Category Archives: karaoke

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?


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.)