Karaoke Performance Basics By: Bill Smith

April 8, 2008 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

Introduction:So, you have bought the CDGs, the players, and all of the equipment you need to put on a show. You have even booked a show. It’s this Friday night. Now what? What do you do to actually pull off a successful show? This installment at DJU deals with what we shall call “basic performance techniques”. These are the things that you need to run a professional and successful show. We will deal in several areas, including setup, preshow preparation, show execution, and some general notes… Lets rock!!


Setting up your show so that it suits the area that you are playing is the number one essential to making your show run smoothly. As an example, speaker placement and TV monitor placement are crucial to prevent feedback into your system from the singers’ microphones. Another example is if the club fails to clear out your area and customers are seated in the area where you are supposed to set up. You should make it clear that this needs to be accomplished at least an hour ahead of time. There is nothing worse than coming into your club, and there are 8 guys watching the sports TV and swilling loads of beer seated in the area where you are supposed to set up.

You need to visit your club before you do the show, and become familiar with the layout. Where are the electrical plugs? Do you have adequate room to load in? Will you require a table on which to set your CDGs and music? Is the area big enough to accommodate all of your gear? Answering all of these questions only ensures that you don’t get overly stressed on your big night. If your working conditions are not adequate, you need to work with the Club manager or person in charge to ensure that the area is big enough to work in. You need to be friendly, but assertive. Remember, this is your gig, and you know what conditions are needed to make the show run well.

I like to set my show up so that my back is to a wall. I find this to be an advantage when doing a show, because there are fewer distractions from multiple directions. Plus, if you set up very close to an electrical outlet, you can practically guarantee that you won’t lose power due to someone tripping over your power cord.

My mixing board and road cases are facing the audience, and my table is on one side of the road cases. My speakers are out in front facing the main room, and are set at least 20-25 ft. apart. You need to make sure that your singers and the TV monitor setup are not parallel with the main speakers, but are about 3-5 ft. in back of the speakers. This prevents that nasty feedback loop from occurring. Make sure you TAPE all cords down, for safety reasons as well as preserving your cords.

Pre Show Preparation:

Sound Check:

Now it is time to turn on everything, and run a sound check. The simplest way to sound out a room and understand the acoustics at work is to place your master volume halfway up. Slowly bring up each microphone channel first, and notice at which point you begin to get feedback. Make a mental note of this volume, and ensure that as the night progresses, you do not exceed this volume. Note also, that as the place fills up, you may need to nudge up the master volume a bit. Play a CDG in your player to make sure that the Karaoke TV works. Test your other players as well.

As you sound test, ask members of the audience how they like the levels. This gets them involved, and makes them feel like you care. Also, it gives you a chance to meet the people who are going to make your night work…your singers!! Remember that in Karaoke, sound is MUCH different than if you DJ. Singers need to hear the melody line, and as such, you need to take the bass levels way down, and increase your mid range and treble. The music needs to be clear and non-bass sounding. And the most important item of all: Your microphones need to be louder than your music levels. All music, whether live, taped, CDG, whatever, is a BACKGROUND for the singers. Never let your background override your featured singers.

Pass out the books:

About 15 minutes before you start up your show, you need to pass out the song books that you have worked so hard on creating. If you are using the Signup sheet system, place that out so that your singers can sign up. If you are using the slip system, then singers are ready to sign up by filling them out and giving them to you.

Announce that Karaoke is about to begin:

Now it is time to introduce yourself, and announce that the show is about to start. Advise everyone that the books are available for them to look at, and to please bring all requests to your booth.

Here’s an example:

Good evening everyone. My name is Bill Smith with the Magic of Music, and I want to welcome all of you to the Cary Tavern and Grill. Our show will be starting in about ten minutes. I have passed out the songbooks, which are arranged in alphabetical order by Artist. Simply fill out the request slips, bring them up to me, and we will crank it up very shortly. So that everyone gets their chance to shine in the spotlight, please bring up one request at a time, so that we get a rotation of singers going. Remember to also take good care of the people that are taking good care of you. I am looking forward to 4 great hours of fun times with you, so get those request slips ready, and lets rock this place!

Naturally, this depends on your own personality. No format is wrong. Use your own creativity to build on and create your own “schtick”. Everyone is unique. Use something that fits your personality and comfort level.

Arrange your songs:

As people start giving you slips, you need a quick way to access them. I use a wide plastic bread clip that you can get from any store. It is velcroed onto my road case where I can pick it up. As I get the singers requests, the first request goes on top in the clip. For the rest of the night, I work requests from top to bottom. New requests go in on the bottom, the next singer is selected from the top of the stack.

Show Execution:

Start the show:

I have never been to a show anywhere in the US where the Karaoke host did not start the show off singing if he/she was able to sing. This is the point of the show where you get people excited about being there. I like to start my shows with a theme, like the “2001: Space Odyssey”, or “Sirius Theme”, and fade right into my first song. I like to start off with high-energy songs, so I crank up songs like ” I Can See Clearly Now”, by Travelin Band, “Johnny B Goode”, or some other really uptempo song that stretches my abilities. You want people to see your talent showcased right off the bat!! Your first song (or two) should be “home runs’, where you are swinging for the fences. Of course, you need to tailor this for your area, and your tastes. A high energy opening however, is a great way to get your show on the right track.

