More than 40 thousand years ago, our ancestors were skilled enough to make flutes to amuse themselves with music and dancing. We don’t really know whether they played simple melodies by the campfire after the hunt or used the flutes for ritual purposes. But we do know that from the very moment when a primitive man first made a sound, striking the hollow trunk with a stick, the music has “moved to” the hearts of human beings.
Music has always surrounded people. It was in the whistle of the wind, feet stomping, birds chirping, quiet leaf rustling. Perhaps, our ancestors perceived music as an integral part of the surrounding world and tried to sway it through making sounds and asking the gods about the rain or healing the sick.
Music was attributed to the mystical ability to heal and destroy; to comfort and drive into depression; to amuse and annoy. It’s not so surprising, then, that for a long time musicians were considered magicians. Many of us still remember the Beatles band and all the hype around it. Every time the Liverpool four appeared on stage, the whole world went psycho.
As humanity evolved further, people discovered more and more music secrets including harmony, rhythm, and form. They invented new instruments and passed on music playing skills and knowledge. Music has gradually lost its ritual significance. Aesthetics pleasure began to come to the fore. And it got to a point where the music became available to virtually anyone.
In the 50s of the twentieth century in Japan, the so-called utagoe kissa (“singing cafes”) appeared. People visiting those leisure venues could have a drink with friends or colleagues after work, chat in a more casual environment, and sing favorite songs. In large cities like Tokyo cafe visitors performed under the accompaniment of live bands or jukeboxes made in the USA. In smaller cities, people used synthesizers or tape recorders to create the necessary atmosphere.
The choice of compositions was quite small and physically limited to the memory and skill of the musicians. They sang one by one standing on the floor and reading the words from small lyric books provided by waiters. As for popular hits, drunk people sang them together in the choir. According to chronicles, utagoe kissa caused a lot of noise with all those music playing and shouting. Sometimes, 3-4 “singing cafes” could be located on a street corner.
Utagoe kissa in Shinjuku, 1957
It was then that the modern Japanese tradition began to set up business deals in karaoke bars. A good contract was needed to be “sealed” by a musical performance with partners in a singing cafe. Until now, no one can explain the passion of Japanese people to singing. People living in the Land of the Rising Sun themselves say that it is easier for them to get rid of stress after a hard day and relax with their families. For a nation trying hard to hide emotions from the world, utagoe kissa turned out to be a true outlet.
Sure thing, singing along to the tape wasn’t invented by the Japanese. Back in the 30s of the 20th century, in the USSR, in the USA, and in Germany, there were special song records with lyrics missing so people sing along to the records. In addition, from 1961 to 1967, NBC, an American broadcaster, produced the Sing With Mitch series starring Mitch Miller and his orchestra. The lyrics of popular songs were scrolled at the bottom of the screen so the audience could take part in the program. Nevertheless, when it comes to karaoke in itself, it is a purely Japanese invention.
In 1952, an Osaka orchestra that played along with Takarazuka Kagekiin, a famous theatrical choreographic troupe, went on strike. The management did not want to make concessions to the musicians and ordered a special device from Matsuda Electronics to replace the orchestra. They called it the “empty orchestra” or “Kara Okesutura” in Japanese. Or karaoke, for short.
Takarazuka Kageki, Wikipedia
By the end of the 50s, the habit of singing in a cafe reached people living in Kobe. At a time, Daisuke Inoue, a very young and very talented drummer, was trying to start a career in that Japanese city. The guy wasn’t really happy with his initial plans, and he decided to switch to playing a synthesizer. Inoue played in local cabaret and taverns for the amusement of a drunken public.
Once in 1969, a friend of Daisuke Inoue asked him for a favor. The point was, the friend negotiated with a client and suspected that a deal was supposed to be set up in one of those singing cafes. According to the friend’s words, Daisuke was the only person who knew how to make his friend’s voice sound good. Inoue agreed and recorded a few songs in the “right format” on tape.
Utagoe kissa in Tokyo, 1964, LIFE
A few days later, Daisuke’s friend came to ask for more song records. And then it struck Inoue! He decided to make a device with a microphone and a speaker that will allow people to sing songs they want for sensible monetary compensation. The musician was so enthusiastic about this idea that he almost immediately rushed to order electronic components of his ingenious device.
However, according to another version, Daisuke initially wanted to make a machine that could give his band a rest by playing short musical interludes. The idea was to give the musicians some time to take a deep breath and give people an opportunity to feel like they were an integral part of the show.
