When we go out on weekends, what do we like to do? We grab dinner and drinks with friends. Maybe catch a game. In the warm summer months, many of us travel to the lake for some boating and bonfires. No matter what we get into, we want to be doing something. Not just sitting around. The low-key local dive bar is a great respite from a long weekday, but we usually want to get into something a little more exciting when the weekend rolls around.
A tried and true weekend tradition is karaoke night. Those of us who love to sing or be the center of attention get our fix, and the shy types go along for support and to watch their friends create a spectacle. It’s been a popular pastime in the US for the past four decades and counting.
So, where in the world did karaoke come from, and how did it become the multi-billion dollar industry it is today?
Karaoke night and where it came from
It may be hard to imagine a time when karaoke didn’t exist, but the history of karaoke doesn’t actually go back that far. The concept of karaoke as we know it today was developed in Japan in the early seventies.
Sing-alongs and music have historically been a very important part of Japanese culture, and the people love to listen to each other sing, no matter how good, or bad they may sound. The technology and media of the sixties allowed these sing-alongs to be brought into homes and bars, and many establishments provided musical talent to facilitate.
A musician named Daisuke Inoue was well known for playing instrumental tracks for people to sing over. He wanted to give people the ability to sing along to his music, even if he wasn’t present, so he invented the first karaoke machine. He called it the Juke 8. This was 1971.
The Juke 8 was a fairly simple audio recorder that played instrumental tracks when money was inserted. It wasn’t exactly the 21st century karaoke experience, but it signaled the start of an era. It was created to fill a need, but Inoue never patented his invention. Four years later, the first karaoke machine patent was issued to a Filipino entrepreneur named Roberto del Rosario. From there, karaoke started an unstoppable upward trend.
The rapid rise of karaoke
By the early ’80s, the karaoke craze was spreading around the globe, and technological advances turned this new addition to the American nightlife into a staple. While the concept has always remained the same, advances and alternate forms of karaoke have made the activity more enjoyable and easier on the ears.
The introduction of the lyrics prompter
The first big innovation arrived in the 1980s, with the introduction of karaoke titles on the LaserDisc format. One of the format’s major developers, Pioneer Electronics, was also heavily involved in the karaoke business in Japan and used LaserDisc to improve karaoke by leaps and bounds.
This format allowed us to play the music, graphics, and lyrics on a screen, something not readily available at the time. Since many of us are hard-pressed to remember all the lyrics to the best karaoke songs after we’ve got a few cocktails in us, this advancement may be the single greatest leap in the industry.
Private karaoke rooms
The solo karaoke box is a relatively new advent in the world of karaoke, but it’s one that is quickly gaining popularity. These small rooms are generally large enough for just one person, who can take a few good karaoke songs and turn them into masterpieces or dumpster fires, without the need for a crowd or a host, or even a venue. They can be a fun way to practice, build confidence, or get your fix on those days when you can’t get a crew to go with you.
Karaoke world championships
Karaoke has grown in popularity so much over the past few decades that in 2003, the karaoke world championships became a thing. Dozens of countries participate each year, showcasing their best and brightest. Contestants can enter in individual competitions, or they can opt for duet karaoke songs. Even if you don’t win, it’s a fun trip with your karaoke partners, just like every karaoke night is.
Live band karaoke
Even the best karaoke machine can’t match the superior sound and energy we get from the bar or club setup. Add in a live band, and the whole experience is electrifying in a way that blows all other karaoke formats out of the water. It’s a return to the roots of karaoke that adds another element of expression to the medium.
With a live band, you get a much more interactive experience. The band can improvise and make your favorite songs to sing in karaoke fit the mood in ways prerecorded audio can’t. It’s the same reason we go out to see our favorite bands when they tour through our towns. The energy of a live show takes karaoke to the next level.
The Pourhouse is taking this tradition up a step with the help of Petty Treason Productions, with a live band karaoke edition of their quarterly improv burlesque show, Whose Bra is it Anyway? It’s a new twist on the origins of the activity as an interactive sing along. Oh, and did I mention there is a striptease performance involved? How can you beat a striptease dance?
The world of singers and producing quality audio recordings has become more accessible over the past two and a half decades, mainly due to the emergence of autotune. Today, many karaoke machines can make you sound a little better than you actually do, meaning you feel better about your performance, and the crowd feels better about watching you perform if you’re not a seasoned singer.
Before you head out for some karaoke Saturday night, there is a little bit of background and ground rules you may want to brush up on.
Where does the name karaoke come from?
Karaoke translates to “empty orchestra.” The word was created by combining the shortened Japanese words “Kara,” or empty, and “oke,” which means orchestra. It’s a fitting name since karaoke machines replace the live band performance with prerecorded audio.
What’s your juhachiban?
For the karaoke singers of the world, we have a go-to song. 80s karaoke songs are strong performers in the list of the most popular songs worldwide. Still, our personal favorite karaoke songs are ones that we relate to emotionally and are in our range as singers. Music touches all of us in different ways, and when you find your jam, it’s lights out. Your excitement blows through the roof any time you hear it. You move your head and your toes, and of course, your lips. This is your juhachiban.
The ambush signup
It’s kind of an unwritten rule in the karaoke world that we sing when called upon to sing. Whether we personally signed up or not. If you are a reluctant participant in karaoke night, there’s a decent chance one of your friends will sign you up. While there’s no legal requirement for you to get up there and sing, people will want you to get up there and do your thing. You may forever hate your former friend for signing you up, and you may find that the smiling crowd loosens you up a bit. There’s no shame in either reaction.
When in Rome…
If you ever find yourself in Japan, getting down on a good karaoke night is a great way to bond with your new friends. They love it. It’s a big part of their culture, and by being bold and having fun with it, you’ll gain their respect and a new attitude on life. Karaoke is really just about getting up there and being you. It’s a good practice for us all to get into.
Get out there and get down
Letting loose on weekends looks different from one person to another. Some of us zone out on our couches, binging on the shows we missed throughout the week. Others prefer to gather at house parties or clubs and catch up with old friends. But one thing we can all get behind is an activity we love. Grab a few friends, a few drinks, and karaoke night will earn a spot on your list of loves.