# The Karaoke Quotient

## A formula for calculating how appropriate a pop song is for karaoke. Find our what your favorite song’s Karaoke Quotient is–and if it might the best karaoke song of all time.

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

Where

KQ =  A song’s Karaoke Quotient. The theoretical maximum is 10.

And

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?

### 38 Comments on “The Karaoke Quotient”

1. Karaoke Guy #

I don’t need a spreadsheet or a formula, because the greatest karaoke song of all-time is Paradise by the Dashboard Light. You can deduct as many points as you want for it being “too long” but you’d be wrong to do so.

#2 is Love Shack.

2. lee OTI Staff #

@Karaoke Guy: you remind me of an issue that I wasn’t able to fully cover in the post or in the formula. A lot of songs have truncated karaoke versions that cut out most if not all of thos insanely long instrumental solos or other weird breaks. “Sweet Child ‘O Mine,” my convenient whipping boy for bad karaoke song, is usually cut significantly in karaoke versions. Same with “Paradise;” most times I’ve sung it the baseball break is entirely cut out. But sometimes it’s not, and the play-by-play words are typically not shown on screen. In those cases, if the singer can’t ad-lib it, the song gets real boring.

I have a ton of other caveats and thoughts that I’ll be posting later in the day…meanwhile, can someone plug in “Paradise” into the formula, perhaps both with and without the baseball segment as the “solo”?

Also…I mostly agree with you on “Paradise” being the best karaoke song of all time, if you have a duet companion who can hold up his/her end of the deal.

3. Anton Sirius #

I leave the bar when anyone sings any Meatloaf song. And I don’t do private room karaoke with anyone who would dare bust out the fat man.

4. Conlaen #

I’m intrigued, though will have to make some adjustments as the Billboard Hot 100 is not quite representative for Europe, or in my specific case: Belgium (or Holland). Easily solved by taking a similar hit list service.

Not quite sure how, if at all, to distinguish English from Dutch or French songs. Depending on the audience in the room, a given song may have better results if the song in question is in native tongue.

5. Gab #

@Anton: So if offered a million dollars to sing, “I’d Do Anything for Love,” your answer would be, “I won’t do that,” yeah?

6. Timothy J Swann #

Great job, good to see another one of the classic number-crunching posts! I’ll have to see what happens if I put Pure Reason Revolution’s Bright Ambassadors of Morning http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHv5dAFzDKg into the mix, it might come out as the worst possible!

7. Karaoke Guy #

The worst karaoke trunctation I’ve ever run into is Prince’s When Doves Cry. They cut out the entire last minute, which was the only part I really wanted to sing. The rest of the song is pretty boring.

I recently had an unexpected karaoke hit at my regular place when I sang John Mellencamp’s Small Town, except replacing every instance of those two words with “Wal Mart”

8. Timothy J Swann #

Yep, weighted score is 0.83! Which as one of my most favourite songs, shows just how this formula can give awesome song =/= awesome karaoke.

9. Valatan #

‘Summer Nights’ from Grease is a vastly better Karaoke song than Paridise by the Dashboard lights–all its advantages, none of its pathologies.

10. Valatan #

And here is the worst Karaoke song ever. You’re welcome.

11. Chris #

I think by using VH1 to determine your nostalgia factor may have impacted the results. After all, these are the people that did an “I Love the 2000s” Ironic nostalgia lovefest before the decade was even over.

The best karaoke song is Guns N’ Roses version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” but only if you try and mimic Axl Rose’s audio mugging.

12. Caroline #

I plugged in the numbers for my favorite song to sing at karaoke, “Centerfold.” The total score, with weighting, was 8.41. Nice to have math supporting my choices!

13. Timothy J Swann #

Oh, worst ever would have to be something from Godspeed You! Black Emperor.. but I thought I would give a song I sing along to often a try.

14. Akilah #

I won a karaoke contest (with a cash prize) doing “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer. So, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the best karaoke song ever.

(My biggest competition was a seasoned karaoke dude who did “PIano Man,” so take that as you will.)

15. Rob "Il Duca" Loggins #

Anyone who sings the following in a busy Karaoke bar should be thrown out. (Slow night, fine, busy night, no F-en WAY!)

1.) Bohemian Rhapsody
2.) Anything by Meatloaf
3.) Anything by Gordon Lightfoot
4.) Anything by Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston
5.) Anything by the B-52’s
6.) The only Journey or Bon Jovi sung should be a “B-Side”

And remember, just because you heard it on Glee, or watched some crappy musical does not mean it is a song worth singing.
When you pick a karaoke song, it should be unique and not overdone. If you hear the song sung everytime you are at Karaoke, SIGN UP FOR SOMETHING ELSE! That song is TIRED!

And try, for the love of all things Karaoke, to not be a drunken idiot screaming into the mike! Karaoke is for fun, not destroying the speakers and driving people out of the bar!

-Rob “Il Duca” Loggins
San Francisco Karaoke Mafia

16. RiderIon #

I would argue that “Sweet Child o’ Mine”‘s length can be dilute or negated by the singer’s ability to mimic Axl Rose’s dancing from the music video.