Anyway, in two months the first 11 Juke 8 machines were assembled. They consisted of an amplifier, microphone, radio and coin box. Each unit cost about $425, not to mention that Inoue also rented a professional studio, where Daisuke and his ensemble recorded more than 300 backing tracks. And so began the era of karaoke.
Despite all the efforts being made, however, no miracle happened. As a “startupper,” Daisuke Inoue placed newly-created jukeboxes in the clubs of Kobe, but new devices failed to cause a stir among the club visitors. In the first two weeks, Inoue didn’t make a dime. In desperation, Daisuke asked a girl he knew to put on her most sexy dress and visit the leisure venues with his karaoke jukeboxes to sing a few songs in each one.
Daisuke Inoue and his Juke 8, theappendix.net
The “promo campaign” worked, and it worked fine! Cafe visitors liked singing karaoke and pretty soon the inventor was swamped with requests for more jukeboxes. Rumors about karaoke even reached Tokyo. By 1971, 25 000 karaoke devices were installed all over Japan. And everything was fine, except for one annoying thing: Daisuke did not get his invention patented. As a result, by 1972, big industry players used the idea to flood the market with their “singing devices.”
Over the next 10 years, karaoke itself turned into a favorite pastime of Japanese people. It became part of the national culture and started to conquer the world. In 1975, the Filipino inventor Roberto del Rosario patented his own Sing Along System “Minus One”. In 1982, the first karaoke bar in the United States opened in Los Angeles.
Karaoke in taxi, Osaka, AP
The LazerKaraoke system
Modern karaoke appeared as a result of rapid technological progress. In particular, the invention of brand-new storage media, simplifying the process of sound recording and the invention of audio cassettes made it happen. It’s worth mentioning that “Juke 8” used cassettes. It’s not surprising, then, that the next stage of karaoke Evolution is also associated with innovations.
In 1981, there were many important musical events: MTV started broadcasting; the Leningrad rock club and the group “Kino” were founded. In that regard, the news that the Japanese company Pioneer released the world’s first device for playing laser discs seemed to be less important. A year later, Pioneer created a karaoke version of its player, the LazerKaraoke. The new device allowed adding subtitles to images. That is what many people recall in their minds when they hear the word “karaoke”.
Discs for LaserKaraoke, eBay
Each disc contains up to 20 songs and a set of high-quality videos. Even these days, there are people collecting LazerKaraoke discs. Those geeks believe there’s nothing better than laserdiscs,, as yet.
After conquering Asia in the late 80s, the Pioneer team brought its player to the USA. Despite promising prospects, local bars and cafes were reluctant to accept the novelty. Americans didn’t understand why they actually needed a thing they couldn’t use every day. However, the LaserKaraoke was widely adopted as a home karaoke system.
The following figures can tell you about the rise in karaoke popularity in the United States. The capitalization of the karaoke industry from 1991 to 1992 increased by 79% and amounted to 590 million dollars. Over 60 local factories developed and released their proprietary devices. In addition, various media stated that karaoke is nothing but an authentic American entertainment as Americans have always loved to sing with a guitar. As for Japanese folks, 20 years ago they just added a pinch of technology.
The Dimples, the first karaoke bar in the United States
At the same time, South Korean businessmen brought karaoke to the countries of the former USSR. Still, the very first karaoke system had just a few Russian songs. In 1994, Daewoo and Samsung stepped in by releasing devices fully adapted to the local market. The first company positioned itself as a manufacturer of professional equipment. The second company sold its systems as domestic appliances that can be used as karaoke players.
By the end of the ’90s, the Leadsinger appeared. It was a cheap radio microphone used special cartridges with songs on them. By tuning the radio to the microphone frequency, people could sing dozens of songs. However, despite the powerful advertising campaign, the Leadsingers were not widely used. The point was, the range of song cartridges was limited.
Some time later, karaoke was widely adopted by the entertainment industry. People worldwide appreciated devices that allowed them to sing favorite movie songs and pop hits. With its popularity at all-time high, karaoke inspired some business owners to create special singing clubs with large screens, stages and separate rooms for couples and groups.
Different people have different memories of karaoke in the ’90s. For some, karaoke clubs were the first place where they tried to sing, fell in love with music and remained loyal fans of the amateur singing forever. For others, karaoke is still associated with drunken marginals having fun in cheap, and smoky dive bars.
Western and Eastern Karaoke
By the 3rd millennium, it finally became clear that the world was divided into two main camps: those who like to sing karaoke, and those who dream about the big stage and applause. Most Asians belong to the first camp. For them, singing karaoke is a way to relax with colleagues or family. A typical Japanese karaoke club is a multi-story building with many rooms. It is considered normal for the Japanese to have some drinks and sing after work. Some of those karaoke fans are very serious about singing. With saving their faces in mind, they often visit karaoke clubs before the event to have a good practice. Corporations in Japan often have small karaoke boxes in their offices to allow the staff to relieve stress and relax during the workday.
