Karaoke - Past, Present and FutureKaraoke was invented in Japan in the early 70's. The first karaoke machines were in piano music in jukebox format, and then they developed karaoke machines that played 8-Track and cassette tapes. They were audio-only (no video). Lyrics were printed on paper. Originally, karaoke was mostly in karaoke bars or karaoke "boxes" (bars with private karaoke rooms). Eventually, they made karaoke machines for home use as well. Nowadays the home machines are cheaper, but they're mostly aimed and kids, families and parties. They're not as good as the old Singing Machines they used to make in the 90's and 2000's. Vocopro was another good brand for home use. Laser disk karaoke came about in the late 80's, from Pioneer Electronics. They not only had the words to the songs on the screen, but videos that told a story as well. These were very popular, especially in Asia. They were very well made, too, and you can still buy them on ebay. Then they soon came out with karaoke CD+G's, which are a type of CD that puts the lyrics on the screen; and then they came out with karaoke VCD's and DVD's. Of course, long before karaoke, they had other singalong shows and records, such as "Sing Along with Mitch." Singing is fun, and singing with someone else, or with a backing track, is fun and makes you feel safer if you don't want to sing solo. For those of us who do sing well, singing with a backing track is almost like having a band. Of course, karaoke is much more interactive than just singing along. A little more history....
Gaming, early computers and streaming Nintendo and other companies also came out with karaoke games in the 80's. Early home computers also had karaoke software. I had an old Commodore 64 given to me by my brother that had karaoke software. The program played the MIDI background music and put the words on the computer screen. Here's a recording I made in the 90's using that software. A company called EnterTech made a Magic Mic that you could not only plug in to your TV, but it rated you or your friends when they sang, so you could compete. You could buy chips that would give you many more songs. Someone gave me one of those as a gift, and it was pretty fun. None of these had ways for you to record yourself singing. It was just fun singalong. Once high speed internet was developed, streaming karaoke became popular, not only with people at home singing online, but with karaoke hosts (KJ's), instead of CD's and other fragile hardware. DISH Network and other TV cable companies have karaoke channels where you can sing along at home. ROKU has one as well. Karaoke Revolution is a popular karaoke game that can be played across all gaming platforms: Nintendo, Wii, Playstation and X-Box. The same software was used to create the ultra-popular video game Rock Band. Here's a list of many karaoke video games. Video
Why It's Still Around Karaoke is a thriving business worldwide. Although many people make fun of it, bar and restaurant owners like karaoke, when it's successful, because it brings in customers on nights where they might otherwise have very little business. Unlike a live band, a karaoke host doesn't cost very much, so the venue makes a lot of profit. Karaoke is no guarantee to bring in customers, however. It depends on whether the venue advertises enough, where it's located, how good the host is, when they hold it, and other factors. The reason that people make fun of karaoke is that there are a lot of people who don't sing very well, yet they get up there and sing, anyway. Also, there are a lot of people who get way too drunk before they sing. Bad or drunk singers are easy fodder for comedians. The fact is, though, that many people enjoy singing, and they enjoy watching others sing. I predict that karaoke isn't going anywhere soon, despite some people's irrational hatred for it. Karaoke is not cool or hip -- just fun. People are encouraged to sing, whether they sing well or not. Everyone is supposed to clap loud for everyone, no matter what they sound like. It's very egalitarian entertainment. I always enjoy singing. The applause is great, too. Late night talk show host James Corden has made karaoke somewhat cool again with his Carpool Karaoke. Video
Karaoke Online I started doing karaoke in public in the late 80's. We had a college bar down the street from our apartment, that started having karaoke weekly. Since I'm a singer, I loved it right away, even though I had a lot of stage fright at first. Then I received a used karaoke cassette machine from my sister-in-law, so I started recording with that. Many home karaoke machines have a cassette recorder, or another way to record your singing. Recording really helped me work on my singing and improve. Karaoke tapes and disks weren't cheap, so I also found MIDI karaoke software such as VanBasco online as well as other MIDI karaoke sites. Then I found some sites online about karaoke and got really into it. Karaoke.com used to have a great message board named JOLT. That's long gone, but most of us from JOLT still chat a little bit on a Facebook group. There was also a mailing list called Karaoke Universe on Yahoo. Some of the people on there were very nice, and others were not, so I left after having too many arguments. This just goes to show you that people on the internet can argue and get angry about any subject, even karaoke! 😁 There were many other karaoke boards/groups/lists as well. One of the main karaoke sites that developed was Karaoke Scene, which also has a magazine. They're still around and operating, too, although not as busy as they once were. I post songs there regularly and have written some articles in their forums about singing, and for their magazine. I've met some of my online karaoke friends and have sung with them all over the country. I have a section in my website about karaoke as well that lists many of many favorite karaoke venues and websites.
Live Band Karaoke Another popular type of karaoke is live band karaoke. A band will play for a few hours. They know certain songs, which they put on a list from which people may choose. The singer comes from the audience and sings with the live band. Usually there's a monitor (TV) where you can read the lyrics while you sing. Some bands will only play the songs on their list, but others will give it a try if you ask them to sing a song that they might know. Live band karaoke is really great fun. It's almost as much fun as singing in your own real live band (which I've also done). I've done live band karaoke a few times in Vegas and San Diego so far, but they have it all over the country.
