It is alleged that karaoke as we know it began in a snack bar in Kobe, Japan about twenty years ago. Apparently, the bar was so used to its resident guitarist turning up late or not showing up at all, that the owner prepared tapes for customers to sing along to. It proved so popular that he made tapes for all the other bars in the area, and so the karaoke phenomenon was born.
The days of pre-recorded tapes are of course long gone, and in their place first came CDs, then VCDs, laserdiscs and now DVDs. Karaoke is now not only available in bars and clubs but on the internet, via mobile phones and even in certain makes of car.
Karaoke is a typical form of entertainment for Japanese business people who often call into a bar after a long day of work to unwind, have a few drinks and a good sing-along. The Japanese enjoy parties and meeting in groups. They generally love singing, even if they cant hold a tune. The Japanese must be the most tolerant people in the world of bad singing and are not only happy to listen to each other murder their favourite songs, but are not reluctant to take the microphone themselves.
In Japan, modern Karaoke shops have several private rooms, called karaoke boxes that each come with a karaoke player, screen and microphones. You can often order food and drinks as well, the drinks certainly helping to lower barriers. The boxes are available in different sizes, catering for large groups as well as just a happy, musical couple.
In Europe and the US Karaoke bars are of the more pubic variety and will provide equipment in the bar itself so that people can get up and fulfill their lifelong ambition of singing in front of an audience, rather than in the shower. Most establishments allow people to sing for free, as revenue is made on food and drink sold. Some bars operate a karaoke night once a week, while others focus on the entertainment every night of the week.
In-home karaoke machines were invented years ago but never really took off in Western markets. So companies adapted them to become home theatre systems to enhance the TV watching experience and karaoke became more of a side feature.
However for those who still choose to buy the home version so that they can sing in complete comfort there are many added extras nowadays. Some machines rate your performance providing a score based on how close you can sing to the original. There are even machines which will tell you how many calories you have burned while singing particular song.
Of course, like everything else in the world, records have been set with karaoke. China holds the world record for the longest non-stop rally of karaoke, and in early 2009 they sang for 456 hours, 2 minutes and 5 seconds. Finland proudly holds the world record for the largest number of people singing karaoke at once, with over 80,000 people singing Hard Rock Hallelujah in Helsinki in 2006.
So, even if singing isnt your forte, try out karaoke on your next night out. It is always the people who have to be dragged in kicking and screaming, crying out that they cant sing and dont know any lyrics who end up hogging the microphone all night and singing Stairway to Heaven with wild air guitar action until the early hours of the morning.