It is widely accepted that karaoke boxes were “born” in 1985 when small leisure venues made of cargo shipping containers appeared. Unlike a restaurant, only a small group of people could sing in such a box. The karaoke boxes got very popular in Japan. That, in turn, resulted in the rise of modern karaoke clubs with individual rooms.
A karaoke box, Tokyo
The second camp is composed almost exclusively of representatives of the western civilization: Americans, Europeans, and the countries of the post-Soviet area. In our eyes, a karaoke club is a large hall or lounge with a stage, spotlights, backing vocalists and pretty expensive equipment. That perception is still alive today thanks to the numerous TV shows. But more importantly, people realized that to be a star, a karaoke fan doesn’t actually need to spend many years to build a career as a singer. It’s only enough to sing, and fame will come later.
In 2003, the first karaoke world championship was held: vocalists from seven countries tried their luck. Also, in 2003, the Studio Evolution company was found. Two years later, the Evolution Pro innovative club karaoke system was released. One of the system’s features was that it used backing tracks of studio quality. As a result, a performer got the option to sing along to an original composition, and forget about primitive synth melodies.
Even a tone-deaf person can easily hear the difference between a pro track and a widely used midi file. As a bonus, Evolution Pro offered a high-quality screen background instead of 8-bit images and backing track modulation.
The new era made a distinction between the West and the East even more marked. In Japan, personal karaoke boxes are becoming increasingly popular. In Chinese shopping centers, they install the MiniK TV karaoke cabins. A performer can enter the cabin, record a few songs (or even an entire album) and share records on social networks. For the time being, the cabins are of great interest in China among young people who live fast and want to get the most of their spare time.
MiniK TV, sgtalk
In the West, Studio Evolution products set the tone for karaoke parties. The company’s technological solutions stay ahead of the competition and are in great demand among entertainment businesses. For the industry, Studio Evolution was the first company that has brought numerous innovations such as:
– dual screen mode: one screen is for clients, the other is for a KJ;
– playing official videos in the background;
– karaoke song catalogs for children;
– dynamic background with a slideshow of clients’ photos/images;
– videoke for traditional karaoke systems;
– performance recording;
– “blacklists” for unwanted or even forbidden songs.
The Studio Evolution company has created the market of professional karaoke systems and raised the level of amateur performance to a new height. A distinctive feature of the new-age clubs is a KJ, a specialist who adjusts melody tempo and tone to the needs of each performer.
In the field of professional club karaoke, the company has developed and implemented a unique EvoClub option that allows karaoke fans to directly connect to a track database and request favorite songs directly from a smartphone or tablet without using bulky paper catalogs.
Also, there’s a new trend that is getting popular these days: video hosting. One of the three modern teenagers dreams about being a popular video blogger and making money on Youtube. Every month, there are lots of new stars on the Internet. Many TV producers watch online broadcasts to “catch” new talents. Justin Bieber, a boy who became super popular thanks to his mother who posted his videos on Youtube, is one of those starts. At the same time, there is a demand for professional equipment for recording and playing home performances.
The Compact HD, Home HD, Lite, and Lite2 karaoke system are well-known devices for home karaoke parties. From now on, anyone can record broadcast-quality performances at home. And not only that! Karaoke systems by Studio Evolution can get integrated into a smart home environment.
Future of the karaoke industry
It’s clear that the karaoke industry needs the Internet and social networks to evolve. We still lack technical solutions that would allow achieving high-quality sound without using set-top boxes. However, we are close to the time when a smart gadget will be the only device you will need to access a karaoke network/audio system.
The new karaoke era was marked by the creation of online singing services. For example, the popular Smule platform allows singing along to backing tracks, recording performances, and sharing those records. Other global karaoke services — Yokee, RedKaraoke — use that way to move on. All the aforementioned platforms are aimed not only at making karaoke everyday entertainment but also to allow people to communicate with each other.
Communicating with friends around the world, getting prompt responses to messages is as important and natural for modern people as it is for savages “read” animal tracks. As for music, it remains the same important whatever the epoch.
As it was impossible to predict that a flute carved out of reeds by an ancient man would result in hip-hop, so it’s not a simple task to determine the future of the karaoke industry. Perhaps, we could see karaoke clubs for pets, in the near future. Also, the industry players could reconsider the idea of music ratings and would rate the songs according to the number of likes on Instagram. One thing is certain, the evolution of the karaoke industry is still evolving.