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Karaoke – a blessing for amateur singers

A Karaoke sample

A Karaoke sample   | Photo Credit: T_Singaravelou (File)

The stage was set when the original voice could be removed from the track

(First in a series of three articles on its origin and evolution, guide to Karaoke singing and current trends)

Karaoke is a Japanese word that refers to a performance in which a person sings along with recorded music. It is derived from a shortened form of the word Karappo which means 'empty' and a shortened form of the word Okesutura meaning ‘Orchestra.’ So, the word can be taken to literally mean ‘empty orchestra’ or, again in terms we understand, music that has the lead melody missing.

The world’s first karaoke machine, the Juke-8, was built by Japanese inventor and musician Daisuke Inoue in 1971. But it is Filipino inventor Roberto del Rosario who holds the machine’s patent. He developed the Karaoke Sing-Along System in 1975.

Traditionally, film music would be presented, rather reproduced, on stage for public consumption, with the help of a regular orchestra. An orchestra would comprise brass, percussion, woodwind, string and rhythm sections. Typically, these are represented by instruments such as saxophone, trumpet, clarionet, tabla, dholak, bongos, tripe congo, drums and octapad, cymbals, flute, harmonica, accordion, harmonium, banjo, violin, mandolin, cello, guitar (string acoustic, electric, Spanish, Hawaiian), piano, keyboard and other devices and gadgets to produce special effects.

Speaking about Light Music Orchestra, in Chennai, I fondly recall A.V. Ramanan’s Musiano and Sridhar’s Navraags in the 1980s, Balaji’s Mazhalai Pattalam, and in recent times, Lakshman-Sruthi, UK Murali, Mouna Ragam Murali, and others. Having spent all my student days in Mumbai, I cannot help mentioning Babla and his orchestra whose shows were immensely popular.

Singing with an orchestra requires proficiency, preparation and practice. Interestingly, this was an entry barrier and restraining factor for budding and aspiring lay singers. It was almost impossible for those with some talent and aspiration to reach the stage, literally! One had to have a voice that would resemble closely with that of the original singer and sing well. Only then he/she could sing in an orchestra.

Then came Karaoke with its more popular description in the early days of its arrival – Sing Along. Thanks to technology and emergence of multi-track recording, and the arrival of Karaoke, it was now possible to remove the vocals from a recorded song! Thus the stage was truly set, for lesser mortals (like me !) to take.

BGMs without voice track

These soundtracks with the complete Background Music (BGM), minus the Voice, came to be referred in professional music circles as Minus One tracks. In today’s parlance, we refer to these as Karaoke Tracks, which can be either audio or video. Video tracks are more user friendly, in that, one can sing along with the visual prompt that appears on the screen. Singing with audio Karaoke tracks requires heightened familiarity with the BGM, nuances and cues in the song which the singer will have to reproduce and keep in sync. Using Open Source,

With free software and apps now available, one can alter the scale and/or tempo as well that of the track.

Besides software per se, with which one can alter these key parameters to suit one’s requirements, there are studios and on-line portals where one can sing and record their performance. On-line portals like Smule and Star Singer are popular and it is a blessing for the aspiring singer to use these facilities to showcase talent.

There are also YouTube channels, owned by individuals, who are rendering yeoman service by providing free Karaoke tracks, mostly video tracks. Some of them are particularly very high quality — their reproduction is very near the original. It is a particularly satisfying experience to sing using such hi-quality, hi-fidelity tracks.

Thanks to the free availability of such Karaoke tracks, thousands of individuals have emerged from their bathrooms and bedrooms onto the stage! We see a variety of Karaoke-based shows by groups and individuals, both in private get-togethers and in public. For these individuals and groups, it is a cost-effective proposition to hold an open programme, since all that is required is audio equipment, which can be hired for a reasonable fee. So Karaoke has opened up avenues for all those with some talent to get on to the stage. In my next article, I shall offer some practical and useful tips for singing with Karaoke. Until then, Happy Singing….

(The Chennai-based author is the founder and lead singer of his troupe, Geet Gaata Chal. He can be reached at

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 11:10:28 PM |

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