By Mason Johnson
Step 1: Never sing Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
If you think you can fulfill that requirement, you’re allowed to keep reading.
Hello, I’m Mason Johnson. You may remember me from that time I ruined Hall & Oates, or that moment I cried in the middle of singing Beastie Boys. As you can see, I’m a karaoke expert, here to give you my super secret, super effective karaoke techniques.
Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about box karaoke. It’s sweet that you want to sing only with your friends, but you can’t garner an audience solely through the losers you know. Nor are we talking about live band karaoke (though there is an article for that), everyone knows the band will steal your spotlight. We’re talking about karaoke in a dive with an audience full of strangers — ugly and beautiful alike. We’re talking about the Fight Club of karaoke, but with more blood. So let’s get bloody, shall we?
How To Prepare
I’m not sayin’ you should sing in the shower, or practice to Youtube. To become a karaoke master, you need to immerse yourself into the scene from the get go. Do some research, ask some friends where they go karaoking, google it, read up on as many places as possible.
Then go there.
Choose a slow night and go early. Get acquainted with the place, where the exits are (in case jealous patrons try to beat you up) and figure out whether they have your favorite drink. Find out how many mics they have, in case you want to do a duet. Look through their song book, make sure they have songs YOU can sing.
Learning as much as possible about a place is helpful. For example, Alice’s doesn’t do karaoke every night, so call ahead to make sure it’s happening. Hidden Cove only has one mic, making duets a pain. They’ve got a large selection though, something you can find out when you do your own reconnaissance.
Also, have an idea of what you want to sing beforehand. Make sure you focus on your strengths, noting that you don’t need to be able to sing well to be awesome at karaoke. I’m tone deaf and can’t keep a beat, but I make up for that by screaming like a sonuvagun and knowing how to expertly rip off my shirt (pro-tip: snap buttons). Consider length of song and the pauses/instrumentals in them. Springsteen’s “Born to Run” is a good choice–it never stops. Springsteen’s “Rosalita,” which is similarly upbeat, has an instrumental in the middle that lasts approximately eighteen years. Do you want to stand around NOT singing for that long? Consider mood, too. “Piano Man” will get the whole room singing, but it usually makes people melancholy. You want people to be energized! You’re welcome to switch things up, too. If you don’t have a beautiful, sultry voice like Fiona Apple, then angrily scream her angst-filled lyrics instead of singing them. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to switch a song’s style to suit your needs.
Also, no Beatles. If I have to explain why, you shouldn’t bother doing karaoke.
Where To Go
Here are three north side dives that would be happy to show you a thing or two:
3556 W. Belmont Avenue
Chicago, Il 60618
Formerly hipster central, Alice’s is the place you go when everyone else has kicked you out–mostly because it’s a 4 am bar. Their karaoke doesn’t start until 11, and doesn’t get crowded with cool kids until about 1 am, so don’t show up too early (unless you’re doin’ recon). Alice’s has one of the best KJs (Karaoke DJ) in the city. Fred isn’t afraid to quip a joke or two between songs and has more props than one can keep track of. He once sang Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” with me, mostly because he felt bad that I had to sing it alone. Don’t get on his bad side though, if you try to cheat the system or offend his sensibilities, he will make fun of you. Or just plain be mean.
Personally, I appreciate a KJ with convictions.
4424 W. Montrose
Chicago, Il 60641
A great stage with multiple mics, a decent bar, a lot of room and a dance floor, Sidekicks is refreshing compared to the cramped Alice’s. They also have food, if you’re into fried things that might give you a heart attack. Bring lots of friends; you need to be in a pack to ward of the semi-crazy regulars. Still, if you’re looking for a place to sing with that special someone, this is the place!
They sometimes charge $1 per song. I have not decided how I feel about this. It hasn’t stopped me from having fun though.
5338 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
Decently priced drinks, a dance floor and a good selection of songs make this place great. The biggest downside is the fact that they only have one mic. It’s a good mic, but still, have you ever tried sharing a mic with someone who actually thinks they’re Olivia Newton John’s character from “Grease”? It’s no good.
Be A Champion
If you feel you’re ready, then you can test your skills at Karaoke Idol. Held every other month at Beauty Bar (1444 W. Chicago), this is where the best of the best go in Chicago to find out if they have what it takes to be a champion. Contestants are chosen by various non-profits, but also include the previous champ, and one, special audience member chosen before the competition starts. Are you good enough to be the one?
The next event is August 23rd at 8 pm. Mark your calendar!
With all this in mind, you should be a karaoke superstar in no time. Just remember, the road to karaoke stardom is a tough one, filled with dangers. Ups and downs abound. Don’t let anything detract you from your dream, dear reader. You’ve got the touch!
I leave you with a list of songs to never sing: Piano Man, Bohemian Rhapsody, I Believe I Can Fly, Beatles, Smash Mouth, anything from an Opera, Rapper’s Delight (it’s a million minutes long), Magic Dance (you’re not the Goblin King), Linkin Park… What else (leave a comment!)?
Mason Johnson never performs a song more than once. He doesn’t need to. (Also, the crowd doesn’t let him.)