How to Not Break Microphones and Make Your Karaoke Host Hate You


  • Illustration by Mike Gorman

Karaoke can be a dangerous endeavor. What can you sing that won't make friends shun you? How can you go balls-out during your next performance? Each week in "Ask a Karaoke Host," RFT Music writer and professional karaoke host Allison Babka answers your burning questions about maximizing your melodious mutterings and minimizing your friends' pain. Ask her stuff by emailing or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.

Like you, I'm a KJ, and I'm always trying to help people use the microphones in ways that make them sound good and be heard while of course protecting the mics. Do you have a list of microphone tips and etiquette? -- Like a Boss

I freaking love that you wrote to me. You know that feeling when you randomly meet someone else who does what you do, and you spend three hours nerding out on super-nuanced crap within your industry? I rarely get to experience that, as there just aren't many of us professional KJs wandering the streets in my city. So if you don't mind, I'm going to pretend like a mutual friend has just introduced us at a party, and it's giving me karaoke kinship-gasms:

"Oh my GAWD, don't you hate it when people flick the power switch off and on while holding the mic? I know they're anxious, but jeez, if they'd just turn the mic so that the switch faces outward, they wouldn't be so tempted to nervously thumb over it absentmindedly and then look at me like I'M the idiot because their sound cuts out.

"And what about that jerk who screams into the mic while the music is still queuing up and then laughs proudly like a pesky teenager? I reach for the volume control the second he does that, but I'm not always fast enough to prevent the audience from his aural assault.

"While we're talking about bad mic checks, how about those people who blow into the soundstick? Not only is it bad for the microphone's internal parts, but it also gets spit everywhere. We've established that regular germs won't make karaoke singers sick, but still! GROSS!

"OH! And about once a year, I have a drunk douchecanoe who thinks it's awesome to literally drop the mic and walk away after completing a song. Who the frick does that? The guy who inadvertently just bought me a new $500 microphone after damaging the original, that's who.

"Not everyone is stupid, though. I love when we get those really boombastic singers. You know, the ladies with powerful Beyonce voices (when she's not lip syncing)? If a girl like that would only learn to hold the mic away from her mouth during the crazy-high parts, she'd be golden and we'd all be able to keep our ears.

"Whew. Ok, no more work talk. We're here for the party, right? So, uh, did you catch Killer Karaoke last night?"

I've seen you talk about having a pocket full of karaoke standards that you know well enough to perform anywhere. So what are the songs that you personally sing all the time? -- History Repeating

As the leader of the karaoke extravaganza, I push myself to try a few new songs during each event. It stretches my imagination and my voice, and it keeps me from getting into a rut. However, I do have a few tunes that are my go-to songs when I'm hosting a new gig, when I'm visiting a new-to-me karaoke bar or when I just need some confidence.

Alanis Morissette, "You Oughta Know" -- I perform this everywhere. Like, everywhere. It's one of my first songs of any karaoke night and makes me feel like kicking some ass.

Miley Cyrus, "See You Again" -- I don't venture into Disney pop too often, but when I do, you can bet that I'll sing some Miley, wannabe savior of charity singles.

Loverboy, "Lovin' Every Minute of It" -- I just began singing this a couple of months ago, and boy do I adore it. That "Ready, aim, FIRE!" line is pure catharsis.

U2, "Where the Streets Have No Name" -- This song by my favorite band ever makes me feel so high. I haven't gotten up the courage to run around the bar while singing like Bono, but it'll happen eventually.

Lady Gaga, "You & I" -- Generally, I'm not a Gaga fan. But I first performed this tune during one of my "songs I hate" theme nights and promptly fell in love with singing it.

Garbage, "Only Happy When It Rains" -- What girl doesn't want to be Shirley Manson? Come on.

Journey, "Any Way You Want It" -- Admittedly, I'm tired of "Don't Stop Believin'," but "Any Way" is fabulous fun.

Tiffany, "I Think We're Alone Now" -- I was afraid of this Tommy James & the Shondells cover at first. "Children beHAAAAAAAAAAAVE" requires some balls and some pipes. With practice, I eventually acquired both.

As an in-demand karaoke host at multiple bars and events, Allison Babka receives her share of drunken song dedications, occasionally makes people cry and even has been glorified by a singing psychic. She's considering adding "Call Me Maybe" to her personal karaoke repertoire, and she hates herself for it. Bug her with karaoke nonsense on Twitter at @ambabka, and use #rftkaraoke.

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