By Theresa Barba
I have always LOVED to sing. I started when I was 4 years old, however my family never thought being a singer was an "occupation." I was always encouraged to get a "real job", and was told only people who have "connections" get into show business. So..
I went to school, and got a " real job", but I wasn't completely happy. One day a friend of mine said we should go out after work for a couple of drinks. She said she had a place in mind that she thought I'd really enjoy. After work, she drove me to this little bar in Riverside, California (that's where I was living at the time). It was a small bar with a Mexican theme, but that wasn't what made it interesting to me. The thing that made it interesting was their entertainment. They had a sign up saying they were having karaoke on this particular night. The sign had a picture of someone holding a microphone and SINGING.
Karaoke? I'd never heard of the word. My girlfriend (who new I loved to sing) told me that music was played on the "karaoke system" and the song's words would come up on a TV screen. The words would light up as they're supposed to be sung, so nothing had to be memorized. I found out that the word "karaoke" is Japanese. The literal translation is "empty orchestra." This form of entertainment originated in Japan back in the 1970's. My first experience with karaoke was in 1986, and the industry and I have changed a lot since then. I used to go out almost every night to clubs, bars, and bowling alleys; anywhere I could find karaoke being offered.
The next turning point for me was reading a book called "Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow." I loved karaoke. I decided if I could go out singing for "free" then why couldn't I do this for a living? Most karaoke shows have a karaoke host or hostess. I found out they made some pretty good money each night, some were making over $200.00 per night at their "regular" shows. I looked into purchasing a karaoke system. The systems themselves (at the time) cost anywhere from $8000.00 to $12,000.00. These prices did NOT include the CD&G's (compact disc graphics). CD&G's are specially made cd's with words and graphics. The karaoke systems have special CD players that can read the graphics and writings on these CD&G's. Because these discs are not like a normal music CD, they can cost 3 times as much. Most CD&G's cost around $25.00 to $30.00 per CD&G.
In my case, I didn't have this type of money to invest and/or spend. This however, didn't keep me from singing just about every night. Karaoke was definitely my obsession. I loved singing, and this was something that allowed me to do something I loved.
One of the KJ's (karaoke jockeys) I had become friends with over the years, started to let me cover for her if she was going out of town or just didn't feel well. This let me experience what it was like to host a show. Let me tell you up front that doing karaoke as a host is a whole lot different than doing karaoke as a participant. As a KJ your job changes.you are now encouraging people to get up and sing, not you as the host "hogging the microphone", and singing all night. Sure, you can sing occasionally or when it's "slow", but your main objective is to get up there and get your audience to come up and sing.
The biggest event of my life occurred on February 13, 1995. I went home, and found my mother in bed "asleep", only she wasn't sleeping. She had passed away. Have you ever heard the clichés: "Every gray cloud has a silver lining", or "One door closes and another one opens"? Well, for me they're true. My mother over the years had become my biggest fan. Her opinions changed, and she constantly encouraged me to follow my dream. She believed that karaoke would someday be my "stepping stone" to a career as a singer.
Her passing led to me inheriting a large life insurance policy. I was now able to finance my karaoke business (I don't recommend this as the best form of financing, but this was my silver lining to a VERY dark cloud in my life). Shortly after my mother's passing I met a wonderful man who has two children from a previous marriage. We "hit it off", and four months after we met we were married; that was February 14, 1996. My husband is very supportive of me, and because my karaoke shows are usually done in the evenings he either accompanies me to the shows or co-hosts them with me.
This can be a very competitive business; many things have changed since I was introduced to karaoke in 1986. Systems have changed, there's a greater availability of popular songs being reproduced on CD&G's, and the biggest change is the rate of pay you can expect to make. Nowadays it's rare to make more than $100.00 per night at a "regular" show. A regular show means you've contracted with an establishment to be there for specific nights for a specific amount of time. The contract may be for 3 nights per week for 6 months or longer, and the shows are from 8pm to midnight. Regular shows won't pay as much as a single show like a wedding or other private party. One night shows can pay $350.00 or more depending on where you're located and how long you'll be hosting. Actually, most places won't sign contracts anymore. They don't want to be held to any terms, and that's where the competition comes into play.
Being a KJ maybe fun, but it's still a business; as in all businesses there's always someone trying to "take over." It's an unfortunate, but not uncommon practice for another KJ to "steal" your show. This person or these people will approach the manager or proprietor of the club, and promise him or her the sun to get your show. If that doesn't work, they will try to find out how much you're being paid so they can "undercut" your fee. If that happens, many times you'll find yourself not working at that establishment anymore. That's ok, there are plenty of places out there that need entertainment---even if they don't know it yet.
