If you read my last piece and have any respect for my feelings, you’ve spent hours in your car, painstakingly narrowing your song choices down to the elite few that you can completely own to totally turn on the room. You’ve found your own sweet spot. You have an arsenal of two or three go-to songs that will turn heads and keep them turned for at least three minutes and twenty seconds, depending on what sports event is on the big TV.
But what if you have no sweet spot? What if you are rhythmically challenged and/or tone deaf? What if you yearn for the adulation but can’t put two notes together without a stapler? What can you possibly offer?
If your songbird happens to be a penguin, don’t worry, I got you covered.
Forgive me for labeling you, but you’re probably one of two people; you could be the person who would never want to pollute the room with your sour tones, or the other option, who is too proud (or drunk) to care, and just wants the world to know that you really like Bohemian Rhapsody, and we all get to hear about it for the next eight, painful minutes. Seriously. I don’t smoke, but I’ve gone outside for a cigarette on the first note of this song so many times that I actually have brand loyalty and a touch of emphysema.
Fear not, as there is a place for you, but it’s tricky.
There are four immediate options: rap, sing-alongs, TV show themes and “Tequila” (the song, not the drink, although the drink might help too).
Rap is not to be looked at as a last resort, as it can be done with tremendous grace and beauty, but you really need to know your material WELL. As usual, practice is key. Luckily for you and your lack of vocal skills, all you need to do is pretty much talk, and you can almost certainly do that. But you need to know what you’re going to say before the words pop up on that screen. A lot of rap songs seem simple until you actually read the lyrics. If Shakespeare were alive today, he would be REALLY OLD, but that has nothing to do with what we’re talking about, so let’s focus please.. There’s a lot going on in even the most simplistic rap song, and it’s very easy to get lost, especially if the accompanying lyrics on the screen are ahead or behind by even a fraction of a second (which can often be enough room to fit an additional “uhhh,” “yo” or “G”).
Getting lost in a rap song is like hitting the wall in Nascar; unless you can get back to the pits and fix your busted vehicle quickly, you’re out of the race. So find the songs that fit your ability and sing/talk along with them in the car, over and over and over. Know it inside and out so you could do it blindfolded and tipsy, because depending on the type of bar you’re in, you will probably be at least one of those two things. And as always, try to make it a song that people will respond to positively. Rob Base, Vanilla Ice, Hammer, Sugar Hill Gang, Digital Underground, etc. You don’t have to go full pop-friendly, but we also don’t need to hear about your dead girlfriend in the trunk of your car or your dislike of the police. We’re all trying to have fun here, remember?
If rap isn’t for you, there’s always the old parachute of the sing-along. Audience participation is a tall order, but if you’re adorable up front and tell people you need a hand, you may be surprised at the response. You may get a couple of jerks running up and asking for the other mic (try to avoid that, as they are there primarily to hijack your spotlight and, depending on your gender, touch you inappropriately). Instead, just pick a song that you and your audience know well, and that you can at least wander through with some familiarity, and do a lot of “let me hear you” gestures with the mic. If you have a hot crowd, they will see what you’re up to and respond joyfully. This, when executed well, can result in you barely singing a note, and having the biggest crowd reaction of the night.
Here’s a fun fact; people often forget that a good karaoke bar’s song list will be chock full of all your favorite old TV show themes, and you already know those by heart, plus you’ll only need about a minute and a half tops to breeze though it, and EVERYONE wants to me a part of that fun. It’s fun and it doesn’t take long, like getting a shot (if you happen to think getting a shot is fun). If all else fails, learn “Sweet Caroline” and bring a friend who knows it slightly better than you do.
If you’re not ready to demand that much of a commitment from your audience, there’s always “Tequila.” I thank my friend Marty for introducing me to this concept. It goes something like this.. Instrumental, instrumental, instrumental, instrumental.. TEQUILA! Instrumental, instrumental, instrumental, instrumental.. TEQUILA! Just make sure you’re paying attention, because the vocals only come around once every minute or so, so if you miss the first bus, you’re gonna be on the bench looking like a dope for a while until the next one rolls up. But if this is your absolute last resort, EMBRACE IT. Not only will the crowd be with you, they will carry you out on their shoulders and let you ride their motorcycles.