Karaoke Singer Selection

If you go to karaoke a lot, and you go to different KJ shows, you’ll notice that there are a variety of methods that KJs select who sings in what order (especially for 2nd, 3rd rounds of singing on a busy night). Being the computer nerd I am, I’m always watching and thinking about these “algorithms” and why KJs choose one way of doing things over another.

KJs must balance a number of goals when coming up with a system to rotate in singers on a given night of karaoke:

  1. Fairness to people waiting – All else being equal, people who wait longer should expect to singer sooner than people who haven’t waited as long
  2. Fairness to people who show up early – Karaoke nights usually start slow, and KJs tend to want to give people an incentive to show up early — the same reason bars have happy hours. Also, if you have people spread out over a longer period of time, you can get more people to sing.
  3. Minimizing wait time for new singers (people showing up later) – Karaoke is largely a casual entertainment experience, and when possible, KJs would like to minimize the wait for new people who show up for karaoke. If they didn’t, then karaoke would turn into a “plan ahead” insiders-only event. Most KJs don’t want that.
  4. Providing an entertaining experience to those not singing – Some KJs believe in ordering the singers by the songs singers want to sing. By putting together songs that have the same energy, or flow together, a KJ can actually make the experience better for the watchers (or so the theory goes).
  5. Providing a “known experience” to regular singers – KJs live and die by filling bars, and one of the best ways to do that is have a solid crowd of regular singers at their gigs. If a KJ puts on a show that gives the regulars a more predictable experience that they like, they are more willing to show up on a regular basis and keep the gig going over time.

Now many of these goals conflict, and some KJs probably aren’t interested in all of them. The singer-selection system a KJ chooses reflects their priority among these goals. If you go to karaoke, make sure you understand the system, and try to understand what goals the KJ is most interested in achieving. If you are a KJ, have you thought about your system given these goals?

Let me describe the system that Roger Niner uses, and which I personally like the best among the various KJs whose shows I’ve gone to. I don’t know how unique it is, but since its the one I’m most familiar with, I’ll describe it here:

  1. Singers sign up on a sheet, and the first hour or so of singers (in the order they sign up) are the “first rotation”. Singers continue signing up on the sheet as they want throughout the night.
  2. After the first rotation, new singers are alternated in with old singers. So if you missed the first rotation, you get interspersed with old singers in the second rotation. Hence, the second rotation has exactly twice the number of singers (assuming there are that many signed up) as the first rotation.
  3. After the second, rotation the “new singer/older singer” step is repeated. That is, folks who haven’t sun are inserted before people who’ve sung in the second or first rotation.

Lets spin this out a bit, if A represents a first-rotation singer, B represents a new singer in the second rotation, and C represents a person who first sings in the third rotation, then we’d have the following patterns:

First Rotation: A, A, A …

Second Rotation B, A, B, A, B, A

Third Rotation: C, B ,C, A, C, B, C, A


There are several implications:

  1. It benefits you to show up early so as to get in the first rotation. This guarantees you slots in the 2nd, 3rd, etc rotations (assuming a rotation doesn’t get cut off because of closing time)
  2. If you show up later in the night, and miss the 1st rotation, and you get into the 2nd or 3rd rotation, you’ll be up before anyone else you see sings twice, unless the “current rotation” is full, in which case, you are delayed to the next rotation (or beyond)
  3. Each rotation approximately doubles the length of the previous one
  4. There’s always an opportunity to get in the rotation, unless you show up so late that even the last rotation is full (note that sometimes its not clear until later that a rotation is full).
  5. There’s no judgement calls being made by the KJ – its all mechanical, based on when you sign up (duets add a wrinkle which are hard to deal with). Regulars know the system and aren’t disappointed when on a busy night they have to wait a long time.
  6. You can pretty easily tell when you’ll be singing next – if not the exact time, then at least by the number of singers.
  7. The order of singers between rotations doesn’t change, except that each rotation inserts a new alternation of singers, so you don’t get the same singers back to back.
  8. The last rotation tends to be very long if things are at all busy – but this makes sense, as those who don’t want to wait that long know to show up early 😉

So what is your experience at karaoke? If you KJ, what system do you use and why?


