end the night with music to properly sum up the evening. Know your audience. Sing songs that will appeal to them, don’t just stand there: interact. Be someone that they will want to keep coming back to see. This will keep the bar happy, keep you employed and keep your tips and free drinks coming.

Whenever possible, choose house music that fits with the mood of the bar or the current tone of the songs being selected. Try, as best you can, to arrange the songs in some kind of fashion so that the music flows. If you have a streak of 80's power ballads and someone brings in a country song, bump that song down a bit so that the groove of the evening keeps going. If you take a break, keep it under ten minutes and be sure to have good house music and an announcement.

Ending

KJing is a fun and relatively easy way to make a living, but, like any job, it takes practice and it has certain standards that need to be upheld. Follow the above steps and you could have a very long and lucrative KJ career. Love your patrons, respect (and tip) the bar staff, and, most of all, have fun. Don’t follow these three E's, and you could end up like that guy whose job I took.

Until next time, ta ta!

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    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image
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      Justin W Price 7 hours ago from Juneau, Alaska

      DJ.... That's a good route to go as well. It depends on how much leg work and responsibility that you want to have. I didn't mind paying another company to use their gear and deal with the day to day.

    • profile image

      DJ/KJ CWG 26 hours ago

      I did the rent to own thing for my amp and speakers through a music store.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image
      Author

      Justin W Price 4 weeks ago from Juneau, Alaska

      HI Jim. I actually leased my gear from someone else, but my understanding is that you're looking at $20K startup, if you want to be legit, including legal music. Unless you have that kind of cash, you're better off finding a bar or karaoke provider with gear and then subcontract out your services.

    • profile image

      Jim Heath 4 weeks ago

      I love singing and Karaoke. I have long considered becoming a KJ, but haven't acted on it until now. I am very interested in knowing about laptop Karaoke systems and what song packs I would need......as well as HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET STARTED.

      I am an above average singer, and have sung in public a good bit. The KJ position is something I believe I could do.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image
      Author

      Justin W Price 2 months ago from Juneau, Alaska

      I never left. I just have focused my writing energies elsewhere

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 months ago from California

      So are you back here at HP these days? Good to see you and thank you for stopping by my blog the other day

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