Karaoke: Higher Level By: Bill Smith

April 8, 2008 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

This installment of Karaoke DJU involves some advanced uses for Karaoke OUTSIDE of the club environment, where everything is fairly well ordered. We are going to discuss some events and techniques for Karaoke use that you might not have come across yet. We are going to cover Weddings, use of Karaoke at School dances, and special audiences like Senior citizen homes and Autistic audiences. I have been fortunate enough to have successfully performed at all of these functions, and want to share those thoughts, insights, and experiences with you. We all have different ways of doing things for these functions, and no one way is the only way. If you have approaches that work that I do not cover in here, Email them to me at Bsmith5356@aol.com, and I will edit and add them into this article and give you credit for coming up with the idea. Here we go:WEDDINGS:

I know what you are thinking. How TACKY! It can BE tacky, IF you let it, and don’t handle it tastefully. More and more, Brides are asking for Karaoke to a part of their wedding receptions. It is up to YOU, the DJ/KJ, to ensure that it is used in a thoughtful and entertaining manner that still brings dignity to the event. Like all things, judge your crowd, and base your decisions on that.

The Ceremony and the First Dance:

I wanted to share a technique that I successfully use when I have been asked to sing in the ceremony or sing the First Dance song at the reception. Often, couples ask me to sing for them when we plan the reception. But having the big blue Karaoke TV out there at this point of the ceremony or reception is definitely not the way to go. It detracts attention from the B&G and focuses attention on you. So how do we solve the problem of remembering the words, controlling the music, keeping the flow going from song to song, AND SING? Remember, as a single op, I am often by MYSELF. There are no assistants, no help.

The 50.00 solution

As I was browsing through a store one day, I saw by chance a 5 inch Black and White TV for 49.99. And it hit me like a TON of BRICKS! Run an extra video RCA out of my Pioneer Player into the Video RCA jack of the B&W 5 inch TV which would sit on top of my compressor on my table top system! I could read the TV for reference, control the levels, and sing, and virtually NO ONE would see that they were Karaoke tracks! Remember, almost NO ONE expects a DJ to be able to sing. The addition of “Live Vocals” adds a panache and flair to the ceremony and reception that is hard to beat.

You now have the capability to sing the song, stay completely out of the way of the video and photo people, do the emceeing bit at the reception, CONTROL the FLOW, AND have your next song ready to play just as soon as you finish singing! And as a bit of marketing strategy, I call my Karaoke tracks “Vocal Performance tracks” designed especially for vocalists to use. I do not use the K word until later in the evening, if asked about the source of my music.

Later during the reception:

The second technique is during the latter part of the reception when everyone is more relaxed; all the formalities are OVER! Ready to party! Photo ops of the bride and groom doing a duet are priceless. It CAN be done tastefully if you minimize the amount of time it’s done.

I ALWAYS insist with the bride and groom that if they want Karaoke, THEY MUST LEAD the charge! We don’t want soused up Uncle Leonard up there first. So I coach the couple on a duet (if they need it), or on nice songs to dedicate to each other, and then gently introduce the concept of singing Karaoke to the rest of the audience. I then tell them pick a song from my book, write it down on a slip, bring it to me and we will get them up as soon as possible. Then I sing a couple of slow dance ballads and invite the audience to dance while I sing, and collect requests while doing that.

The real key is to LIMIT the number of songs done at a time. Do no more than say 3 at a time, and then jump right back into a dance set. That will keep the reception from turning into a regular Karaoke show. The pace of Karaoke is slower, and after about three songs, people are itching to dance again. After your last Karaoke song set get your next dance song ready and while the applause is still going on, hit them with a very popular dance song, like the Slide or the Macarena or the Cotton Eyed Joe. You don’t have to say a thing; they will come out and dance. Don’t worry about satisfying each request to sing, but look at the requests and try to get each individual up to sing at least once, time permitting. Most times, the max you get are may 5~10 requests. It’s easy to use 2~3 of those as a set then swing back into dance. Occasionally, you will get a gig where EVERYONE wants to get into the act. That’s when you have to manage expectations.

