(in Japanese karaoke; ) is a form of entertainment in which amateur singers sing along with recorded music (and/or a music video) using a microphone and public address system. The music is typically a well-known pop song in which the voice of the original singer is removed or reduced in volume. This is usually attained by using karaoke equipment or by using computer software which removes the vocals from the original track. Lyrics are usually displayed on a video screen, along with a moving symbol or changing color and/or music video images, to guide the singer. In some countries, a karaoke music video with lyrics and the option to disable the original voice track is called a KTV. It is very commonly mispronounced as /kæriːoʊkiː/, some people incorrectly spell it "kareoke".
The concept of creating studio recordings that lack the lead vocal has been around for probably nearly as long as recording itself. This is not to be confused with "lip syncing
" in which a performer mimes to a previously produced studio recording with the lead vocal intact. Many artists, amateur and professional, perform in situations where a full band/orchestra is either logistically or financially impractical and so they use a "karaoke" recording, but they are actually the original artists.
1970s: United States to Japan
and Numark Electronics
were the first companies that combined to offer sing-along tapes and audio equipment to the rest of the world. The president of AudioSynTrac, Scott Ebright
was a California
music promoter and talent agent who booked singers at resorts and hotels across the United States
electronics companies saw the AudioSynTrac products introduced at CES shows in the 1970s and immediately copied the concept, calling it "karaoke".
The first karaoke machine was invented by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue
, in the early 1970s. After becoming popular in Japan, karaoke spread to East
and Southeast Asia
during the 1980s and subsequently to other parts of the world.
In Japan, it has long been common to provide musical entertainment at a dinner or a party. Japanese drummer Daisuke Inoue was asked by frequent guests in the Utagoe Kissa, where he performed, to provide a recording of his performance so that they could sing along on a company-sponsored vacation. Realizing the potential for the market, Inoue made a tape recorder that played a song for a 100-yen coin.
Development in Japan
Instead of giving his karaoke machines away, Inoue leased them out so that stores did not have to buy new songs on their own. Originally, it was considered a somewhat expensive fad
, as it lacked the live atmosphere of a real performance and 500 yen in the 1970s was the price of two typical lunches, but it caught on as a popular entertainment. Karaoke machines were initially placed in restaurants and hotel rooms; soon, new businesses called karaoke boxes
, with compartmented rooms, became popular. In 2004, Daisuke Inoue was awarded the tongue-in-cheek Ig Nobel
Peace Prize for inventing karaoke, "thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other."
1980s: Filipino patent
Inoue never bothered to patent
his invention, losing his chance to become one of Japan's richest men. Roberto del Rosario, a Filipino
inventor who called his sing-along system "Minus-One", now holds the patent for the device now commonly known as the "karaoke machine". As a matter of fact, "Minus-One" has been in existence in the Philippines since the 70s. The spread of "Minus-One" music would have been attributed to a few Filipinos who brought with them their music wherever they go and a few went to Japan as entertainers during the early part of this decade and that may have had that indirect influence on Inoue's ingenuity. Following a court battle with a Japanese company which claimed to have invented the system, del Rosario's patents were issued in 1983 and 1986, more than a decade after Inoue
's original unpatented invention of the device in 1971.
Karaoke soon spread to the rest of Asia and then (back) to the United States in the 1990s, as well as to Canada and other Western countries. In-home karaoke machines soon followed but lacked success in the US and Canadian markets. When creators became aware of this problem, karaoke machines were no longer being sold strictly for the purpose of karaoke but as home theater systems to enhance television watching to "movie theater like quality". Home theater systems took off, and karaoke went from being the main purpose of the stereo system, to a side feature.
As more music became available for karaoke machines, more people within the industry saw karaoke as a profitable form of lounge and nightclub entertainment. It is not uncommon for some bars to have karaoke performances seven nights a week, commonly with much more high-end sound equipment than the small, stand-alone consumer versions. Dance floors and lighting effects are also becoming common sights in karaoke bars. Lyrics are often displayed on multiple TV screens around the bar.
A basic karaoke machine consists of a music player, microphone inputs, a means of altering the pitch of the singer's voice and the played music, and an audio output. Some low-end machines attempt to provide vocal suppression so that one can feed regular songs into the machine and suppress the voice of the original singer; however, this is rarely effective. Most common machines are CD+G, Laser Disc, VCD or DVD players with microphone inputs and an audio mixer built in. CD+G players use a special track called subcode to encode the lyrics and pictures displayed on the screen while other formats natively display both audio and video.
Most karaoke machines have technology that electronically changes the pitch of the music so that amateur singers can sing along to any music source by choosing a key that is appropriate for their vocal range, while maintaining the original tempo of the song. (There were some very old systems that used cassettes, and these changed the pitch by altering playback speed, but none are still on the market, and their commercial use is virtually nonexistent.)
A popular game using karaoke is to type in a random number and call up a song, of which participants take turns to try to sing as much as they can. In some machines, this game is pre-programmed and may be limited to a genre so that they cannot call up an obscure national anthem that none of the participants can sing. This game has come to be called "Kamikaze Karaoke" or "Karaoke Roulette" in some parts of the United States and Canada.