So are you ready to be a KJ? To get bookings you want to emphasize how karaoke will help the ESTABLISHMENT, and NOT you. It all comes down to the bottom line, m-o-n-e-y. The bar/restaurant owner/manager wants to hear how karaoke is going increase his profits. He or she doesn't care about your 10, 12, or 15 thousand dollar system, nor do they care about the huge song library you have, they care about how karaoke is going to increase their profits. You want to emphasize that people who enjoy karaoke, usually stick around for hours. This means people will be BUYING MORE DRINKS, MORE FOOD, etc. You should put together a portfolio of all the work you've done. My portfolio has samples of flyers I've done to advertise my shows at other establishments. I have a section entitled "What past customers have said about Gold Star Entertainment" (Gold Star Entertainment is my company name).
KJ's are great for "gimmicks." I like running contests. Contests usually get BIG crowds to come in. This usually makes dollar signs appear in the eyes of the person I'm dealing with. Over time you'll find what works best for you.
When I'm negotiating a deal I TRY to get the person to sign a contract. As I previously stated, this does NOT usually happen (unless it's a one time event like a party or wedding, then a contract is MANDATORY to protect your interests). You may want to contact an attorney and have a general contract drawn up that you can use for each job you book. In lieu of a contract I still try to negotiate some "perks" like a bar tab or a food tab.
You also want to confirm how and when you'll be paid. Large chain restaurant corporations will most likely pay you every other week via corporate check. Smaller locations will usually pay you weekly or even nightly. When I'm working for a small place I try to push for nightly pay, and I push for cash. This is because I have been "burnt" in the past by smaller establishments. If they run into a cash flow problem, guess who they are LEAST worried about paying-YOU the KJ. I've had checks bounce, I've even gone without pay. The proprietor said he was running short and he'd pay me "next time." Well, "next time" never came. Also, keep in mind you are an INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR NOT AN EMPLOYEE. As such, you'll enjoy the tax write-offs of a self-employed individual, and you'll also be responsible for certain taxable items. I suggest you contact a tax advisor or an attorney to find answers to all your legal issues.
Juggling children and your KJ'ing job, how you do this depends on several factors. For us, it depends on what time of year it is. Is school in session, out of session, off for the summer, etc. I try to book jobs at "kid friendly" places. This is usually restaurants, bar & grills (most bars and grills highlight "food" as their main business, if so, then kids can stay until the kitchen closes), or bowling alleys. I also admit, I don't live a "conventional" lifestyle. At the height of my business, both my husband and I were working full-time jobs, going to school, taking care of my two step-kids, and hosting 9 karaoke shows per week between the both of us. We were "riding the karaoke wave" for as long as possible because this is an unpredictable business. Like show business, it can be feast or famine.
When we got married my step-kids were 7 and 10 years old. Both of them enjoy singing, so it works out pretty well (there dad was heavily into karaoke before he met me, he'd lived in Japan for 6 years while in the military so he was VERY familiar with karaoke). During the summer they attend the shows with my husband and me. The shows normally run from 8pm to midnight or 9pm to 1am. Most places I book are "kid friendly" so having the kids with us isn't really an issue. If I do book a show at a "real bar" my husband will stay home that night with the kids. On the nights we bring them along (during the summer) since there's no school the next day, them staying up for the show isn't really a problem. If they do get tired, my husband will take them to the car, and stay with them while they sleep till I finish my show. During the school year we let them come along on Friday and Saturday nights. If I have shows during the week, they'll stay home with their dad (of course there are the times when they're staying with their biological mom, so then none of this is an issue).
We both still work full-time jobs, go to school one night per week, and take care of the kids, but we/I have cut-back on the karaoke. Currently I host 2 regular shows per week, and those are done on Friday and Saturday. My 9 shows per week schedule was very grueling, and I don't recommend you try it. But who knows, it may be your "magnificent obsession", and you'll LOVE leading this life.
Once you're a KJ, you'll always have a source of income. Your efforts will show up in your bank account. Like the title of the book "Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow", I did just that. I love singing, which for me led to karaoke, which led to making money. Now when people ask what I do for a living I can honestly say: "I sing for my supper."
Theresa Barba, Owner
Gold Star Entertainment