Karaoke (カラオケ)

Karaoke is a reproduction of a musical performance by musical accompaniment recorded in advance, instead of a live music, when one sings a song or plays a melody part (main part) on an instrument.
Furthermore, Daisuke INOUE provided a service called '8 JUKE' including the production of a music source, a reproduction device, and a sales method for the public, which popularly became known as 'karaoke.'
This 'karaoke' has widely spread and most people mean this one when they say 'karaoke'. In terms of function, the former is often regarded as a part of the latter. However, strictly speaking, the ranges of use are different between the former and the latter. Furthermore, not only the latter but also the former are currently-used active words.


Before the word 'karaoke' became common, it was usually expressed as 'kara enso (literally meaning empty performance).'

The music accompaniment is reproduced by a 'previously recorded' recording medium (music tape, disc, or the like).
The origin of the word was synonymous with 'no live accompaniment,' and 'karaokene' was used to mean 'let's perform without accompaniment.'
This style was convenient in the broadcasting scene because there was no need to pay a lot of attention and cost for the accompaniment. It became a jargon in broadcasting scene and karaoke in this sense is still in use.

Later, Daisuke INOUE, who was working as a strolling guitarist in bars, developed a device to reproduce pre-recorded accompaniment using an eight-track tape. Because a real performance was reproduced regardless of the strolling guitarist's repertoires, it gained popularity in the bars. It was the origin of Karaoke as a popular culture.

These days, not only the karaoke device, i.e. the device used to sing a song, as well as to sing using the device, but also a bar that provides a place to sing (e.g. karaoke box) are also abbreviated as karaoke, which proves that karaoke has become so popular. Because one's stress is relieved by singing, karaoke is now categorized as amusement and it is one of the items on which statistics are given in the White Paper on Leisure.

This style emerged in Japan, and words based on the sound of the Japanese word are used in foreign languages such as 'karaoke' (sounds rather 'kyarioki' than 'karaoke' to Japanese) in English, '卡拉OK' (kǎlā OK) in Chinese, and 'Караокэ' in Russian.

A survey among more than 2,500 adults conducted by the British government, karaoke won first place with 22% over mobile phones and so on as 'the most irritating invention to have blighted Britain.'
The reason for the result is that the singing voice of a tone deaf singer or a drunk in pubs with karaoke causes noise pollution, for karaoke boxes with soundproof compartments as often seen in Japan are not common in the Britain.

Origin of karaoke

Kara of karaoke stands for 'karappo (empty)' and 'oke' stands for 'orchestra,' and the term started to be used in the broadcasting scene indicating use of tapes and records instead of live performance by an orchestra. The term is still used. According to one explanation, the term came out in an idle conversation by the members of the NHK Symphony Orchestra.

At the beginning, radio and TV programs were live, and therefore all popular songs were naturally performed live. That is, songs and music performed at the scene were broadcasted. As recording equipment such as open-reel tape were introduced, it became possible to supply sound effects using previously recorded sources. Videos capable of recording moving images were introduced later, but in the interim period when the image was live, but sounds were supplied by recorded sources, karaoke was invented. There were cases in which a singer was essential as an image, but no orchestra was required, or, in the case of a radio program, the singer was required on the scene for free talk. In such cases, much less effort was required by reproducing recorded accompaniments when the singer sings a song.

Source of karaoke (sound source)

Karaoke is a reproduction of music without the main melody, or reproduction of an accompaniment, and it required a device for the reproduction and music (music source) to be reproduced.

Karaoke, emerged in broadcast stations, it produced recording music by an orchestra just once, which had been performed live. Orchestras were not busy anymore being often called in to the broadcast stations to work. They had only to record a new song once, and that was it. Of course the performance fee for recording was higher than that for a single live performance, but it was not enough to compensate the total fee for conventional activities. The music sources (sound sources) used by particular people, or to be used only in the particular broadcast station, were stored more and more.

Karaoke equipment

The reproduction device used at the time was an open reel tape recorder. It was also capable of recording. Although consumer open reel tape recorders were produced later, it was the state-of-the-art equipment for professional use, and therefore it was very expensive at the time.

