A Karaoke Jockey Explains Why You Must Pay Extra To Sing Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing'

Categories: Q&A
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As we reported last week, San Francisco karaoke jockey Roger Niner has taken the drastic step of charging an extra fee for customers to sing "Don't Stop Believing." (We know.) Niner, a seasoned pro with many years of full-time experience in the drunken fraying of larynxs, kindly explained to us last week what this move was all about. He even speculated on what makes this particular song -- birthed by San Francisco's own Journey, and taken up by the S.F. Giants as the official anthem for the team's World Series-winning 2010 season -- so insanely popular.

So one day you decided to charge people more to sing "Don't Stop Believing," right?
Yes, that is exactly correct.

Why the hell did you do that?
If you go to karaoke bars, "Don't Stop Believing" is the No. 1 most-requested song. When I first started going to karaoke, I was caught up in the wave as well: "Oh, 'Don't stop Believing,' cool! Everyone has a good time! Yay!" But as I have been doing this for as long as I have, I hear it every night. When I was starting my business, I actually didn't put the song in my songbook. I purposely left it out, thinking people might not see it and then not think about it, but that didn't work.

So one night somebody signed up to sing it.  And then I had two other people that were unrelated to each other come up and request the song through the course of the four-hour show. And I just snapped. I'm not going to delete it, because that's just going to be a disaster. So I said, "Alright, I'm going to make some money from this." So the policy is, $5 to sing, that $5 goes into a fund that I use to purchase new songs for the book. And if you look at the sheet that I have in my book, it straight says, I have 11,000-plus other songs to sing for free. You can find one. [Laughs.] I just had to do it.

The thing is, it's not as much of a deterrent as I hoped it would be. It has definitely whittled down the requests. I do have people that say "Hey, I want to sing it," and I say, "I'm sorry, I'm charging $5." And I always am very polite about that, just to let them understand I'm not targeting them or isolating them, but they will say "Oh," and wander off. I had some people the other night leave because they were mad.

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It would seem like there's an implied frustration or anger at people who want to sing it. Is that the case?
The people that I have come to my shows, a lot of them are regulars. Most people were applauding the decision -- they thought it was awesome, because they all hate it, too. Karoke regulars cannot stand that song. There are still some people that are diehard true DSB fans. Most of the people at my shows were like "Yes, good, you did something, just delete it." But I still have people -- one guy comes into my shows, and ... it doesn't stop him. I have people who are my regulars saying alright, you need to charge $5 per person, because sometimes [there's] a group of 10 people. Or they're saying you need to raise the rate because it's not stopping people. They are not stopping believing.

Can you explain the amazing allure of this particular song?
I have been trying to figure out the philosophical ramifications of it for years. I still haven't really come across it. It's a song in a major key. And It's a very soaring song. And the whole point of it -- "Don't Stop Believing" -- I guess it could apply to karaoke itself, the idea that I may be an amateur singer, or I may not be able to carry a tune, but that's not going to stop me, I'm going to keep going. But the funny thing about it is the song is impossible to sing! It's out of everyone's range. You actually have to be either [Journey singer] Steve Perry or the guy that they found to fill in. It's so hard to sing, it's so out of everyone's range -- doesn't stop 'em. Because they're not going to stop believing. I can't figure it out.

A sidenote: when the Giants obviously won, I did waive the fee. That would have been suicide on my part, had I been, "No, I don't care." Because I'm not a sports fan. I was happy, the city was happy, I got caught in the mood, but yeah, when people were like, "Oh, we need to sing it for the Giants," I was like, "okay."

How many times did you hear it for the Giants?
During that whole week. But then it kind of went back to normal. People have gone back to the "Okay, he's charging, I don't want to sing it." I had a friend call me up who was at one of the games and he said, "Guess what? Steve Perry is here. They're going to do 'Don't Stop Believing.'" And he's like, "This is your personal hell, isn't it?"

I don't hate the song, and I definitely don't hate Journey. I like Journey a lot; I like a lot of their songs. But that song, I just -- I can't do it anymore. It just drove me to the point of insanity.

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What songs would you pay extra to sing at karaoke? Tell us on Twitter, or leave a video of yourself singing them on our Facebook page.

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