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How did the Karaoke machine came to be: A Story (Remastered)

Note: This is a remastered copy of the article when the site went down.

In the Philippines, everybody loves Karaoke. Not just the Filipinos but everyone in the whole wide world. The thing with Filipinos, they love to own big things. When I say big things, like literally a huge home entertainment system. There’s no dull moment that you can ever stop your neighbor from opening this huge karaoke machine and start singing on a Sunday morning.

No. Seriously. I hear it every Sunday morning and my filed complaints don’t really work.

Just kidding. I just hate Sunday noises.

So, without further ado… Let’s start with a piece of history.

History Lesson 101: Origin

New York City in the 1960s.

Let’s date back to the Early 1960’s and set the location to the United States of America. Where things were all pop and hippies started coming out of nowhere because of the Vietnam War that happened from 1955 to 1975. During that time, there were lots of jolly television shows for Americans to watch because, people don’t want to hear the news about what’s going on about the Vietnam War too. That also included game shows and other means of entertainment. That also includes watching Paul Anka singing to “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” with a lip-sync.

Paul Anka lip-syncing “Time To Cry” in an old movie.

However, there was one particular TV show which made people wanted to sing along to the song they play with lyrics appearing on the screen. That TV show is called “Sing Along with Mitch“, a show hosted by Mitch Miller, a recording producer and recording industry executive, who was one of the most influential people in the American Pop Music Standard between the 1950’s and 1960’s. And his TV show is broadcasted by NBC.

The TV show that Americans tune into.

Initially, Sing Along with Mitch was a one-shot of an episode from an Anthology TV Drama Series show titled “Startime“. It was Episode 32 of the said show, where Mitch hosts his musical performance show. The episode title was “The Mitch Miller Variety Show”.

I know your question would be like: Why is this guy so important to talk about?

Well, he is. Because this guy, was the guy who presented the idea that there will be a recording of his segment, where he and a group of people, will perform a song, and at the same time, have a bunch of words which were lyrics to the song, appear and make people sing along to the lyrics shown on the TV screens at their very own home. Not just at home but for the audience, who also is present during the time of the taping of the show at the studio too.

Here’s a YouTube video to see how it actually looks like:

To be frank, Mitch looked like Vladimir Ilych Lenin (sorry, Russia). But that’s a joke so, no Russian come to my house today to talk about salami and babushka lifestyle. And how to live like a slav.

And yes, this is how it started. Mitch Miller’s show is the foundation on what will come in the fundamental change in technology as it progresses into development.

 

History Lesson 102: The 1970’s technology boom

It’s the 1970’s. And the development of technology is becoming… big. Like big. Big 10MB hard drives for a server, huge computing machines (they’re computers but, whatever), Intel shows the world their first programmable processor chip, the e-mail appears (but it was called ARPANET. Go look it up), computer programming language first appeared, the Apple II appears because of Steve and Woz, a digital camera actually existed (but never produced), and other things amazing apart from having people dancing to Staying Alive by the Bee Gees.

10 MB Hard drive tho.

So, what’s with the 70’s? Well, it’s not all about being groovy and all. It’s about the aftermath of the war. Well, not the Vietnam war, but World War II (this was like before the Vietnam War ever started and screwed everyone in the butt).

I know you’re going to ask about why do we have to mention World War II? Remember that Japan was bombed twice by the Americans just because Japan threw a hissy fit on Pearl Harbor.

So when Japan surrendered to the USA, the USA installed a new constitution that would do a Post-War Economic Miracle (also known as “The Japanese Economic Miracle”). With the aid of help from the United States to get Japan back on to their own feet again, Japan started making crazy electronics such as microchips, computer parts, telephones, radios, TVs, cars (yes. those JDM cars), and eventually creating new technology by combining existing ideas coming from the rest of the world.

Wait, the rest of the world? Why? <- said some normie who thought he knew about everything he was taught at school.

There’s no say about it but heck, Japan even had a Sing Along TV show too sometimes. Depending on the popularity of the song.

This is a living and well-restored video of Sakiko Ito’s song “ひまわり娘” (translates to “The Sunflower Girl”) from 1974. It’s one of the most popular singles coming from aidoru Ito that shone upon Japan’s radios nationwide (aiduro means idol in Japanese. I just wrote it that way instead. Hiragana writing is “あいどる”). Although, that song was charted at the spot of #20 on the Oricon Charts (Oricon is basically Japan’s Billboard Music Chart, just saying so you guys will have knowledge). Apart from the song itself, the lyrics are also on-screen. Just like Mitch Miller’s show in the Late 60’s, people will do, apparently, sing-along to the song, as long as there’s on-screen lyrics.