Juke box

It is said that juke boxes were brought by the occupation army that came to Japan after World War II. In the restaurant business, customers inserted a 100-yen coin into the machine that played a popular song as desired and that conveyed an American atmosphere.

Spread of tape recorders

Although there was a consumer product using a large open reel, a compact cassette tape and a recorder for it emerged in the late half of 1960's, and the act of recording and reproducing sound became common among the general population.

The compact cassette was a standard of an audio magnetic recording tape medium developed by a Dutch electronics company, Philips, in 1962. The eight-track was developed by RCA Victor as a car audio medium in 1965.

The compact cassette was not regarded for music application yet, and the eight-track began to be employed as a reproduction device with the music replaced instead of the juke box.

Invention of karaoke system by Daisuke INOUE

The initial idea of the service of karaoke and the device that realized the idea were invented by a musician called Daisuke INOUE in 1971. Inoue realized not only a system for reproducing existing songs but also a concept of musical scales and tempo adapted to each singer, which was a matter of course for him. The reproduction device was named '8 Juke (eight juke),' and was leased.

Inoue was asked by his old customer to make a tape with only a musical accompaniment (karaoke tape) to use on a company trip. Inoue transposed keys and changed the tempo according to the request. He found a potential demand there. He decided to produce eight track karaoke tapes to be inserted in a coin-operated reproduction device, and to place it in snack bars. At the time, each eight track tape included four songs times ten tapes makes forty songs, and the charge was a hundred yen per five minutes.

By using an eight track tape and arranging the song to adjust the length of it, it became possible to record many songs on a single tape and cueing the next song as quickly as possible. With each song arranged to last three to four minutes, after singing the first song on a good note, the customer had to insert another coin while he was singing the second song, and therefore he spent a lot of 100-yen coins without thinking... which became a typical pattern.

One of the reasons why the business model of karaoke was successful may be an introduction of a lease system. The reason is believed to be solicitude that purchasing all tapes every time a new tape is released would be hard for the snack bar, and consequently it served as the driving force for the still-growing prosperity.

Detailed history of karaoke that grew into an industry is described below.
All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association

Apart from the twists and turns of technological transition, a set and the business model of the karaoke device was invented by Inoue. However, Inoue did not apply for a patent. There is a calculation that ten billion yen would be generated per year by a patent if he had applied for and obtained the patent.

He was named in a top 20 in a special issue of 'The Most Influential Asians of the Century' in Time Magazine in the United States in 1999, and introduced 'as much as Mao Zedong or Mohandas Gandhi changed Asian days, Inoue transformed its nights.'
Inoue was also awarded The Ig Nobel Prize in 2004. In 2005, a movie 'Karaoke' that modeled Inoue was released.

Production of sound source

Inoue played instruments and produced the music source by himself. After that, many companies recorded accompaniments without the melody. As karaoke became popular, CDs were made to include a karaoke version of the song. Karaoke became available at home without a special music source of karaoke.

Supply of sound source

The music sources have been supplied via 'a medium' since the invention was made, but now most of them are supplied by 'online communication' without using the medium.

When the medium was used, it changed from the eight track to the compact cassette, the laser disk, the VHD, the video CD, the DVD, and the like, as the music medium was improved. Currently, online karaoke is the main stream in Japan.


Karaoke is originally the accompaniment alone, but there are many karaoke systems that can reproduce a vocal part for practice. It is also possible to change keys to adapt to each singer, adjust the tempo, or convert a male voice into female voice and vice versa. Some karaoke players are equipped with a game function or a scoring function.

The karaoke player can be generally operated through not only buttons on the main body, but also by a remote control. To select a song, a user searches a book that includes songs listed in the order of the singer's name or the first words of the song for a number assigned to the desired song, also referring to the index of the song titles, and inputs the number into the machine.

Presently, some of the karaoke players enable the user to search for the song from among the song titles or artist names displayed on an LCD panel provided on the remote control and transmit the selected song to the main body, thereby selecting the song. There are those equipped with a touch panel, which requires no button operation at all.