Many low-end entertainment systems have a karaoke mode that attempts to remove the vocal track from regular audio CDs. This is done by center removal, which exploits the fact that in most music the vocals are in the center. This means that the voice, as part of the music, has equal volume on both stereo channels and no phase difference. To get the quasi-karaoke (mono) track, the left channel of the original audio is subtracted from the right channel. The Sega Saturn also has a "mute vocals" feature that is based on the same principle and is also able to adjust the pitch of the song to match the singer's vocal range.
The crudeness of this approach is reflected in the often-poor performance of voice removal. Common effects are hearing the reverberation of the voice track (due to stereo reverb being put on the vocals); also, other instruments (snare/bass drum, solo instruments) that happen to be mixed into the center get removed, degrading this approach to hardly more than a gimmick in those devices. Recent years have seen the development of new techniques based on the Fast Fourier Transform. Although still not perfect, the results are usually much better than the old technique, because the stereo left-right comparison can be done on individual frequencies.
Early karaoke machines used cassette tapes
, but technological advances replaced this with CDs
and, currently, DVDs
. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Pioneer Electronics
dominated the international karaoke music video market, producing high quality karaoke music videos (inspired by the music videos such as those on MTV
In 1992, Taito introduced the X2000, which fetched music via a dial-up telephone network. Its repertoire of music and graphics was limited, but its smaller size and the advantage of continuous updates saw it gradually replace traditional machines. Now, karaoke machines connected via fiber-optic links to provide instant high-quality music and video are becoming increasingly popular.
MIDI applications and .kar files
Some computer programs that serve a similar purpose to the standard karaoke machine have been developed that use MIDI
instrumentation instead of a recorded track to generate the accompaniment. This makes transposition technically trivial and also shrinks the information needed to provide the accompaniment to the point where it is easy to transfer across the Internet
, even over slow connections. The standard file format used is .KAR
, an extension of the standard .MID
MIDI disk format which includes embedded lyrics and can be played unaltered by MIDI player software.
Karaoke video games
A karaoke game was initially released for the NES
, but its limited computing ability made for a short catalog of songs and therefore reduced replay value. As a result, karaoke games were considered little more than collector's items until they saw release in higher-capacity DVD formats.
Karaoke Revolution, created for the PlayStation 2 by Harmonix and released by Konami in North America in 2003, is a console game in which a single player sings along with on-screen guidance and receives a score based on his or her pitch, timing, and rhythm. The game soon spawned several follow-ups including Karaoke Revolution Vol. 2, Karaoke Revolution Vol. 3, Karaoke Revolution Party Edition, CMT Presents Karaoke Revolution: Country and Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol. While the original Karaoke Revolution was also eventually released for the Microsoft Xbox console in late 2004, the new online-enabled version included the ability to download additional song packs through the console's exclusive Xbox Live service.
A similar game, SingStar, published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, is particularly popular in the European and Australasian markets. Other similar titles in the rhythm-based game genre include Bemani's Dance Dance Revolution, GuitarFreaks, Taiko Drum Master, DrumMania, Guitar Hero World Tour, Rock Band, UltraStar, and SingSong.
in East and Southeast Asia is partly due to the popularity of karaoke. Many VCD players in Southeast Asia have a built-in karaoke function. On stereo recordings, one speaker will play the music with the vocal track, and the other speaker will play the music without the vocal track. So, to sing karaoke, users play the music-only track through both speakers. In the past, there were only pop-song karaoke VCDs. Nowadays, different types of karaoke VCDs are available. Cantonese opera
karaoke VCD is now a big hit among the elderly in Hong Kong
Karaoke on mobile phones
In 2003, several companies started offering a karaoke service on mobile phones, using a Java MIDlet
that runs with a text file containing the words and a MIDI file with the music. This is still a budding service, and it is unclear whether it will become popular; however, some mobile karaoke providers, such as Karaokini
, have begun to achieve commercial success.
Karaoke on computers and the Internet
Since 2003, much software has been released for hosting karaoke shows and playing karaoke songs on a personal computer. Instead of having to carry around hundreds of CD-Gs or laserdiscs, KJs can "rip
" their entire libraries onto their hard drives and play the songs and lyrics from there.
Additionally, new software permits singers to sing and listen to one another over the Internet.
Karaoke in automobiles
maker Geely Automobile
received much press in 2003 for being the first to equip a car, their Beauty Leopard
, with a karaoke machine as standard equipment. Europe's first commercial "karaokecab" which was a London TX4 taxi with a karaoke machine inside for occupants of the cab to sing whilst in the cab. The idea and installation was made by Richard Harfield of karaokeshop.com and was featured on Channel 4's Big Breakfast
and several German TV stations featured the karaokecab. Granada TV also featured the cab, which is now in its 4th vehicle and operates in Bolton, Lancashire
as Clint's Karaoke Cab. Karaoke is often also found as a feature in aftermarket
in-car DVD players.