“Wow, ladies and gents, we have a TON of requests. We will do our level best to have you sing at least one time, with our time together here permitting. And thank you for wanting to entertain (insert B&G here) on their special day”

Almost by default, Karaoke puts you in the Interactive mode. You are already interacting with the audience, and they are listening to what you have to say. It’s very easy to swing out of a Karaoke set right into a skit like the Hokey Pokey, a Conga line, the YMCA, etc. etc. etc. (insert your skit here) These are very natural progressions if you think about it.

With respect to Karaoke at weddings, remember that it’s not about what we think is always right, it’s what the customer wants! I believe that these two ideas can maximize your performances at receptions when Karaoke is involved by request of the bride and groom or if you, as a Karaoke host are asked to perform vocals at either the Ceremony or the reception.

KARAOKE PARTIES AND AUTISTIC ADULTS/CHILDREN:

When I first got a call from the Wake County Society of Autism to do a Karaoke party, I was very apprehensive. I expressed my doubts, based on my perceptions of what I knew about autism. I decided to do some research and learn as much as I could about Autism, and worked with my customer’s staff very closely to learn even more, so I could be effective. I was worried about the “clients” as they were called by the staff being able to read and keep up with the pace of the Karaoke songs.

I learned several things I want to pass along when you do a show for such an occasion.

Autism is often compensated for in nature by enhancing the other senses, most notably, hearing. I was advised Pre show to watch the volume very closely. Strong sound or light can adversely stimulate Autistic children and adults and in occasional instances cause seizures. I left the lights at home, and worked very hard with the sound to keep it low.
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The staff told me not to expect a lot from this audience in terms of participation. Some of the clients had severe Autism and would be unable to participate. In Mossome instances, these people would make random sounds and would appear as severely handicapped and wheelchair bound. This can be an unsettling sight if you haven’t experienced it. A few the adults or kids will rock rhythmically or repeat words or phrases over and over, especially when you start playing music. You need to deal with that and internalize any apprehensive or unsettled feelings you might have. Now this isn’t a general characterization of all Autistic boys and girls. Many of the ones I worked with I could not really tell any differences between an autistic person and a “normal” person. And the level of behavior exhibited was often much better than “normal audiences”. But this is as plain a statement as possible about what you can expect and I owe you that.
As it turned out, these clients were actually very well versed in music. Often Autism leaves the person with the ability to do intricate math, remember music by rote, and keep perfect pitch no matter what is playing. I had several folks come up and find a selection (I totally dispensed with request sheets, and let them bring me the books to select their song) AND THEY ROCKED! After that first singer, they all wanted to use the microphone. That’s when you have the staff near by to ensure that everyone gets a turn and helps to supervise the flow. Often a family member or staff member would come up to assist the autistic person in their singing.

After a while, I broke out of Karaoke and did some dance sets, and did some skits with the YMCA and the Hokey Pokey, and also a humongous conga line. They all wanted to see my CDs, and I basically just turned off all my pre conceptions, and treated them just like any other crowd. They responded to me like any other crowd, and a good time was had by all.

The most important thing I learned was this: Autistic people like music and can generally respond just as well as “normal” people can. Treat them with respect and a smile like any other audience, and reap the rewards of doing a really good thing. Of all the Christmas parties I did this year, my time with the Wake County Society of Autism left me with the best feelings and accomplishments.

KARAOKE AND SENIOR CITIZEN HOMES:

In my area, we have several organized efforts to pay special attention to senior citizens with respect to DJing parties and offering up entertainment. I network with two KJs, and together we have come up with a format for doing senior citizen’s parties. I am going to share those with you. First, here are some technical aspects. You won’t have to bring a lot of sound. Often the shows take place in a cafeteria or meeting room. Pare down your set up to one good sized speaker and only what you absolutely need to run Karaoke. You must be very careful to run sound low, because these folks often have hearing aids that are turned all the way up. Avoid feedback at all possible costs. Those are particularly painful with hearing aids. The staff is generally very good about helping you set the level of music and sound. You also won’t be playing very long. I have never done more than an hour and a half in the past two years.