Learning to Sing at 40


In August of last year, I started taking voice lessons. Mind you, with the exception of karaoke for the last 2 years, I’ve never sung in front of anyone since 2nd grade.

Here’s some reasons why part of my brain says starting voice lessons at the age of 39 is silly:

  1. My mom always told me I couldn’t sing and its genetic and there’s nothing I could do about my inability to sing
  2. When I did record my voice, it didn’t sound anything like the radio
  3. I hate the sound of my speaking voice
  4. I’ve never been “good” at music, even after having a guitar for 20 years (and having a bunch of musician friends)
  5. I’m almost 40. its a little late to start, ya know. By the time I get “good”, I’ll be in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask.

Well, 4 months later, I’m still at it… despite my mom’s shock.  And while my voice instructor compares me to a baby learning to walk, I actually can feel and hear the improvement and my confidence at karaoke is way higher. I’ll be blogging on my progress and what I learn, but here’s my first reflections:

  1. What nobody told me, or perhaps realized, was that my voice is actually pretty low — its hard for me (especially with my limited range) to sing many pop songs on the radio because pop music today tends to be a lot higher (e.g. tenor-y). I’m a baritone. A bassy baritone. So thats really good to know… which leads to..
  2. I actually like my voice when I’m singing on key. And I think I’ve “found my voice”. Thats huge – the first psychological hurdle.
  3. My ego is pretty intact even though I know I can’t really sing well yet. For example, while I’ve see 7 year old kids singing “better” than me, I know that I’ll get there someday (yes, I aspire to sing as good as a 7 year old). In reality, I actually believe I can get a lot better with a ton of work that I’m excited to undertake.
  4. I want to sing in front of other people. Singing is largely about self-expression, and if nobody wants to listen to you sing, then you are self-expressing to yourself. Thats really the same as shower-singing. I don’t really need lessons to do that.
  5. I have to start singing with other people. This is hard, both because of my social awkwardness and also because I’m intimidated singing with people who are good musicians or singers. I need to find an encouraging supportive environment in which to sing with others (singers or musicians)…

And so I write this blog entry to push myself to take the next step and sing more with others. As I mentioned in twitter:

I don’t got New Years Resolutions for 2013… I got PLANS!

Who’s in?


The Rules of Karaoke

Welcome back beatslackers. Its been over 2.5 years and nary an update.

That changes now, and the topic is karaoke. Because you see, thats what I’ve been doing for the last 2 years or so. And then voice lessons. But thats a topic for another day.

Today, I wanted to lay out my rules for karaoke, with a huge nod to Roger Niner, my friend and karaoke guru. These rules are guaranteed to make any karaoke experience better, either as a singer or watcher.

  1. NEVER APOLOGIZE (big nod to Niner on this rule). There are two reasons. First, apologizing takes the focus away from what went right (you sang great, you were entertaining, or you just rocked out) and puts it on what you think went wrong (which may not actually have been wrong). Second, apologizing is a way of beating yourself up, and making an excuse for not trying again, or not trying harder next time. Just don’t do it.
  2. ALWAYS BE POSITIVE. Following closely from #1, be sure to always be positive. While it should be obvious for those watching (do I really have to say that?), being positive as a singer makes it a better experience for other singers and the audience as well. Just remember that people have fragile egos, and many are just as nervous as you. No need to remind them of what could go wrong, or make them doubt themselves more when its their turn to sing. Karaoke is about FUN, and positivity is fun. Negativity is not.
  3. BE EPIC. Whatever you do as a karaoke performer, make sure you COMMIT TO IT and try to be epic. What is epic? Well, you’ll know it when you see it, sing it, or feel it. Epic is when everyone screams after you are done, or people dance while you are singing, or people congratulate you afterwards OR everyone ignores you but you feel like you absolutely KILLED IT. Epic is about creating a reaction, either for you or someone else – its the reason we do karaoke. Its not about technical achievement, its not about getting the most applause, its about putting it all out there and knowing that you changed the universe a bit with a three minute performance.
  4. THERE ARE NO MORE RULES. It doesn’t matter what people say, karaoke is about you putting yourself out there. Be mindful of those around you, but ultimately don’t let anyone tell you what to do (well, except me). Oh wait, there IS one last rule…
  5. ALWAYS TIP THE KJ! If you go to a show with a host (a “KJ”), make sure you tip them. They wouldn’t be able to eat if you didn’t, and you don’t want to know what starving KJ’s look like… (update:I think KJ’s who take tips for the purpose of allowing singers to sing sooner are providing a really lousy experience and I would strongly suggest avoiding those shows.)