JOLT Projects Some of us in the JOLT board used to make tape projects. One person would say, "I'm going to do a project about (a particular idea or musical genre)" and then those of us who wanted to participate would record some songs and send them to that person via the mail. This was before high speed internet. That person would then make a playlist of all of our songs and record them onto tape or CD, and then he/she would send everyone a copy. Usually they would make a nice cover or liner notes as well. This was somewhat low-tech. The quality of the singing and recording varied widely. It was just for fun. Our projects included music from the Beatles, Country Music, songs with a color in them, songs about the weather, and one song from each decade. Choosing a particular type of song is fun and forces you to try new songs that you wouldn't necessarily have tried otherwise.
Online Audio Karaoke Karaoke Scene started a section of their site named Singer's Showcase, where singers could upload their mp3's (music files of them singing along with karaoke backing). It still exists, and some of us still submit songs to it regularly. There have been a few other similar sites besides that one, that come and go, such as DareToSing, ThisIsKaraoke and KantStopKaraoke. Only the last one is still around. It was gone for a while but came back last year. When you listen to the songs, they're streaming. They're audio-only, though. Most of these sites don't make very much money, even though they may charge you for more storage space or other benefits. There are also music sites like SoundCloud, where you're supposed to only upload original music, but many people do upload their covers or karaoke songs.
Online Video Karaoke Once we could stream videos online, the site SingSnap appeared. You can sing live or record karaoke on that site. They have many backing tracks. You sing along with it, in your home, and you can save it if you want, for just yourself, or for others. You can choose to have audio-only, or with video. It's a very popular site. There are a few other sites now, too, that do the same thing, such as Sing!
Karaoke on YouTube Once YouTube appeared, people started taking videos of themselves singing with karaoke, or instruments they play, etc. Some sing their own original music, and other sing karaoke songs (covers). Some now-famous singers got their start doing this on YouTube. They gathered enough fans that they were signed by a record company. You can also find many karaoke backing tracks available on YouTube. One might argue that the popularity of shows like "American Idol" and "The Voice" encourage young people to sing more online. Everyone wants to be a star! Technology changes over time and we find ways to make karaoke easier or to sound better. I first used the karaoke machines to record my songs, but now I use software called Cool Edit Pro to record directly into the computer and mix my voice with the backing track, which makes the finished product sound better. I have many karaoke CD+G's that I bought over the years, but now it's just easier to find a track online. I don't even have a karaoke machine any more. The cheap ones have poor sound quality or no way to record, and the better ones cost a lot. When friends visit and want to sing karaoke for fun, I just hook up my laptop to the TV via the HDMI, and we can sing using YouTube or SingSnap. I connect the microphones to my guitar's amp to give it that real live karaoke bar feel.
Copyrights One of the problems of streaming karaoke online is copyright laws. For KJ's who don't care about legalities, they can host karaoke with thousands of songs, which means that they'll get more singers (especially those who want to sing obscure songs). The KJ's who buy the CD+G's or DVD's and use them legally can't easily compete with someone that has 20,000 songs. However, the owners of the songs and recordings sometimes will sue the KJ's or their venues. They've made examples of a few KJ's. There are thousands of KJ's, though, so it would be impossible for them to find them all. The companies also sue each other for copyright violation because some of the companies that manufacture CD+G and DVD disks don't have permission to use the songs or recordings, or they sold the disks in countries where they don't have permission to do so. Because of all of these problems, fewer companies make karaoke disks, which is not good news for those who like karaoke and want to use actual karaoke disks, rather than download illegal tracks. Discussion about karaoke copyrights.
Homemade Karaoke Many of the karaoke sites, such as SingSnap and Sing!, now allow users to put up their own (supposedly) homemade backing tracks, so at least that means that someone is making karaoke versions of the newer songs. I don't know why this is legal, though, or whether the copyright laws just haven't yet caught up with the technology. Many of these are also put up on YouTube. When I say "homemade," I don't mean amateurish. They're very well made and sound a lot like the real karaoke tracks. Today's music-making technology makes this very easy.
Karaoke Apps Sing! is not just a website, but an app for your phone or tablet. There are many karaoke apps. Some are audio-only, and some have video. The sound quality of the phone recordings have really improved, too, over the past few years. Sites like Sing! and KaraokeAnywhere are the wave of the future because they allow you to do karaoke literally anywhere, with just your phone. You can even add reverb and other effects, or duet with strangers. I've even seen KJ's who use their phone and one of these apps to host karaoke. If you can just use your phone, and login to a site, instead of having all of that equipment, that's a very low cost overhead for a KJ. Singing with your phone is now an international craze.
Future of Karaoke Videos Although apps are very popular right now, it's hard to say what will happen with karaoke in the future. Trying to pinpoint the next fad or technological change is difficult. There are some places, like Hawaii, where I think they'll always have live karaoke because it's just part of the culture. Some companies try to come out with new karaoke machines, like this high tech wonder. Virtual Reality is big now, and this company thinks that karaoke fits well into that. Karaoke robots may be next. Who knows? I'll be there, whatever it is, trying it out...at home and in public.