17. Jamas Enright #

Wonder how “November Rain” would rate then? ;)

But I do ask, related to the “original key” proviso, what impact is there of singing a song for the other gender? Could men pull off a Madonna song? (Yes, one could cite Glee here, but try without the benefit of Autotune.) Could women sing Johnny Cash?

Oh, and how long before Autotune infects Karaoke to the point of making all songs sound the same?

18. lee OTI Staff #

@Rob “Il Duca” Loggins:

You bring up very good points, and that’s one of the important caveats that I really wanted to get out there in the article but couldn’t.

This formula doesn’t take into account 2 important things: 1) how “played out” a song is and 2) the situation’s context/audience. Those are just way too variable and hard to quantify, so this formula really reflects karaoke quality in its ideal, unspoilt, “neutral” state.

Once you introduce things such as how cliche a song is for karaoke, whether you’re at a bar with strangers or in a room with friends, and how late in the session it is, things can go totally haywire.

Depending on who I’m out with, “Piano Man” can be either the perfect song choice or a total dud (e.g. “instant skip.” Either way, if it’s within the first 2/3 of the evening before people have had enough booze, it’s kinda blah.

So putting all those things aside, and granted, those are some really important things, this formula tells you a given song’s *potential* for karaoke greatness. The rest is left to execution and reading the context/audience appropriately.

19. lee OTI Staff #

@Meat Loaf haters:

Why all of the hating on Meat Loaf at karaoke? Is it that it’s generally not sung well, or that you think they’re bad songs to begin with?

20. Gab #

@Rob: I’d contest that at least half of the artists you say should be forbidden are kind of staple karaoke song-makers and would probably score pretty well on Lee’s scale if their songs were plugged into the formula.

@Lee: So when you go a-karaoki-ing, is there a “winner” each time? And if so, do they earn more than just bragging rights?

I *won* my own prize at a contest (sort of… it was a station at a video game museum with one of the Playstation karaoke games, and I got the high score in the morning and it was still the high score at closing) with “Take on Me” once, but I still doubt it’s a generically Good karaoke song because of those high notes.

But that makes me wonder if a variable for situational success were to be added, how much different songs would flop around. I mean, a song I and my friends may sing together sometimes and thus would enjoy immensely may not be so hot to everybody else. So I get bonus points for singing it *with them* there, but if not, it doesn’t get any.

21. BryanJose #

I never fail to bring down the house with one of two songs. If I’m singing solo I’ll do Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl” and if I’m doing a duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. Admittedly I’m not a great singer but I do make up for it in stage presence.

Also the best karaoke I’ve ever seen was a brother/sister duo doing “Rock Lobster” about 5 years ago. It was crazy, the sister was running around the bar with a wireless mic and the brother was doing all kinds of rock posturing. Oh, and it was sung well too.

22. Randal L. Schwartz #

In the mid-90’s, the KJs were pretty good about keeping the rotation going. Sure, they might have sang one song per rotation in the slow part, but they deferred to the crowd as the night got busy.

Today, we have completely idiot KJs who:
(a) let the same song be sung more than once in a night (Karaoke Forbidden!)
(b) sing a song of their own every rotation, regardless if there’s 15 singers up
(c) don’t count duets when deciding whether someone also gets a solo turn (since when can Jill sing a song, then Jack sing a song, then Jill and Jack sing a duet, all before I get my next turn?)
(d) play stupid dance-song breaks! we’re not there to dance (unless it’s to a good singer)… we’re there to do Karaoke, idiot!

Anyway, Karaoke has definitely gone downhill in the US in the past 10-15 years. Thanks for your analysis, as always.

23. Anton Sirius #

@Gab

Not only would I say no, I’d deny getting the joke.

The weird part is, I can handle other Steinman songs, like Total Eclipse of the Heart, just fine. But Meatloaf though… gah. The bombast… it burns…

24. Anton Sirius #

@lee

I find Meat Loaf is rarely sung well, and even if it is done ‘justice’ it tends to be an incredibly long and boring song to listen to. I mean, unless you have a nostalgic investment in the song, Paradise, Bat Out of Hell etc are just cheesy messes musically. Two Out of Three, at least, clocks in at under six minutes, but no one ever does that one…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sing. I’m planning on trying Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ the Night Away for the first time tonight.

25. Anton Sirius #

@Randal

Come to Toronto some time… there are still a ton of great nights & hosts up here. The scene is alive and well.

26. Anton Sirius #

Wait, no, one more post, since I’m now spamming the thread I might as well go whole hog…

I’m very much of the ‘keep trying something new’ school of thought when it comes to what I sing, rather than the ‘few songs I do well’ school, so the idea of finding a ‘formula’ for what will be pleasing to the average karaoke crowd is definitely appealing. I will be digging into the formula when I have a chance, lee.

Just for a representative sample, I’ll plug in all the songs I did in May (list below) and compare what the formula spits out to what I observed from behind the mic. Should be interesting.

