Photo:Derek Gavey on Flickr

Karaoke Social Rules - 6 Do's and Don'ts

I have been to Karaoke with all sorts of people here in Japan. Co-workers, university students, families, Japanese people, foreigners, guys, girls, and combinations from the above. While each group has a different way to run their session, there are some common yet unspoken DOs and DON’Ts that most people follow to make the sessions more enjoyable. Following the basics, here are a few Karaoke Social Rules that you might want to consider before your next session.


1. Take turns

People go to karaoke to sing, not to wait. Make sure you respect others’ desire to sing too and don’t put in a few songs in a row for yourself. The common thing to do is that if you still have a song in the machine, then you don’t put in the next song until that is performed. To make things even easier, just go clockwise. Keep in mind that if you become a mic-hog, most likely you won’t be invited for the next singing party. If you REALLY want to be singing more, consider teaming up for duets.

Speaking of duets...

2. Don’t join in unless you are confident OR invited to

It is common courtesy that you do not pick the microphone up until you get the OK from the person who put it in, thus the most likely situation for you to join into a song is when you’re invited to. Sometimes you are requested as support on a difficult song, sometimes the songs are just meant to be sung with others. Regardless of the reason, becoming mic 2 for someone is an honour.

Since a song is typically sang only once per session, I think it is also acceptable to be the one asking to join in a song you love, given that you are confident with the song. That includes if you know the tune and lyrics well enough, if you would mess it up for the partner by singing at a different key, and if you would outshine the main singer who put the song in. In order to share songs, it is crucial to for everyone to bring in songs that others know.

Speaking of songs that others know…

3. Perform songs familiar to the group

This is not a golden rule for 100% of the time. In fact, that would be boring. However, it is also lame when every song you sing is a song that no one else in the room has even heard. Karaoke is a shared-experience, and a big part of it comes from the song choices that everyone knows. Others can comment on your rendition of the song, perhaps someone else might want to join in and sing with you. You can have your private arsenal to sing too, but just having a few key songs that everyone is familiar with would make the party a much more collectively enjoyable experience.

Speaking of key songs…

4. Key songs

Regular Karaoke-goers would recognize that there are some songs that are sung at most karaoke parties. I consider these as “key songs”, songs that almost everyone knows and are staples for karaoke. For Japanese songs, there are “Chisai Koi no Uta”, “Linda Linda”, “Lovers Again”, “Planetarium”, “Mirai Yosozu II”, “Ue wo muite arukou”, just to list a few. These key songs are so crucial that not only would you almost always have someone in the room to sing with, people in the room might all join in without mics for the upbeat songs. Additionally, knowing when to bring out which key songs can really direct the room’s atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere…

5. Don’t be KY

“KY” is a Japanese abbreviation for “kuuki yomenai”, meaning “not being able to read the atmosphere”. In karaoke, you want to try to feel what the trend of emotions in the room is and select a song appropriately. You shouldn’t insert a ballad if everyone’s going hyper on a streak of upbeat rock songs. Vice versa, you aren’t doing any good by putting in a cheerful beat if everyone’s feeling mellow with love ballads. When the timing is right, someone (perhaps you) can put in a song to switch up the genre, but until then, don’t ruin the fun mood that everyone’s collectively in.

Speaking of fun…

6. Have fun

Perhaps the key rule to every Karaoke session that trumps everything else and applies to many things in life, make sure that everyone is having fun. If someone really wants to sing a song a second time, let them. If a person doesn’t feel like singing, don’t force them. After all, karaoke is one of the many social activities out there to ultimately have fun. If someone’s being left out, it would ruin the purpose of the party.

Those are just some of the tips to keep in mind when going to karaoke with others. They will help ensure that the karaoke session be fun for everyone. Next time, I will share some tips on not just enjoying, but how to become the center of a karaoke party. Until then, go enjoy yourself at karaoke and sing to your heart’s content with your friends!

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