Alternative playback devices
The CD+G format of a karaoke disc, which contains the lyrics on a specially encoded subcode track, has heretofore required special—and expensive—equipment to play. Commercial players have come down in price, though, and some unexpected devices (including the Sega Saturn video game console
on the Xbox 1) can decode the graphics; in fact, karaoke machines, including video and sometimes recording capability, are often popular electronics items for sale in toy stores and electronics stores.
Additionally, there is software for Windows, Pocket PC, Linux, and Macintosh PCs that can decode and display karaoke song tracks, though usually these must be ripped from the CD first, and possibly compressed.
In addition to CD+G and software-based karaoke, microphone-based karaoke players enjoy popularity mainly in North America and some Asian countries such as the Philippines. Microphone-based karaoke players only need to be connected to a TV—and in some cases to a power outlet; in other cases they run on batteries. These devices often sport advanced features, such as pitch correction and special sound effects. Some companies offer karaoke content for paid download to extend the song library in microphone-based karaoke systems.
CD+G, DVD, VCD and microphone-based players are most popular for home use. Due to song selection and quality of recordings, CD+G is the most popular format for English and Spanish. It is also important to note that CD+G has limited graphical capabilities, whereas VCD and DVD usually have a moving picture or video background. VCD and DVD are the most common format for Asian singers due to music availability and largely due to the moving picture/video background.
- (also ohako 十八番, literally, Number 18; 18th place). Many karaoke singers have one song which they are especially good at and which they use to show off their singing abilities. In Japan, this is called jūhachiban in reference to the 18 most popular kabuki plays. In Hong Kong, such a song is called a "banquet song" (飲歌).Karamovie or Movioke
- Karaoke using scenes from movies. Amateur actors replace their favorite movie stars in popular movies. Usually facilitated by software or remote control muting and screen blanking/freezing. Karamovie originated in 2003.Karaoke jockey or KJ
- A karaoke jockey plays and manages the music for a venue. The role of the KJ often includes announcing song titles and whose turn it is to use the microphone.
Singing karaoke alone is called hitokara (ヒトカラ, ヒト hito
, "one person" or "alone" and カラ kara
, "karaoke") in Japan. Recently this trend has become very popular amongst amateur singers in countries such as India and China.
Karaoke in culture
Public places for karaoke
, a karaoke box
is the most popular type of karaoke venue. A karaoke box is a small or medium-sized room containing karaoke equipment rented by the hour or half-hour, providing a more intimate atmosphere. Karaoke venues of this type are often dedicated businesses, some with multiple floors and a variety of amenities including food service, but hotels and business facilities sometimes provide karaoke boxes as well.
In some traditional Chinese restaurants, there are so-called "mahjong-karaoke rooms" where the elderly play mahjong while teenagers sing karaoke. The result is fewer complaints about boredom but more noise. Noise regulations can be an issue, especially when karaoke is brought into residential areas.
North American and Europe
A karaoke bar, restaurant
or lounge is a bar
or restaurant that provides karaoke equipment so that people can sing publicly, sometimes on a small stage. Most of these establishments allow patrons to sing for free, with the expectation that sufficient revenue will be made selling food and drink to the singers. Less commonly, the patron wishing to sing must pay a small fee for each song they sing.
Many establishments offer karaoke on a weekly schedule, while some have shows every night. Such establishments commonly invest more in both equipment and song discs, and are often extremely popular, with an hour or more wait between a singer's opportunities to take the stage (called the rotation).
Karaoke in Korean culture
In July 2007, the nation of North Korea
issued an edict banning, among other similar establishments, karaoke bars from operating in the country. The Ministry of Security officially stated that the ban was enacted to "crush enemy scheming and to squarely confront those who threaten the maintenance of the socialist system.
There have been expressions of dissatisfaction in South Korea with respect to the circulation of Japanese music and songs via karaoke.(This information is incorrect. There are many karaoke bars in Korea and it has become one of their source of entertainment. Koreans love to go to karaoke, from teenagers to adults.)
Karaoke in film
Karaoke has been depicted in a variety of movies and television shows, including:
- Television shows:
- American television show Desperate Housewives
- Several episodes of American television series Angel feature the demonic karaoke bar Caritas, whose proprietor Lorne (Andy Hallett) can tell fortunes based on the songs he hears
- All of American actor David Boreanaz's major television roles have involved his character being assaulted (in particular, being shot at) in a karaoke bar.
- Two Pints of Lager & A packet of Crisps featured Donna singing "Chick Chick Chicken", which was made for the BBC by Zoom Entertainments, a karaoke producer based in Hull, UK.
holds the record for the largest number of people singing karaoke at one time, for 80,000 people singing "Hard Rock Hallelujah
" on 26 May 2006
in Helsinki after Lordi
won the Eurovision Song Contest
China holds the record for the longest non-stop rally of karaoke, for 214 hours, 20 minutes, and eight seconds on 1 January 2008.