Musicians Take Over Chatroulette

http://chatroulette.com/ is a website that connects you (webcam and audio) to another random chatroulette user in the world. You can click “next” at any time to connect to another random user. 

Its full of all sorts of people (ok, mostly guys, but not entirely), and yes, a lot of people doing very, uh, rated R (or worse) things. You can *always* click “next” or “report”.

So what’s this event? Lets get a bunch of musicians to “take over” Chatroulette for a day. Share your music with random people – and get instant feedback! If they don’t like your tunes, they’ll click “next” (and be prepared to click next yourself). But you’ll be amazed how many people will appreciate your performance! 

All you have to do is set up a webcam and a good way of capturing the audio on your computer. Then show up on http://chatroulette.com/ and play tunes until you get bored or grossed out. Or both. This is an *experiment*. It’s completely anonymous, so why not try it out!?!?

Who knows, maybe you’ll even find other musicians and make new musical friends!

***Please feel free to add to the invite list. We would like to make this a national/worldwide event, so the more, the merrier!*** 

PLEASE USE THE HASHTAG #MusicTakeOver on your various social media (twitter, youtube, flicker, etc)

Musicians Take Over Chatroulette

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SaFTm2bcac?wmode=transparent&autohide=1&egm=0&hd=1&iv_load_policy=3&modestbranding=1&rel=0&showinfo=0&showsearch=0&w=500&h=374%5D

A great 20 minute introduction and discussion about the “Amen break” a 6-second drum break from a 1969 recording that became the basis for much Hip-hop and electronic music. Ends up with a rumination on the effect of overprotection of copyright and how it inhibits music today.

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SF Music Tech Summit – 1 minute Pitches

SF Music Tech was a great event, but the session that seemed to excite me the most was the “1 minute pitches”. Most of them were for web sites/services for musicians (of course). Here’s a list of the ones I wrote down that I found interesting:

  • LiveCut: ”LiveCut makes getting one-of-a-kind live recordings easy. During a performance and for a limited time after, LiveCut allows you to use cell phone text messaging to order recordings of the songs that you heard and that you want to add to your music collection.”
  • GigZee: “gigzee shows you all the upcoming gigs – small and big, free and pricey! Plus you can do a lot more cool stuff on gigzee like follow your favorite artists and venues, review artists you have heard, read reviews by real people and generally maintain your coolness by being in the know. ” (Apparently with an iPhone App as well as the web)
  • MixMatchMusic – a set of web site tools for helping musicians connect with their fans:
    • MobBase – “reach out and touch your fans with your own iPhone app” (The band Pepper’s official iPhone app built with this)
    • Remix Wizard – “the fast, free way to host your own remix contest anywhere on the web” (this looks fun)
    • Tra.kz – connect fans with your music via Twitter
    • MixMatchMusic Community – collaborate with other musicians and create music online
  • PledgeMusic – a new kind of music company:
    “Pledge Music is a music company offering you a new way to take control of your career. We’re not interested in being a rights owner – Pledge does not want ANY rights to your music, live income, merch etc. We just help you fund whatever type or format of record you want to release next.