There are several very important aspects to successfully entertaining seniors. The MOST important aspect is to play and sing the music that they know. For the most part, that means learning to sing some of the older crooners like Ray Price, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby etc. For you lady singers out there, Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne and Judy Garland were some of the staple singers of that era. That also means purchasing Karaoke CDGs with these performers on them. Often, you can get specialty CDGs that have the big band singers from the 30s to the 50s on them. For example, Sweet Georgia Brown CDGs have a lot of these selections. Sound Choice has several “Great Male and Female Standards CDGs”. I sing from one of these CDGs non-stop for an hour. Start out your show with a couple of instrumental hits out of your DJ library like In the Mood, Take the A Train, etc. Introduce yourself over these songs, and get your singing shoes on.

Another very important aspect is to understand that some of these folks haven’t (sadly) had much attention from their relatives, and are often starved for affection. Once I had a sweet old lady hang onto my arm for the entire hour I sang. Get right out there with them, and sing to them. LOSE YOUR INHIBITIONS! As an example, I like to kneel right in front of the ladies and sing “For the Good Times”. I have gotten comfortable enough to lay my head on their shoulders and sing right to them. It is very helpful if the Home has a big screen TV that you can hook into, so you can help lead the audiences in a singalong. Remind them of the days of Mitch Miller and the bouncing ball in TV, and explain that when the words change color, that’s the cue to sing.

It isn’t necessary to have music running non-stop for the hour either. After I sing a song, if I am by myself, I like to talk about the next song while I am programming it, so as long as you are filling the time with something, it works out OK. Pace yourself and don’t be in a rush. If you have a routine for telling jokes, tell a couple of jokes. THE Home you play at will often determine the level of participation. I play one place where everyone is bed ridden and is wheeled in. You won’t get a lot of reaction, and some of the seniors will fall asleep (take that as a positive, your singing is so good that people relaxed enough to fall asleep to it!) I play another place where the residents read through the Karaoke books and want to sign up and sing! It is a real sight to see several 70-somethings crowding around the TV screen and singing. Their friends really give them the applause.

I often times will select very good Karaoke singers that I know from the local clubs to come along with me to do a show if they are available. This breaks up the “sameness” of having one person doing all the entertaining, and gives your seniors the chance to see more smiling faces. This also gives you a break as well to concentrate on the sound, and spin a real tight show. Most times, these shows are done on weeknights after the dinner hour. I don’t charge a huge amount (75.00) because I think it’s important to give back to the community. My fellow DJs in this area feel the same way, and we often go out to the same seniors facility and work with each other at the SAME show in a non club environment, share fellowship and have fun.

Senior Karaoke is very rewarding, whether or not they actually sing. The chance for these folks to be entertained is simply a good thing to do if your schedule permits it. You can use your Karaoke collection and entertain in a way you never thought possible. This is a type of event where you end up being the focal point of the show, but they like it that way! This type of entertaining will sharpen and hone your overall entertainment skills. You will leave with a feeling of satisfaction of having touched these lives that club work will never give you. You need to be very patient and run your show at a slower pace so that you are clearly understood and appreciated.

SCHOOL DANCE KARAOKE:

School dances are perhaps THE most challenging form of Karaoke there is. The kids are energetic, they swarm you like bees, they are all talking at once, and they all want to see your CDs. And, they all want to sing at the SAME time. If you are by yourself, this is like trying to take a drink of water from a fully opened fire hydrant. So the first thing I want to share with you is this: Don’t do school dances by yourself. Either bring an assistant or arrange in advance with the school to have either a student help you out with the requests, or assign a staff member or chaperone to help you out.

PROBLEM AREAS:

Language:

The biggest problems with School dance Karaoke are the song selections. They will invariably pick the tunes of today with overt sexual and explicit lyrics. Even though the Karaoke CDGs have these words blanked out, the kids feel like they have to sing them. I like to warn the kids ahead of time.

“Now everyone, we know what this song says, please do NOT repeat these words, or I will have to turn the song off”.

