How “Professional” Singers Sabotage Your Chances of Getting Noticed

Twice this month, I’ve been out at amateur singing “things.” I usually try to avoid your standard karaoke or piano bar stuff because when you do this for a living, you get enough of both the attention and the experience of singing. For me, there is the extra added stress that I will probably be singing a song I haven’t practiced and there is no chance in hell that I will actually remember the words after a couple drinks.

But over the last few weeks, I actually participated in both a karaoke night and a piano bar open mic, and I was immediately reminded of the other reason that I typically steer clear: host singer sabotage.

I know. It sounds awfully stupid. But if you end up in a bar where they are offering karaoke or an open mic, chances are someone is getting paid to host the night. This means they are supposed to keep the crowd happy by making sure that people who want to sing get to – no matter how good or bad they are. Like anything having to do with music in a bar, the primary goal is to keep people there as long as possible and to sell drinks. And – for those people working – to get tips. In a busy piano bar, there may be a primary pianist and a couple different singers who host the night. Very often, these people are wonderful singers. And like most of us who are not on some big tour singing backups for our idols or actually being our idols, they are struggling to try and pay rent and still do what they love.

But they can also be a tad bitchy. And one of the tricks they often use to make sure that the focus stays on them and how good they sound when they sing and not you – the amateur singer out to just impress your friends and have a good time for a night – is to dramatically screw with the gain and/or EQ on the “guest” mic(s) so that it sounds like crap. Sometimes, they might as well have handed you a carrot to sing into. I’d swear sometimes it would be more effective.

You probably won’t be able to tell this is happening other than possibly not being able to hear yourself much. But the audience will be treated to a version of you that is dramatically lower in volume than the host singer – making you sound even more like an amateur because the logical conclusion is that you are just not as good a singer as the host. It also results in something else I truly hate – STRAIN. If you are particularly unlucky and you are in a loud crowded bar, you will likely try to rectify this problem by pushing with your throat or screaming into the mic harder. Don’t. This, unfortunately, also doesn’t help you sound better. In fact – it will probably fatigue you and make you sound worse. From the host singer’s point of view: mission accomplished. Back to me – the good singer, who sounds great as soon as I pick up MY “personal” mic over here…look at how wonderful I am!

This is obviously a crappy trick. And sure – there may be piano bar, open mics, and karaoke hosts whose logic is they don’t want truly horrid singers filling the bar with yowling that will drive everyone away. But – let’s face it – that’s the JOB. If all of the host singers want to be the stars of the show, they should get their own paying gigs in clubs, draw their own crowds, and rightfully commandeer the stage for the whole night. Good luck getting people to come. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to get people to come to karaoke. Karaoke and open mic nights fill rooms because regular people want to have fun doing something they either do for a hobby or almost never in their life. That’s what they’re paying for. 

Which, I guess, is why I find this practice so annoying. It might shock people to know that as a professional singer, I actually really like going out and hearing other people sing at open mics – even if they are amateurs. You happen on a lot of really talented singers, and it can also be a lot of fun just to watch people have fun doing something they aren’t particularly good at (like I imagine it must be for people watching me bowl – which trust me – is HYSTERICAL).

I also like listening to the host singers. Many of them are really awesome.

I just wish they’d leave their diva hats at home.

And…just to prove you just never know who might be at your local karaoke bar…