The history of karaoke is an interesting one. The first karaoke machine was invented in 1971, in Kobe, Japan, by Daisuke Inoue, an opportunistic bandleader, and musician who, upon sharing original music with a local businessman who was looking to sing along to recorded tracks in order to impress his clients, recognized the value in such a novelty and quickly set to work.
Inoue, along with several friends, began working on crafting audio machines that played recorded music for listeners to engage with and sing along to. Called the “8-Juke”, Inoue’s machine (one of 11 he created and released in that first year without a registered patent) was about the size of a small television set and featured a slot for coins. Leased to bars within the Osaka-Kobe area not long after, the machines were a hit with customers. Larger companies eventually took notice – and the rest is history.
Undoubtedly a Japanese phenomenon during its early days, karaoke became popular throughout eastern Asia in countries, before reaching China in the 1980s wherein, instead of “karaoke”, it is more commonly referred to as KTV. It has since gone on to become a national pastime, not to mention a hugely successful industry. But just how did this massive popularity come about?
What is KTV?
While commonly referred to as "karaoke" or a "karaoke box" in areas like Japan, Macau, and Hong Kong, establishments in which karaoke is performed are called KTV (an informal abbreviation of Karaoke Television – modeled after the earlier MTV "Movie TV" at the height of its popularity in Asia in the late 1980s) in China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Cambodia. Not to be confused with noraebang as it is called in South Korea (more on that here) and videoke in the Philippines.
KTV essentially means having the run of your own private karaoke room, equipped with screens, speakers, mood lighting, and comfortable seating – as opposed to the more western-style karaoke that takes place on a stage in front of crowds of people. There is a personalized and intimate theme behind KTV, and various regions of the world embrace them, but typically with their own colloquial naming conventions.
At the end of the day, it’s good old-fashioned singing with friends in your own little hideaway. And, of course, like any other exceptional karaoke experience, KTV also includes having your room serviced with food and drinks.
To break it down even further, here’s a general sampling of the in-person KTV experience:
Depending on how many friends you are hoping to sing with, you can plan ahead by reserving a private room of corresponding size at just about any karaoke bar – KTV is all about intimacy and comfort, so knowing what to expect is key: small rooms in karaoke bars typically hold 3 to 5 people, while larger rooms can usually accommodate between 10 to 15.
Once you first step inside your karaoke venue, you’ll notice that the atmosphere is wild, glittery, opulent, and over-the-top. The glitzy décor and vibrant lighting is meant to get you in the mood and provide an exciting experience so that you WANT to get up and sing.
KTV rooms typically feature a large screen TV and a songbook (usually in tablet form) that features hundreds if not thousands of local and international karaoke songs to choose from – in English and Chinese. There could also be a smaller TV screen on the wall wherein you and your group input your queue of song choices.
Because KTV is all about private entertaining, food and drinks are an equally important part of the karaoke experience. Many venues have on-site mini-stores for purchasing snacks and alcohol. Other places feature menus and room service with a dedicated attendant. Of course, this all depends on the price you and your group are paying. Once you've lined up your tracklist and selected your food and drink options, you and your friends are free to sing it out as loud and for as long as you want!
KTV: The Global Appeal
Since its creation and launch in the early 1970s, karaoke has been a continually integral concept and artform in many Asian cultures. As expected, its embrace by Western audiences has, likewise, resulted in tremendous cultural shifts and has even made lasting impressions on interpersonal relationships regarding how people socialize.
Companies like Singa, which provide high-quality karaoke streaming for private karaoke rooms, have truly affected change within various entertainment industries by putting more and more people in touch with this phenomenon. Karaoke has always been BIG. Today, the use of karaoke in society is only going to get BIGGER.
In China, KTV, and in particular KTV booths, are becoming part of a growing trend in everyday culture and not just as fixtures in bars and restaurants. Such booths, similar to photobooths, are popping up in cinemas, shopping malls, and subway stations – anywhere there are opportunities for gathered friends to get together and pop in to sing in an ultra-personal setting.
Many of these newly sprouted karaoke booths, which because of their size, are cheaper than traditional KTV rooms, but still feature amenities like air conditioning, headsets, tablets for song selection, and seating. Essentially, what you’d get in a traditional KTV bar, but with a more intimate feel.
Additionally, karaoke remains very much a product of its time: now many karaoke enthusiasts prefer the more intimate nature of KTV and private rooms as it provides entertainment and socializing opportunities among friends in a more personalized and less open space.
There are estimated to be around 20,000 of these mini karaoke booths operating in China. The new trend of KTV-on-the-go is responsible for an upsurge in the Chinese karaoke market, which is currently valued (according to one report) at an estimated ¥3.18 billion, or $470 million US. That’s a LOT of karaoke. With numbers like these, the karaoke trend is definitely here to stay.
Where to find KTV near you?
Depending on where you find yourself in the world (either inside or outside Mainland China), if you’re looking to sing – solo, or with friends – you likely aren’t that far from a venue. In fact, throughout many major metropolitan Chinese cities, there are an estimated 100,000 karaoke bars. For true, die-hard fans of the craft, narrow down your search with Singa’s handy search tool or download the Singa app and sing karaoke wherever you are.