Is the representative from the Nobel committee here? Good. Let’s do this.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are witness to a groundbreaking moment in Karaoke Studies. I present the debut of the Karaoke Song Quality Formula, a method for determining the appropriateness of any given song for performance at karaoke bar or lounge. We measure this appropriateness through the score that is assigned to a song through this formula, which I hereby call the Karaoke Quotient.
Here’s the formula:
KQ = 1LD + 2SLR + 0.5AD + 0.5(RS/500) + 0.5(BH/100) + 1WPS + 0.5SF + 1(1/ER) + 2D + 1I
KQ = A song’s Karaoke Quotient. The theoretical maximum is 10.
LD = Length Differential. How much the song runs under or over the ideal length for a karaoke song. Songs that run shorter than ideal are penalized at half the rate of songs that run longer than the ideal.
SLR = Solo to Length Ratio. The total duration of all instrumental solos (not intros) during the song.
AD = Age Differential. How much the song’s age differs from the ideal age for maximum nostalgia effect.
RS = Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Song inverted rank. #1 on the list = 500, not on the list = 0.
BH = Billboard Hot 100 inverted rank. Peaking at #1 = 100, never charting = 0.
WPS = Unique word count in the lyrics per second. Unique words divided by total run time of the song.
SF = Strong Finish. If the song fades out, 0. If not, 1.
ER = Ending Repetitions. The number of times the chorus repeats itself at the end, inclusive of all choruses.
D = Difficulty. If the song is virtually impossible for a singer of the appropriate gender to sing, then 0. If it’s totally doable for a typical singer, then 1.
I = Intangible. If a song is, for lack of a better description, “just a damn good karaoke song,” then 1.
There are some key assumptions that drive this formula, and they’re certainly debatable, so they should be explained first before demonstrating the formula’s results:
- Weighting: Notice the 0.5, 1, and 2’s before each of the variables. This is how I’ve assigned more or less weight to certain song aspects based on how much they impact overall song quality. The rationale should be evident from the summary of concepts listed earlier, but to succinctly rationalize the 2 most heavily weighted variables: 1) long instrumental breaks create tons of dead space that kills a performance and 2) difficult songs are so often either bombed or unpleasantly screeched out, even by talented singers.
- Ideal length for a karaoke song: I tried, but I couldn’t find a commonly accepted “ideal song length” for pop songs, either inside or outside of the karaoke context. There’s a Wikipedia entry for the phrase “three minute pop song,” but no sources are cited. So without anything solid to rely on, I’m going out on a limb and declaring that ideally, karaoke songs should be four minutes in length. It’s long enough to cover a lot of musical and lyrical territory, but not so long so as to get boring or give the appearance of mic-hogging. (If you have an alternate suggestion, or better yet, can cite some sort of quantitative study around ideal song lengths, show me in the comments)
- Ideal age for a karaoke song: How do you measure the length of time that must pass before something enters the realm of the nostalgic? 22, according to VH1. That’s how many years passed between the year 1980 and the debut of the retrospective series, I Love The 80’s, in 2002. And that seems about right based on intuitive understandings of how cultural memory works: most songs get a few years in the spotlight, then fade in obscurity until the teenagers who grew up with those songs become broken middle-age adults reach back to their old music to recapture simpler times, thereby re-introducing those songs to contemporary listeners. (Likewise, I’m open to alternate suggestions on this; let me know in the comments.
- The Rolling Stone 500 & Billboard Hot 100 rankings: This is how we get at song popularity–and to some extent, artistic value. The Billboard Top 100 is a fairly straightforward measure of song popularity, but the RS 500 brings in some level of critical/artistic respectability to a song. I know, there are huge problems with the RS 500 list–believe me, I know–but I think it’s still useful to include in the formula.
- The intangible: This is my way of admitting that all of the objective measurements listed above can’t possibly cover all of those weird, unexplainable things that go into making any good pop song a great karaoke song. Some songs are just inherently better karaoke songs than others, and without fully being able why they are, I still feel like the formula needs to include this small measure of subjectivity and idiosyncrasy.
Okay, we’ve got the concepts, the formula, and the justification. Shall we see some results?