KJs Need to Step Their Game Up

Problems with your local karaoke options? The problem could very well be the pilot.

Karaoke as a fun late-night activity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Although CD+Gs, the oldest and most trusted tool of commercial karaoke availability, are slowly fading away from our existence, the art form of karaoke — a popular Americanized pasttime — remains the cornerstone at dive bars, house parties and karaoke hotspots across the country via a new slew of operations including database online streaming and the original standard of karaoke machines.

Of course, the availability of smartphone apps is now beginning to eat away at karaoke nightlife. Popular ones like StarMaker, Spotlite, Sing! Karaoke by Smule, Red Karaoke and even ones using The Voice! brand are turning smartphones into mini karaoke stations for singing enthusiasts and music lovers. Because of this new industry, similar to how dating apps have cut into bar life, watering holes and bars who depend on weekday karaoke nights are now facing a grimmer reality. In my own experiences, I’ve seen bar owners and longtime KJs struggling to make sense of the new math and techy competition.

And yes, it’s easy to toss all the blame at modern technology.

But let’s pause for a second and look a little closer at the dynamics at home. For starters, using a visual setup that looks archaic or painfully awkward could be part of the problem. Old monitors, asinine sound systems, faulty microphones and a poorly-lit soundstage just don’t cut it in today’s karaoke universe.  If this has been your bar’s regimen for weekly karaoke and very little has changed for the better, it may be time for an upgrade.

I know the struggle is real. And bar owners are too afraid to invest in authentic karaoke systems and comprehensive songbooks, but the streaming of YouTube content — even for those peculiar song requests — is starting to vex my soul. What if the Wi-Fi goes wonky? What if it goes out completely? What’s your backup plan?

And how about customizing your karaoke experience so that it feels exclusive to your venue and audience? That way attendees will feel as if they are a part of something unique and one that values them. Set up one of those lyric screens that include your venue logo. And like a cherry on top, set up a naming feature, which allows you to type in a name for your guests.

While we’re on that subject of upgrading, fix the body of your venue.


And fix the face of that stage.


A little fancy decor ain’t never hurt nobody.

Let me bring a good example of just one of my worst karaoke experiences. One late evening, I was invited to a pop-up karaoke event. When I arrived, the crowd was certainly there. So were the charisma and the energy. But most of that relied on good singers and their wise song selection. But I was totally disappointed in the set-up. It was just so dull and unimaginative that I couldn’t force myself to sign up. I’m sorry but reading the lyrics from an iPad shouldn’t be a KJ’s definition of top-tier entertainment. This is what you’ll do in the comforts of your own home, for a private party of two. Not for a public gathering.


And let’s not forget about the most important taskmaster of the party — the KJ! Yeah, if you wanna point some of the blame on disappointing figures, it could be the host. KJs, the pilots navigating this extraordinary singalong liner, carry a great burden of responsibility, including the tasks of engaging the crowd and keeping them excited and comfortable. Although it has its lion share of perks, this job can be hard and tedious.

So if your KJ is cranky and it’s just the middle of the night, then look no further.

If he or she is taking their merry time with the list or playing the most awful tunes in between segments, look no further.

If he or she is deliberately skipping folk in rotation just to kiss up to the B-list celebrity of the hour, look no further.

If they are going ballistic on the brews and are acting like an obnoxious bully on the mic, LOOK NO FURTHER.

And if the singers are just god-awful, at least you have a cute room and excellent equipment to brag about.

 J Matthew Cobb is the managing editor of HiFi Magazine.

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