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Karaoke is an inevitable part of life, and knowing what kind of song to sing (or how to sing it) can be a daunting task regardless of your level of inebriation. (Or at least that’s been our experience. Unsolicited advice: proceed with caution around blue drinks at NYC’s Karaoke One 7.) In order to demystify it all, we decided to ask some folks who are certifiably v. talented musicians to give us their secrets re: mastering (or at least not totally fucking up) the ancient art of karaoke. Read on to find out how you, too, can enthrall your next captive audience:

Nick Wold of DREAMERS

I love to sing karaoke, and sometimes when I’m a few drinks in, the desire to sing my heart out starts to set in.  What I always say about karaoke is that it’s about heart, not about skill. You don’t have to be a great singer, you just have to throw your soul into the performance.  It can even be a bummer sometimes in LA when everyone singing is clearly a professional, ‘cause then it scares the normal shower-singers away from doing one. My favorite song to do right now is ‘Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’ by Aerosmith, because it’s just so epic and warm.  That, or ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths— it perfectly explains how my drunk heart feels. 

Jason Balla of Dehd

I’ve been both thrown out of karaoke bars and thrown onto the shoulders of fellow barfly crooners. The latter happened mid chorus of Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock.” My best advice for anyone taking up the mic is to choose a song they really know. And I mean really know. Like 90%-of-the-lyrics-by-heart kind of know. If you’re standing there reading off the screen you’re gonna be boring the hell out of your fellow karaokers and maybe even boring yourself. Get loose, look alive, belt it out (especially if you’re not a “good” singer) and give the people what they want – a performance. 

Aly Spaltro aka Lady Lamb

Karaoke terrifies me. Is that bad to admit? Even when I’m touring I still get nervous about singing for big crowds. So people who do sing karaoke impress me. Just a few weeks ago, my band and I went to a random karaoke bar in Spokane and I have to say, there were some amazing singers in there. They all sang country songs and then these two middle-aged people sang “Empire State of Mind.” Everyone was singing along and waving their arms, just having the time of their lives on a cold Tuesday night. It was actually surreal to hear this love song to New York sung at a dive bar way out in Washington. If there’s a key to success in karaoke, then it’s gotta be singing with your heart.

Rebecca Haviland of Rebecca Haviland and Whiskey Heart

Whatever song is your favorite late night drive, sing it as loud as possible song, that should be your first karaoke pick.  Think like Sweet Caroline, or Just A Girl. I’m a little tired of Don’t Stop Believing, but it’s always a hit. I love a good 80’s song too, like Pour Some Sugar On Me or Hit Me With Your Best Shot.  Don’t worry about whether or not you’re actually singing the notes. it’s the energy that matters most!

Will Fox

Here’s a “don’t” for a karaoke night, if you’re sick, DON’T go up and sing on the mic! A few years ago, I organized a Karaoke night for my girlfriend’s birthday at the time, and invited a bunch of our friends. I think 5 people who sang ended up getting sick with a pretty nasty flu including my ex girlfriend.

However, the best karaoke performance I’ve ever seen was that night. My friend Brendan Lynch Salamon went up and sang “Whole Lotta Love” by Zeppelin, in full Plant form, he even matched the whole “nonsensical-breakdown-section” noises note for note. Everyone was in awe, and in stitches.  Brendan was sick for weeks after that performance. The price he paid.

The moral of the story I think is to bring baby-wipes with you, and to pick a song that will make people laugh, first and foremost, not what you think your voice will sound best on. I’m a singer songwriter and I always sound terrible when I sing karaoke. So you might as well try to make people laugh!

P.S. Sing to your audience, if it’s a bunch of people who obviously grew up in the 90’s, how about a little “Who Let the Dogs Out?” 

Lily Wolter of Penelope Isles

It always helps to have that one song that everyone loves and no one ever sings! If you’ve got a rap you can spit..now is your time…If you’re a basic white bitch like me, your window for being Lauryn Hill is small. Take your moment.  #livingyourbestlife


Bonus tip from Megan Burns, author of this post and very much not a musician: “Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’ is much harder to perform than you would think, so maybe just don’t.”