HOW TO: Rock Your Karaoke

By now, most of your customers have experienced karaoke in one form or another. Whether at an exclusive, big-city karaoke bar or in cousin Billy’s basement, people are familiar with the concept. However, a true classic, like karaoke, never dies, especially when it comes back with a facelift and a feisty new attitude. To kick up your karaoke night, here are a few starting points to help you make your event stand out:

Remember, it’s “Karaoke Night,” so the evening should be centered around that event, even if it seems like something secondary customers aren’t going to participate in. One way to keep the crowd focused is with a professional karaoke host. Hosting companies provide all of the equipment needed for the event, so you can test out Karaoke Night at your bar without making a significant investment in equipment (as karaoke equipment can run from $100 to $5,000).  

According to Kathy Preston from K&J Entertainment in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (, venues that hire professional hosts get massive song selections, which is crucial to any successful karaoke night. “Hosts also come with a wealth of experience that makes them ideal for reading the crowd and making the night fun,” says Preston.

As a host herself, Kelly Cooper of Rock Star Karaoke in New York City ( says her main concern is making sure everyone who wants to sing has the opportunity. “When the night is over, there is nothing worse than having people that haven’t had a chance to sing,” says Cooper. “I just want everyone to rock out!”

LIve Band
Without a doubt, having a live band adds an extra element to your event. The above-mentioned Rock Star Karaoke is a for-hire band that will host and perform at your bar’s karaoke night. According to Cooper, having a live band is “a lot more kinetic. You feel like you’re part of a show.” Having a band and a backup singer also helps the customer feel supported when they’re on stage. “I want them to feel like we’re gonna help them if they need it, and we do,” says Cooper. It takes nerve (and maybe a drink or two) to sing in front of people so the last thing you want is for a customer to feel embarrassed.  

If you’re implementing karaoke for the first time at your bar, participation may not be high the first few times you run it. This is another area where a live band comes in handy. Rock Star Karaoke in particular doubles as a cover band. “Worse case scenario we just sing until somebody else does,” says Cooper. This keeps the energy up and the customers interested, and by hiring a live karaoke band you have incorporated two separate reasons why people might choose a bar: karaoke and live music.

No, we aren’t suggesting a reenactment of the final scene in 8 Mile, but a friendly(ish) competition where contestants go head-to-head, giving the crowd their best performance and letting them decide who should be crowned King of Karaoke (or whatever creative title you come up with). Giving the winner a reward they can share with the friends who came to cheer them on is a great way to draw crowds. Across the pond in London, England, local bar Roadhouse gives the winner of their karaoke night a £100 bar tab good for that night only (second place gets a bottle of Champagne). Consequentially, the bar draws scores of singers—friends in tow—every Monday for Karaoke Night.

Whatever incentive you use, large or small, winning has to be a big deal in order for customers to want to participate. This is where the host (whether yourself, an employee, or an outside hire) plays a big role; enthusiasm will make or break the night. The right host can get the crowd excited to win just about anything.

Rock Band
Not every performer is a singer, but the now ubiquitous Rock Band game offers a place for everyone to get on stage and rock together on various instruments. Not only are you engaging more people at a time, but also increasing the amount of people who want to participate by minimizing the spotlight on vocals, which can deter some from signing up.

In addition, you can set the TV screens in your bar to display what the contestants see, so the crowd can follow along. This also publicizes the participants’ scores, making it easy to hold a competition. Keep a leader board running from week to week and have people try to beat others’ high scores, promising them a photo on the wall or some other grand prize for reaching the top of the board. Rock Band has several versions (including Beatles, Classic Rock, Hip-Hop, Country Rock, etc.) each with over 2,000 songs to choose from.


People will do almost anything if it means getting something for free, and that includes singing “Baby Got Back” in front of a room full of strangers and the so-called “best friends” who put them up to it. P.J. Hanley’s Tavern in Brooklyn, New York, inspires its customers to participate by offering a free shot for every song they sing. As one can imagine, this makes for a comical and entertaining experience, as customers return week after week to trade their pride for shots, and have a great time goofing with friends. The goal with incentives is to give people the extra boost they need to get on stage. Between, free food, drinks, or take home prizes, the options are endless.  

Get Goofy
Familiarity with karaoke presents an invaluable opportunity to be creative and, in some cases, downright wacky. Kostume Karaoke at Solly’s U St Tavern in Washington, D.C., capitalizes on this very concept. As the name suggests, the hook here is the costumes and props the bar provides for those souls brave enough to take the stage wearing a blond wig or a wizard cape, or maybe both. Every other Wednesday at Solly’s, grown men and women dress up in kooky costumes, all in the name of a good time. In an interview with the Washington Post, Kostume Karaoke creator Debbi Arseneaux said: “It’s fun to watch your friends get up there and look silly. It takes the edge off.”

Not everyone is a gifted singer, but who among us hasn’t serenaded our showerhead with a little “Sweet Home Alabama” now and then? Adding some silliness to your Karaoke Night makes it about having fun instead of how well you hit the high notes, and it increases the chances your bar will see a higher turnout and return rate.  

Whichever way you decide to implement a karaoke night, keep in mind this anonymous quote: “Enthusiasm is contagious. You can start an epidemic.” And the epidemic is not a disease, but an idea—“This place is great, I’m having a blast,” and that comes from enthusiasm. So encourage your staff to cheer for the singers and invite people to participate. Have extra members of your staff sit in the crowd and get the energy up. Or, better yet, allow your staff to start off the singing with lively performances. When people see others having fun, it’s natural they want to join in (remember high school?). Now mix with alcohol, stir, and you’ve got yourself a successful karaoke night.