Once you have finished singing, it is time to start getting other singers into the act. Fade over into some CD music you have set up on your other player, and talk over it as you introduce your first singer. This is where multi tasking is so important. You have to develop the skill of talking while you are programming your CDG player at the same time. Here is an example of something I might be saying, and DOING at the same time.

“Thank you so much for that warm welcome. That is how I want you to treat every singer up here tonight. We are all in this together, so lets support each other the best way we know how. Guess what time it is now?? It’s time for YOU to entertain ME. Its time for our very first singer tonight.” Give it up for Jonny D. Jonny is going to sing a great song for us, takin us back to 1986 with “On the Road Again”…here’s Jonny! Hey Jonny, pick either microphone, they both work just fine.

(During this intro, you have selected your CDG, programmed it, watched Jonny come up to get his microphone, waited until he stopped tapping it, then turned his sound on, pushed play, then used your cross over to fade in the Karaoke selection)

This is a skill that you must develop. Work on this at home, and mentally time it. Unless the singer is really drunk or totally deaf, it takes about 20-40 seconds for a singer to come up to the stage area, pick up the microphone, and get ready to sing.

(When Jonny finishes, be sure to say something positive about him, and recap what he sang. Fade over your music CD so that you have music going…)

“Hey, that was Jonny, and he says he can’t wait to get back on the road again…give him a big hand everyone. Nice job…all right…According to this, our next singer is the lovely and most talented Faith Evans. Faith has a great tune standing by for ya tonight. She’s gonna tell you about how “Love Can Build a Bridge”…Lets hear it for Faith

(During this intro, you have selected your CDG, programmed it, watched Faith come up to get her microphone, then turned her sound on, pushed play, then used your cross over to fade in the Karaoke selection to begin the play)

You repeat this process over and over as the night goes along.



Depending on your crowd, you may get a lot of singers, or you may get a lot of people that want to drink and dance. You should have already spoken with your club owner to understand exactly how they want things to progress. You must balance the needs of the person paying you versus the needs of your singers. A dance set does several things for you and your night club owner:

YOU get a short break. Go out there while the dance set is going, and work the crowd and your singers. Keep business cards on you. You never know.
The dance sets give your singers and the rest of the audience a chance to do something besides sit and wait for another singer.
The nightclub benefits because people will buy more food and drink to supplement the exercise they are getting on the dance floor.
Planning Dance sets:

I like to plan a dance set at least twice during the night, and run no more than 10-15 minutes. If you have a lot of Karaoke singers, you can plan this to happen just before your first singer of the night is scheduled to do his or her second song. If it is a slow singing night, plan to do this after the second rotation of singing is completed. Pick up the tempo with some fast music. Most of the girls will do the Electric Slide, and if you’re in the South, a follow on that really cranks is REDNEX’s version of the Cottoneyed Joe. Do the Macarena as a follow on, and maybe Whoomp There It Is. That is a pretty fast sweaty dance set that should give the bartender a stroke.

Notify your singers:

Always let your singers know who is coming up in the next 3~5 songs. This speeds things up a little. Here’s one way to do this: (Again, you are multi tasking)

“Man, y’all are lookin good out there. OK, listen up, here’s the next 5 singers….We got Jonny coming up for his 3rd song, then we have Faith, followed by the lovely Miss Stephanie, then Boomer, and the Spike Brothers. Jonny, let’s roll with it brother, come on up and nail this one to the floor. Here’s Jonny!! He’s gonna “Roll With It, Baby”


This is a tough call. There are some singers who want the entire spotlight, and are offended if you get others involved rather than just providing the platform for him/her to perform in. An example would be where you try to get the audience to clap more, or use props on the side, or otherwise make yourself more visible. This behavior is most likely more apropos at a private function. Karaoke in clubs has evolved for some singers into a deadly serious pursuit. You would not believe how many singers count the people in between their next time to sing, and are in your face if their count doesn’t conclude with you calling on them. Use your instincts to determine if a singer will appreciate you helping out the song, or if you should just be the “potted plant” for a few minutes.

Crash and Burn:

What happens when one of your singers gets halfway through the song, turns around and tells you, turn it off, this sucks, and I am not going to do it.

There are several ways to work it. First fade the song, and cross over to get some music playing. I like to get the singer over to the booth, and ask them if they want to try another song right then, or wait. Its 50 – 50. Here’s how I handle it BOTH ways:

“Jonny, I am so sorry. How about trying another song. No?…Ok, well then please bring me up another one. Everybody, give him a big hand anyway. Sometimes you just run into those things”


Hey Jonny, Sorry that didn’t work out. Do you have another one to try? Ok, what’s the number, I will put it right in…While I am doing that everybody give him a hand. It takes a lot of courage to get right back in the saddle after that happens.

Here Jonny with “Angel Eyes”


I tend to like the hands off approach in a nightclub. But that is because I am an older guy, and my approach is more conservative. I also realize that there are lots of ways to get interactive that will suit your style and ways of doing things as well as your personality that re not conservative by my standards. That is OK too, because its YOUR show. You have to run it the best way you know how. The performance basics presented here are designed to give you fuel for thought and action. There are certain basics that you will do over and over again for each show, and most of those are presented here. A good way to see what other people are doing is to visit other shows in your area. Look at what works and doesn’t work, and imagine yourself doing those things, or NOT!!!

Good luck out there. Happy Karaoking!

Mobile Beat Staff Writer (371 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 Jockey Tips