Justin W. Price, AKA PDXKaraokeGuy, is a freelance writer, blogger, and award-nominated author based out of Juneau, Alaska.
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 in the industry, is 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 who 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.
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:
- It was damn hard to hear, what with the music blaring behind me. And:
- 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 fewer 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.
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.
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!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Other than singing, are skills mixing music (like increasing bass, treble etc) required for a being a KJ?
Answer: Just a basic understanding of pitch and tempo. Knowing musical keys and that kind of stuff is helpful but not necessary.
Question: Should a Karaoke Host be willing to sing any song with anyone when requested?
Answer: Absolutely, a Karaoke Host should be willing to sing anytime.
Question: How do I name my new Karaoke business?
Answer: I'm not really good at naming things. Typically, though, you would have a DBA and an LLC. You want a name that's short and catchy and fun. Easy to spell and say. I wish that I could be more help.
Question: Is it best to have wireless mics for karoake or does that matter?
Answer: I prefer wireless. Especially when working with inebriated folks. Not only does ti cut down on the possibility of them tripping and falling, but they're not going to tug and yank your gear in the process. Just be sure to have batteries on hand.
Question: Don’t you think that using a karaoke software program that keeps rotation for you would be a lot easier than having to use a notebook and write down everything?
Answer: I use a notebook for sign up, and I use software for tracking the rotation.
Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on December 20, 2018:
That's all true too. I no longer KJ. I moved to Juneau and I still karaoke. It's a different crowd here because we are so insulated and small and we all know each other. Keeping the flow of the evening and the participants and audience happy is always the hardest part of being a KJ.
Tammy Alenduff on December 19, 2018:
Great tips. I've been a KJ now for about 3 years after basically being thrown into it, at our local Legion. I'd say the part about bumping a song down a couple, I would say, would depend on your crowd. I have a lot of regulars and new people on Fridays. Because people now 'know' me, will try and get me to put them in before others, or other little special things. I had to make it policy after the first month, of no special favors because once you do for one, you have to do for others.
My show is only 4 hours on Fridays, and I can have up to 25 singers at times, so keeping the show moving is a must. I have one gentleman that always picks the longest songs possible, it seems. If people are dancing, I will always let the music play out, but if the floor is clear, I cut the song off, which tends to upset him, but he's ad-libbing at this point. You have to learn very quickly how to be both firm but flexible with the crowds quickly.
Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on November 29, 2018:
ya, those long instrumental breaks can be tricky. sometimes i like to interact with crowd, tell jokes, or dance during those parts ;-)
Me on November 29, 2018:
If I sing Freebird I ask the KJ to fade out the end.
Fun song to sing but there is a really really long part at the end with no singing
Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on November 30, 2017:
Hi Danny. That could be true in some places. Plus, they're paying the KJ to be there and entertain. I try to limit my microphone time unless the night is really slow. Some KJ.s DEFINITELY sing too much.
Danny Reddey on November 29, 2017:
finding that too many bars are on the super cheap and will hire horrible hosts that sing too much with really bad sound!
Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on May 27, 2017:
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.
DJ/KJ CWG on May 26, 2017:
I did the rent to own thing for my amp and speakers through a music store.
Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on April 24, 2017:
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.
Jim Heath on April 23, 2017:
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.
Justin W Price (author) from Juneau, Alaska on March 06, 2017:
I never left. I just have focused my writing energies elsewhere
Audrey Howitt from California on March 05, 2017:
So are you back here at HP these days? Good to see you and thank you for stopping by my blog the other day