At first, users used to sing a song looking at a lyric sheet or a lyric book. Presently, however, the lyrics are displayed on a video monitor in the form of TV caption indicating each part to sing by changing the color.

Recently, there are not only karaoke for singing, but also 'karaoke for an instrument' that excludes a solo part for a particular instrument, like 'Minus One' series of wind orchestra CD from BRAIN MUSIC.

Side show in bar

Karaoke was mainly placed in snack bars or hotel banquet rooms. Karaoke was regarded as a side show in bars. At that time, the users were the generations allowed to drink alcohol, or those in their 20's and over. Most of them were actually in older age groups. It was because most of the songs recorded as karaoke (karaoke source) were enka (Japanese ballad).

Growth as industry

In the mid 1980's, a business structure of the karaoke box that exclusively provide karaoke emerged. It was a place to go not to enjoy karaoke while drinking but to purely sing to karaoke, and was a revolutionary structure that knocked the bottom out of the old concept.

One factor that contributed to the success of karaoke box may be the following fact.

Japanese people of a certain age and over rejected 'singing in front of people without drinking,' but the younger ones enjoyed singing without any inhibition (at least in front of their familiar friends).

When singing karaoke in a common bar, one often has to sing in front of customers who are strangers. However, basically there are only friends in a compartment of a karaoke box, and therefore one can fully enjoy singing. There is no worry about being made fun of by a stranger even if he sings badly.

An increasing number of people 'purchased CDs to learn a song to sing with karaoke,' and many of Japanese single CDs sold more than a million copies in the 1990's.

A Karaoke box is frequently used for an after-party of a social gathering by students and corporate employees. It is one of typical amusements for the Japanese. However, quite a few people do not like singing in front of others in any generation.

Refer to karaoke box for details.

Online karaoke

In 1992, Taito Corporation released online karaoke 'X2000.'
In the same year, Xing Inc. released 'JOYSOUND.'
While songs were conventionally supplied through media, the online karaoke is configured to supply them through online communications. The karaoke machine is not an independent machine anymore, but a terminal device incorporated in an online communication system. There was no need of preparing a lot of software (media) beside each karaoke machine, the footprint was reduced by downsizing without using a machine drive system, and new songs were distributed faster than before. The business model also changed from selling devices and software to charging based on the amount used.

Other karaoke companies entered the industry one after another.
Daiichikosho released 'DAM,' GIGAnetworks released 'GIGA,' Pioneer Corporation released 'BeMAXS,' Victor Company of Japan released 'SONGOKU (karaoke),' SEGA released 'segakara,' and USEN released 'U-kara.'

Refer to online karaoke for details.

Oricon karaoke chart

Oricon has been publishing karaoke chart listing the national ranking of songs requested in karaoke since the mid 1990's. However, due to the time required for processing data, the ranking is published two weeks later than the data is released by each karaoke company.

The karaoke chart is characterized by many songs that stay at the top or within the top 10 for a long time, which means only a handful of songs are popular among karaoke fans. There is also a strong tendency that the same song enters the chart in a certain season of every year (for example, 'Touch' by Yoshimi IWASAKI always enters high on the list in the season of high school baseball games).

Transition of user and transition of software

The mainstream of the songs reproduced by karaoke were what was favored in the place where the device was placed. At first, the karaoke machine was placed in bars where Inoue worked, and therefore enka, which was favored in the bars, was the mainstream. After that, when the karaoke box emerged and students were targeted, the music source range included popular songs, hit songs, and Western music. Furthermore, children's songs were covered when families started to go to karaoke, and now a wide range of music is provided including even foreign music that was not available through records and CDs.

Karaoke box/room

Karaoke box started by converting disused containers of freight trains/motor trucks into karaoke boxes in Okayama Prefecture. Room types exclusive for karaoke is the recent main stream.

Refer to karaoke box for details.