    To do this we simply help and encourage you to participate with your fans in an exciting and unique way. Pledge allows you to easily create an irresistible customised menu of exclusive content and experiences that integrates your database, MySpace friends, Facebook fans, Twitter followers and various other social networking sites. You decide how much money you’d like to raise and your fans pledge money for whichever item or experience they want. They will only be charged once the full target amount has been raised and there’s even the option to build a charitable donation into your campaign. We charge a flat 15% fee, which reduces to 10% if you use Pledge for more than one campaign. We have no hidden fees or transaction costs whatsoever.

    You are your own A&R and Marketing Manager – you choose the studio, the producer, the artwork, the promotion – it’s all down to you! Let the fans be your label, while you keep the rights to your music.

  • MusicShake: “Musicshake is the super easy and user friendly application to create your own music without having to go through the hurdle of learning an instrument, taking music classes, or owning professional audio gear. All you need is a PC and an internet connection to start creating your own tracks.” (This looks like a lot of fun too! Making music “for dummies”)
  • Swift.fm: social discovery and promotion of music using Twitter. Lots of interesting features, including building channels around hashtags, pushing songs to friends, etc.
  • LocalMusicVibe: a community/directory site for local music scenes.  ”Anyone who registers can instantly create free, custom pages for any aspect of the music industry they represent: band, musician, performer, venue or resource, such as studio, teacher, rentals, etc. Local merchants and corporations also benefit through targeted, interactive sponsorships, and advertising opportunities. User-generated content and a local focus enable complete coverage for ex-urban markets that are currently ignored.”
  • VocalDownloads: lots of samples of vocals, both free and for charge, for your own work. Fun place to poke around.
  • GetPlayLists: “Join to share playlists with friends and to get new playlists that work with your songs, iTunes, Windows Media Player, and your iPod or MP3 playlist … Automatically. Get unlimited access to our playlist library, share playlists with friends, the playlists automatically work with your digital music player.”
  • Playdar: A very interesting open source project to solve the “shared playlists, but unshared content” problem (as with GetPlayLists). I don’t think I actually saw the one-minute pitch, but it really deserves to be in this list:

    “Playdar is a music content resolver service – run it on every computer you use, and you’ll be able to listen to all the songs you would otherwise be able to find manually by searching though all your computers, hard disks, online services, and more.

    Playdar provides a consistent API for accessing any song ever recorded.

  • MyCypher: winner of the best 1-minute pitch (started with Portuguese, French and English I believe), not clear what this site is offering, but something about a “global open mic” focusing on hip-hop, spoken word, etc… Hope it comes to fruition, based solely on the 1-minute pitch.
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SF Music Tech Summit

This Monday, Dec 7 in San Francisco:

The SF MusicTech Summit brings together visionaries in the music/technology space, along with the best and brightest developers, entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, journalists, musicians and organizations who work with them at the convergence of culture and commerce. We meet to discuss the evolving music/business/technology ecosystem in a proactive, conducive to dealmaking environment.

I’ll be there, find me if you are attending!

SF Music Tech Summit


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK2lBxcrTno?wmode=transparent&autohide=1&egm=0&hd=1&iv_load_policy=3&modestbranding=1&rel=0&showinfo=0&showsearch=0&w=500&h=375%5D

Patrick Daly, a regular at Angelica’s Bistro Open Mic does a cover of the new John Mayer song “Who Says”. Starts at about 1 min into the video. Close your eyes. Tell me who what you hear…


Social Media Club SFSV – The Music That Moves Us, Online and Off

Come on out and join us at a Social Media Club event where we’ll have musicians and music fans share how they’ve used social media to connect with each other (and not just via a label).

Look forward to seeing you there!

Social Media Club SFSV – The Music That Moves Us, Online and Off

A first-time manager’s peek into managing “Get Busy Committee”

From Ian Rogers:

I am going to try to blog the experience in hopes it might be interesting/useful for others.

Being the CEO ofTopspin and *not* having experience managing a band is like running Flickr and not taking photos.

All in all, a tantalizing taste of a “behind the scenes” description of how to launch and promote a band without the backing of a label. Mention of a lot of the tools and services out there, and why some were chosen and not others. Very interesting reading!

A first-time manager’s peek into managing “Get Busy Committee”