In most cases, on-screen lyrics wasn’t totally necessary. Sometimes, you can hand-out a pamphlet containing the lyrics alongside some piece of bubblegum or candy wrapped in wax paper, as a token of appreciation for coming as an audience and participant to the show (which is what ABS-CBN never thought of).

However, this wasn’t yet the time for the Karaoke with a TV screen. This is still part of the beginning though but let’s rewind a little to 1967 in Japan. There’s this car audio guy (literally the guy who installs audio system in your car) from Tokyo named Shigeichi Negishi, made a prototype of a “karaoke” machine. He calls it “Music Box”. The Music Box was accompanied with a microphone, a tape , and a booklet containing the lyrics to the song. There was no details on what kind of music or who the artist that composed or created the music for the said tape was. But it was sold just as-is. Meanwhile in the Kansai region of Japan, there’s another guy named Toshiharu Yamashita, a singing coach and an advocate for a national singing movement, sold an 8-track playback machine named the “harp”. The harp had a mixing circuit, microphone, and tapes as well similar to the Music Box. However, the harp had more what it takes. The harp uses an 8-track tape, which was a tape used way back in its time and was popular among people who needed more than a single-lane tape with multiple tracks that you can’t choose from.

Holding a microphone, Daisuke Inoue grins as he shows his 1971 invention the “8-Juke,” a red and white wooden box that combined microphone, amplifier and an eight-track tape player, at his office in Osaka, western Japan, Dec. 6, 2002. Back when Inoue was a youngster banging drums with a local lounge band, he didn’t think his invention would amount to much. He certainly had no idea of applying for a patent. But three decades later, karaoke is a household word and Inoue hardly sees a dime. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
A sample of an 8-track tape. From GettyImages.

With these machines in existence, thus the sing-along trend started.

Even though these guys are at it, there’s also this guy named Daisuke Inoue (shown on the photo above with a machine called the 8-Juke). Inoue is a singer and a musician who plays his own music, with his own instruments. At that time, he was doing work in Kobe and devised sing-along equipment with the use of an 8-track tape as well. In development of his own machine, he created a mixer that will mix the sound from the 8-track player and microphone. As well as incorporated an amplifier along with a coin-operated timer to run the machine for 5 minutes per 100 JPY (and it was so expensive for its time too. Japanese people could buy two lunches with 100 JPY because a lunchbox (bento) was literally 50 JPY at that time). Hence, it was named the 8-Juke. The machine itself is also small, that it can fit in small bars that needed it. Also, Inoue leased these machines out to bars rather than selling them or giving them away. This is to ensure that stores won’t buy their own tapes on their own (in case something happens or something). These machines were placed in restaurants and hotel rooms (yes. hotel rooms. they had it.) and eventually some izakayas later on. And this was in 1971.

After 1971, most of what Inoue and other people made were later remodeled and manufactured somewhere else. Which creates more room to what the Japanese sing-along evolution would come for. Following the next year (1972), manufacturers and enterprises started entering the market to create better sing-along machines apart from what Inoue, Yamashita, and Negishi had put together. While some other enterprises, just use surplus equipment to produce the same product as well. And most of the final product at that time were mostly 8-track tapes that were interchangeable.

Of course, as for the name, instead of saying “sing-along”, it was really Inoue who came up with the name “karaoke”. Written in Japanese as “カラオケ” (derived from kara 空 which means “empty” and okesutora オーケストラ which means “orchestra”). Hence, it became part of Japan’s pop culture development.

 

History Lesson 103: Roberto del Rosario and the Patent

Only existing portrait of Roberto del Rosario on the internet.

With the Karaoke industry booming in Japan, tourism also became a thing too in the Mid 1970’s. Many Chinese people are coming from the mainland to Japan for jobs and also a new life, Filipinos are making marks in Japan by being part of Japanese engineering companies as well as Nurses, Americans and Russians are stopping by during the Vietnam War, and also… Foreigners buying the technology as well.