Online karaoke

The online karaoke in the early years had some problems to be solved, such as poor sound quality of music and poor variations of images. The music source via a medium before that was analog recorded, which was basically almost music once played on a record, radio, or TV and recorded again using similar sources. However, the online karaoke used digital data in the form of MIDI data as the music source, and the karaoke machine was a MIDI player. The MIDI player was basically a synthesizer for playing music, and the reproduction method was very different from reproduction of the music source made by recording a live performance. The poor sound quality was brought by the poor quality of the MIDI player rather than the MIDI data, and the actual condition was far from the analog recorded professional performance. Furthermore, with the poor variation of the added images, the initially impressed merit was the variety of songs and early supply of new songs rather than the quality.

Now that technologies of digital music have advanced, not only the MIDI player, but also a digital music player are incorporated. With the function of reproducing digital recorded data (so-called sample data reproduction function) in addition to the synthesizer, the reproduction device has improved in view of sound quality and function.

Refer to the online karaoke for details.

Karaoke screen

In early times, no TV screen was used at all. After that, captions were played on the TV screen to sing along with the caption, but the same images were displayed on it. Later, images like a skit adapted to the meanings of the title or the lyric of the song were added. Such images are highly appreciated for a gotochi (local) song that highly regards the locality and folk song with serious lyrics. For example, in the case of 'Azusa 2-go' sung by Kariudo, an image of running Azusa (train) is played.

Karaoke at home

In the 1970's, household tape recorders including the compact cassette type reached a high level enough for music appreciation. Especially when a radio cassette recorder grew popular, it was used as a karaoke device (many of the radio cassette recorders had a loudspeaker function connected to a microphone).

In the late 1980's, a karaoke system using a laser disk was released and diffused to a certain degree. In the nature of the medium, it included images, and was capable of displaying the images and the lyrics on the TV screen. Unlike general laser disk players, a microphone input terminal and a mechanism for an effect on it were included. Furthermore, it had many operational buttons for karaoke use, such as many song selection buttons. In 1995, the online karaoke for domestic use was released.

Among home-use game machines, PC Engine is adapted to a karaoke system based on CD-G, and Dreamcast and Wii are adapted to an online karaoke system.

Since the early 1970's, there have been radio programs that played karaoke (accompaniment), and some listeners recorded them as a music source. Although there were almost no karaoke records in stores, many music tapes (music cassette tapes) exclusively for karaoke were listed on lineup.

Since lyrics started to be captioned along with the song by a singer in a TV music show, a karaoke version of some of the songs was made to be included in his CD. It became possible to enjoy karaoke without a special music source for karaoke.

Also released were many video games with a karaoke function.
(For example, 'Band Brothers DX' and 'Karaoke JOYSOUND Wii' from Nintendo Co., Ltd.)

Karaoke with a microphone

Emergence of karaoke with a microphone
With music recorded in hardware in advance and additional read only memories for personal use, karaoke with a microphone became as popular as the karaoke box. Many of them mainly contained 'natsumero' (nostalgic popular songs), popular songs, and enka favored by old generations and few of J-pops favored by young people, and J-pop songs are increasing recently.

For personal use, a new service for downloading karaoke software and music data to a mobile phone or a personal computer is being attempted.

Karaoke versions of music

Around 1990, single CDs including a karaoke version were released. The karaoke version is a must for teenage singers' CDs, and it is also common among pop music CDs. The product was initially called 'original karaoke,' but now it is mainly called 'Instrumental (abbreviated to 'inst.')' (Basically it is still called 'original karaoke' for Hikaru UTADA and Takeuchi Denki).

Sometimes the second of a double album is a karaoke version.
(for example, 'Smiling Gold' by Noriyuki MAKIHARA, 'Sweet Soul e.p.' by Kirinji, and 'Expressions' by Mariya TAKEUCHI)

In the case of single CDs, two songs corresponding to sides A and B as with the old records are contained, and four tunes are often recorded along with karaoke versions of them. This is also adapted to the fact that the size of a single CD increased from 8 cm to 12 cm (maxi single) allowing more temporal capacity. However, such a tendency was seen even before the upsizing.

[Original Japanese]