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Published June 13, 2024

The first-timer’s guide to karaoke

A&E gives greenhorns the skinny on life’s great equalizer.
Bartender Ryan Fuchs sings Monday evening at Otter Saloon.
Image by Bridget Bennett
Bartender Ryan Fuchs sings Monday evening at Otter Saloon.

It’s Monday night at Otter’s Saloon on Central Avenue and the place isn’t exactly hopping. But there’s a decent mix of people here, chatting, drinking and watching football — and once 9 p.m. hits, they’ll be singing their hearts out.

“It’s a place to express yourself and bust it out,” regular Larry Svoboda said.

It took years for Svoboda to hit the mic, but he’ll be the first to tell you that it should’ve been sooner. Once you’ve experienced the jubilation of a job well done, it’s a hard habit to kick.  

“We’re the only bar that has had karaoke 365 days a year since the ‘80s,” bartender Ryan Fuchs said. There are a few other bars with karaoke every night, including the nearby Vegas Lounge, but the Otter remains our favorite — not to mention longest-standing — standby. And we’re not the only ones.

“We get everybody — gay, straight, white, black. We don’t care. Bring ‘em all in,” said Ben Donovan, a security guy who’s been working at the bar for seven years.

So if you’re looking to clear out your pipes with some golden oldies, bring your rookie self on down to the Otter, a good spot for first-timers, and indulge in one of the most fun things you can do on a Monday night — or any night, for that matter.


Do’s and Don’ts


Do have a game plan. You don’t have to practice for hours on end, but it’s nice to have a few songs filed away in your head as safeties. That way, you won’t have to spend two hours flipping through the binders. Be sure to know the cadences of the verses and not just the popular choruses. Some joints’ lyric displays aren’t the most helpful.


Don’t drink something crazy before your turn. If you’re going to follow the advice of serious singers, don’t go for anything sugary or anything with dairy. A sub-par mic will cancel out any clarity and tonal perfection in your voice anyway, so don’t worry too much. That said, don’t drink anything that will make your throat feel sticky.


Don’t force a group sing. We know singing alone can be nerve-wracking. We respect that you want your buddies up there. But there’s nothing less entertaining than five or six girls hunched around two mics screaming a Spice Girls song. If you must have backup, go for a duet — see our Spotify duet playlist for ideas.


Do try. We’re not saying put your heart on the line…. Actually, we are saying that. No one’s too cool for karaoke. So when you go up there, don’t necessarily try to channel the emotion of Old Yeller dying, but do make the evening palatable for others who might be all too familiar with the shrieking, drunken harpy-type. Which leads to the next no-no:


Don’t be a doofus. We know, part of karaoke is embracing the not-so-great voices that represent the majority of society, but that doesn’t mean you need to be bad on purpose if you actually have decent pipes in the shower. Don’t try to pull a Bill Murray lounge lizard routine. It’s always a long shot that something like that will play out well, so noobs should avoid the schlocky, “My friends will get it, I swear” mentality.


Do be kind to your bartenders. We all know this is a rule for every night, but sometimes our karaoke nerves can make us extra skittish and forget the good men and women behind the bar. Your future friends at the Otter will thank you, sometimes loudly: “I ring the bell when I get a good tip,” Fuchs said. “Or when a song requires more cowbell.”


Don’t worry. We’re giving you a lot of advice here, but the main thing is to keep fun the main thing. “Find a song that you love,” Donovan said. “Good, bad — doesn’t make a difference. Nobody cares. People come here because they want to have fun.”


Songs to try out

Here’s our Spotify playlist of safe karaoke  jams for beginners:

Karaoke genres best left to the pros

Rap: Honestly, if you’re a great rapper, you already know that about yourself. If you have reservations about your ability to spit it, quit it with the hip-hop.


Show tunes: Show tunes are a labor to sing and to listen to. There’s a reason musical theater people quit their day jobs and follow the no dairy/sugar/alcohol/screaming rules: It’s because they’re the ones who can actually hit (and sustain) those money notes. Go ahead and try, but you might get acquainted with the feeling of getting yanked off-stage with a cane.  


Metal: Okay, so there are a few “standards” you could pull off —  Metallica, maybe. But for a rookie, it’s best to avoid the growly, usually unintelligible vocals of the hardcore stuff.


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