Karaoke: Inspirational Invention or Just Plain Annoying?
Always keep a song in your heart - it's like karaoke for the voices in your head ~ Robert Fulton Abernethy
According to news sources, there are some people that are very happy to see karaoke at the top of a list of annoying inventions. Kane Kramer, a director of the British Inventors Society, said:
“Seeing the karaoke machine at the top of that list made me smile.
When people are singing karaoke they are enjoying themselves, but as a member of the audience you are just watching somebody who can’t perform, and isn't particularly pleasant to listen to, for as long as you can bear it.”
Ivor Arbiter, who died in 2005, brought the karaoke machine to Britain after he and his daughter, Joanne, visited a Japanese trade show in 1987. His daughter, has this to say:
“It might be irritating in the pub, but it's also given millions of people who didn't know they could sing the opportunity to discover they can.”
(I would beg to differ with this analysis. Just because someone is singing doesn’t mean they can. It just means they can open their mouths and emit sounds).
But inventor, Rob Law commented:
“If you’ve created a product that has become so popular that it’s become annoying, then you're going to be put down asna pretty great inventor.”
But where did karaoke come from anyway and what does it want?
he raw concept of karaoke actually dates back to America and 1950, some twenty years before it had a name in Japan. The company was Pocket Songs; the company label Music Minus One. They produced long-playing records (known to the world then as LPs), and they were the very first to release sing-along recordings. While most of the music from this label fell into the classical realm, at the head of the company was Irv Kratka, an ardent jazz fan, who in 1952, recorded three different all-star rhythm sections performing great standards of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Intended primarily for jazz improvising, these recordings presented a golden opportunity for vocalists to sing along with a band.
These recordings were very popular, sold in the thousands and were purchased throughout the world. In 1995, Kratka was acknowledged as “the father of karaoke” by the American music industry. At the age of 81, Kratka is still at the helm of Pocket Songs and still recording the hits and the new artists that appear each year in music. He estimates that today the US karaoke industry generates $150 million annually. In his own words:
“If you can carry a tune and work with it, from the adulation or the appreciation you get from smiling faces, and a cheer at the end, you go out of that club lofted.”
Despite its rudimentary beginnings in America, it was a Japanese drummer named Inoue Daisuke who in 1971 is credited with having invented karaoke as we know it. The name means “empty orchestra.” It comes from the blending of two Japanese words; Kara (empty) and Okie (short for orchestra). He got the idea to pre-record his own backing tracks while he worked in a Kobe band. Rather than including both vocals and music, karaoke music tracks include only music. The vocal is provided by a non-professional, live person, who holding a microphone, sings while following the words displayed on a screen or in a lyric book. Daisuke’s band had a talent for making drunken businessmen feel they could sing by drowning out the worst of their sounds and he knew exactly what to do when one day a company manager asked him to record a tape for an imminent trip.
Daisuke actually invented the first karaoke machine. This was a tape recorder that allowed people to play a song after accepting a hundred yen coin, which could pay for about two lunches. Moreover, the drummer did not sell these tapes; instead, he rented them out. Although this amount was considered quite exorbitant, karaoke became enormously successful perhaps because it allowed the average worker freedom from the public reserve so entrenched in the typical Japanese persona. Businessmen would flock to karaoke bars to release their inhibitions and the tensions amassed from a long day at the office.
Karaoke took off from there. It was very popular in Asia before becoming a fad for the rest for the world back in the 1980s. It was one of the few words that required no translation across much of Asia. The Chinese loved it, and Hong Kong transformed the art form and sent it back to Japan as karaoke boxes, small booths where friends and family could out-croon each other without concern for breaking the sound barrier. Machines were placed strategically in hotels, parks, and restaurants.
It took a few years for karaoke to come into its own, and when it did, it established an indelible and permanent niche for itself. The first karaoke bar was a small booth with a karaoke machine, which was referred to as a karaoke box. This could be rented on an hourly basis to small groups for private entertainment. The trend spread like wildfire. Soon, nightclubs, lounges, cafés, and restaurants in the US and Canada had shipped in karaoke machines for the entertainment of their customers.
Daisuke, unfortunately, never got a patent for his creation, which he created by combining a car stereo, a coin box and an amplifier. This action turned out to be the error of a lifetime, as it is estimated that the profits others made from karaoke fall into the £100 million pounds (about $200 million US dollars) range! For years, he languished in obscurity and remained there until 1999 when karaoke erupted in the United States and Europe. During this period, Time Magazine dubbed him one of the 20th century’s most influential Asians, and claimed that he “had helped to liberate legions of the once unvoiced: as much as Mao Zedong or Mohandas Gandhi changed Asian days, Inoue transformed its nights.”
In 2004, Harvard University presented Daisuke with the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, a joke award featured in the American science humor magazine, Annals of Improbable Research and featuring real Nobel Prize winners. Daisuke was cited as “providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.” After a standing ovation, the former drummer referred to himself as “the last samurai” and made the mistake of trying to sing the old Coca-Cola anthem, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” by himself (revealing both the need for and the fulfillment of that need by his own invention).
Today this inventor is an odd man out, so to speak. Friends say he is and always will be “an ideas man,” while his wife, who works in the same Osaka office, helps bring them to life. He supports his family by selling, among other things, an eco-friendly detergent and a cockroach repellent for karaoke machines. He said of this product:
“Cockroaches get inside the machines, build nests and chew on the wires.”
Music has been part of the development of every culture in the world. The
karaoke sensation has taken over homes as well as public places. From inexpensive children's versions to high-end machines, home karaoke systems can be connected to a pre-existing entertainment center and families can join in the fun. Karaoke music can be downloaded from the Internet, and fans can sing along with their computers if they do not have a personal karaoke machine available.
For karaoke and its ability to release the song in everyone’s heart, there is something positive to be said. Consider that old proverb that talks about music soothing the savage beast. The problem with this axiom is that there is no mention of the affect on the beast in question if the music is bad and the people performing it think they can sing but really can’t.
So much for proverbs.
Does anyone here know the words to “Melancholy Baby”?
M Dee Dubroff