#1 Crush – Garbage
19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones
Down By the River – Neil Young
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town – Pearl Jam
Head Like a Hole – Nine Inch Nails
Heartbreaker – Pat Benatar
In the Meantime – Spacehog
Instant Karma – John Lennon
Jump – Van Halen
Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
Little Green Bag – George Baker Selection
Night Moves – Bob Seger
Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye
Starlight – Muse
Tainted Love – Soft Cell
This Boy’s In Love – Presets
True – Spandau Ballet
Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

27. cat #

@Valatan Thank you. :)

28. mlawski OTI Staff #

I wonder if certain songs should get bonus points for being recently featured ironically in a sitcom or on the Internet. For example, True (by Spandau Ballet) should probably get bonus points because it was featured on Modern Family earlier this season, to humorous effect. (On the other hand, the song itself wasn’t the main punchline; the name “Spandau Ballet” was. “Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark” was also mentioned in this episode for the same reason.)

29. Joe #

I agree with “I Want It That Way” scoring so highly. I hated boy bands with a passion when they were big, but I think that song succeeds more than any other I’ve ever seen attempted, regardless of setting.

I’m surprised no one has mentioned Total Elipse of the Heart, which can be done earnestly (which is hilarious), mock-earnestly (still hilarious), or even “Metalhead having an emotional breakdown, complete with cursing” (maybe the funniest thing you will ever see in your life, if done right).

And as for difficulty, I know it probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but my go-to song is Prince’s “Kiss,” complete with falsetto. The most dangerous thing about this one isn’t the falsetto, but rather the “Wendy and Lisa Parade” dance sequence in the middle of the song. You have to have something prepared for that, or it’s fatal.

30. Joe #

Oh, and the single worst karaoke song ever is Picture by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, because EVERYONE IS FUCKING SICK OF IT. Let it go, people.

31. Mark #

Should you get extra points for songs with audience-participation-potential? You know, something with a call/response or a chorus that people generally like to join in on? That might be one of the intangibles for ‘Piano Man’, and certainly adds to any rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’ (well, when you’re singing it in Boston, at least).

Personally, I like to do ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ (I can usually get a girl to come up and jig while I air-fiddle the instrumentals), and then pick the girliest song on the playlist to do in my faux-Isaac Hayes voice, because humor provides easier entertainment value than real singing talent (i.e., people are generally more willing to laugh than nod their heads and say “wow, they’re actually pretty good”).

I have a friend who kills it with “Ghostbusters,” and I’ve personally had great success with “I Touch Myself.” I imagine both would rank highly on this scale. “Ghostbusters” has the added benefit of audience participation. (“I Touch Myself” kinda does, too, because most people just can’t help singing along with it.)

33. Karaoke Guy #

Originality is key. One time I sang Tubthumping and acted progressively more drunk as the song went on, to the point that by the end of it I was staggering and could barely form a coherent sentence. It killed. Also, and I was a bit nervous about this one, I sang I Kissed a Girl in the most flaming homosexual voice I could, and it also killed.

34. Brimstone #

i love Meat Loaf
i can’t really sing, so i tend to just do really punked out, yelly versions of songs. Ramones are good for this. or Sid Vicious style My Way
or Subterranean Homesick Blues, ’cause i know all the words. that is kinda boring tho
killed it at a pub with Livin On A Prayer last weekend… got everyone to sing along on the choruses

35. JoeyT #

For some reason, I frequent karaoke bars a lot, but never sing. Super stage fright.
But, I fucking hate Ice Ice Baby. I plugged it into the formula, it got a -43.5.

36. CriminalMind #

There are several things mentioned in this thread that hit the nail on the head. But there were a few I simply have to address:

Randall: A good karaoke host entertains the crowd using several means. I can’t let a night go by without doing “Stupify” by Disturbed, because the crowd requests it every time I’m out. In fact, I get several requests to do songs in a night, and if filling those requests entertains the crowd, then so be it. Therefore, I am not about to take myself out of the rotation. It won’t kill you to wait another 4 minutes if the rest of the bar is having a blast.

James Enright: Men can sing Madonna without pitch correction. I sing “Crazy For You” whenever I’m challenged to do a gender-bender.

Il Duca: “Bohemian Rhapsody” will ALWAYS get the crowd going, no matter what. It’s a sing-along song that gets the entire bar involved, and that builds a bond karaoke hosts crave. Full or not, it doesn’t deserve to be on your list of don’ts.

Karaoke Guy: I liked your story about Tubthumping. While Dr Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother” is a rather boring song to hear when out at a bar, I do it in a way similar to yours – I start up sort of melancholy, and get progressively worse by the end of it until I’m wailing away in actual tears. Then at the end of the song I give the crowd a smile and skip off the stage. It creates an entertainment factor people enjoy. I do the same with Genesis’s “Mama”, and by the end of it, I’m curled up on stage in the fetal position screaming “DON’T GO!”…

37. DN #

Horrifying comments. CriminalMind has scarred me.