I did this at one school function where the kid actually said the F word. I stopped the song and told the audience EXACTLY why I stopped it. I told the kid why, and even though he argued that this was what was in the song, I told him that if he didn’t have enough smarts not to say the F word in front of adults let alone over a PA system, he didn’t need to be singing. Next!

Moshing:

The kids will also pick trigger songs to Mosh to. This happens more at College parties, but I have seen it happen at a 6th to 8th grade dance I did! The kids got in a circle and started crashing into each other. Again, you can only do so much. Warn the staff ahead of time that this is possible, and to be out on the dance floor to control this. It’s impossible to say what they will do and not do and to which song it might happen with. Every crowd is different. I do try to limit this, and so if I get a request for Limp Bizkit or Korn or Kid Rock, I tell the kids to pick another song.

Crowding of the Karaoke area:

The other very difficult thing is that everyone will crowd the singer and watch the TV lyrics. So what ends up happening is that you have a huge crowd, they are wrestling the microphone, banging it, and screaming into it. As a side note, I wouldn’t do a school dance with Karaoke WITHOUT a compressor. If the school has a big screen TV on a cart (from the A/V room), hook a second line from your player to this TV. This will often diffuse the crowd around the TV stand and Mics. One of the things I like to do is set up my TV stand about 3 ft in front of the stage area and the Big screen TV about 10 ft away from that. Often, you won’t get as many kids crowding around the TV stand.

CONTROL APPROACHES:

So what can you do to try to control an audience of 80 to 200 exuberant kids in hormone and sensory overload? How much dance are you going to do? How much Karaoke is going to be done? It will be more chaotic than even a club will. Listed below are possible approaches.

MINIMIZE THE NUMBER OF SINGERS:

Buy a huge roll of numbered tickets. Have the staff GIVE those out as the kids enter the dance area. Introduce yourself, and Explain to them that you will be drawing for people to sing. You can draw three tickets at a time to do sets, announce them, have ONLY them come up to select songs from your lists, and continue dance sets. Then once you are ready, you can bring your singers up with wedding style “grand introductions”.

Another approach is to simply try to instruct the kids that only the person who selected the song can sing it, and there is to be no crowding of the stage area. This is less effective because the attention span when kids are in party mode is ZERO. Most times, they don’t listen. This is when your chances of having equipment damaged are the greatest. This is when you definitely want to get the staff involved, and let them be the heavy in controlling.

What about the distribution of songbooks and sign up? I am a big fan of the slip system, so I like to have a table out away from my booth area with the songbooks, loads of blank slips and pencils. Let them crowd each other, then bring you the slips, then you can arrange them and screen them for completeness. This is much easier on you, as they won’t be pushing and crowding the DJ booth.

Now what I have described so far may make you think, “why in the world am I going to do this IF there are so many negatives?”

The fact is that if you can maintain some semblance of order, you can feed off their energy and give it back to them in the form of interactivity skits and dance music as well as Karaoke. Unless it is an ALL Karaoke party, you won’t be doing Karaoke exclusively, so you again have the options of doing skits and dance music. Not all of the kids will want to do Karaoke, but they will want to be close by to check it out. The kids are more curious than anything else. Very few of them are obnoxious on purpose, but you need to be friendly and firm if you have problems. Be patient, explain it to them, and move on. Above all, work closely with the staff during the show; maybe arrange some discreet visual signals to involve them if you see things getting out of hand. Good luck at your dance!

CONCLUSIONS:

Karaoke is not only a club thing. It can be done at various other types of events with a high degree of success. This will enhance your reputation as an overall entertainer. The more things you know how to do, the more well rounded you are. We have covered possible approaches to use Karaoke creatively in Weddings, Senior Homes, with autistic adults and children, and school dances. As you book these types of events and have these encounters, feel free to email me at bsmith5356@aol.com to share your experiences. If you would like to add your success and approaches that worked but were not listed in this edition of KARAOKE 301, just say so and we will do it.

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Mobile Beat Staff Writer (228 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.


Filed Under: Karaoke