In the Mid 1970s, Filipinos at that time, were booming with money. Like, filthy Spanish rich because of Former President Ferdinand Marcos’ time (which many Filipinos are still angry for, and I don’t know why and I don’t want to know). And that would mean, people who have business minds can visit Japan. And theoretically, Roberto del Rosario’s company might be also the case. Maybe?

Many electronics sold in the Philippines comes mostly from Japan. Although converted to run nearly 240V of AC for the voltage that Philippines has. Step-down transformers were a thing but they were not as cheap as what people would thought of. So Rosario’s supplier of electronics come from Japan as well. Some of the parts were also made locally too.

DISCLAIMER BEFORE CONTINUING ON READING: I tried to get a company profile about Trebel Music Corporation Philippines online and in the local library, there isn’t any. Even in the Registry Commission, it was harder to talk to them. I’ll just write what I have learned so far about Rosario and Trebel Music Corp.

Let’s talk about what everyone knows about Roberto del Rosario first.

Rosario, is an entrepreneur in the Philippines. Focusing solely on creating Music Solutions. Meaning, he creates “music accessories” that will help musicians and music enthusiasts alike in what they do.

Here’s a list of products that Rosario’s company makes (taken from this link and this link):

  • Treble Voice Color Code (VCC)
  • Piano Tuner’s guidebook
  • Piano Keyboard Stress Tester (aka Stressing Device)
  • Voice Color Tape (I think he meant Vocal Tape, used by many music producers to delay the vocal)
  • Copper Wire String Winding Machine
  • Method of Determining a Singer’s Voice Range guidebook (which exists, actually. Just go for voice lessons to find this book)
  • One-Man Band system
  • Sing-Along system

The products that he made before still exists to this day. They’re often used by many enthusiasts and technicians (yes. Technicians. Piano Tuners are highly paid though and must have a VERY GOOD EAR to eventually tune the piano right.)

However, the Sing-Along system that Rosario makes actually exists and I’ll explain the details of the machine.

This machine right here is a multiplex karaoke machine. Which had features like treble change, bass change, vocal gain change, echo/reverb, recording tape deck, radio features, headphone output, and two microphone input for duet mode. The machine didn’t use an 8-track tape deck like what the Japanese does. The reason being is that most 8-track tapes are very expensive to produce for the ordinary Filipino salaryman. In order for it to sell, they will just use regular cassette tapes instead with a length of nearly 90 minutes for each side. So, how does this machine work? The tape has different audio channels. One channel is fully instrumental and other has vocals or also the original song with vocals. Sometimes, the song itself comes from a recording company directly or is re-made with a different singer but isolated into two channels. That may also be the reason why machines like this have one huge speaker because it is to convert the stereo channels into one big mono channel.

Multiplex Karaoke Tapes

Rosario’s version of a Karaoke machine was this one. Although, not the exact photo but it really looked like this. It was build for the domestic Philippine Market (and later on, many companies followed Rosario’s product afterwards in the most of South East Asia). To compare with the Japanese karaoke machines of the early 70’s, none of them nearly had these features especially the Juke-8. Although the Juke-8 had reverb but it wasn’t as close to the one on this machine. Rosario’s Karaoke was better because he can incorporate many things on it than of what Inoue made. The thing is, Inoue’s version is smaller, which required also external speakers to be installed. While Rosario’s had a big-ass speaker already, which you can hear next door on a Sunday morning, along with your neighbor’s hoarse voice.

In retrospect, Rosario actually did make one with better improvements for the domestic market. So, let’s put it like this: If you make a vehicle and say that you developed it into something better from where you took the base from, that means you made a better version of that vehicle but you can put your own brand onto it. That’s what the people at RUF Automobil of Germany did. Even though that Porsche did give them the green lights on about patents to avoid legal action to the course of this day. And yeah, Rosario didn’t invent a karaoke machine as a full clarification. Instead, he was the person who filed for the patent but for his product.

This is the RUF CTR yellowbird. Not the Porsche 911. But it is based on the Porsche 911 after all.

That begs the question, why did Rosario patent the Sing-Along System (not as Karaoke, yet) instead of the Japanese inventors or creators?

Rosario is an entrepreneur. To prevent people from copying his sole work without permission, he can bring them to legal terms. For Inoue and the other Japanese folks, they didn’t really think of it as they are too busy selling and leasing the product to Japanese folks. And by the time the first three Japanese folks would have thought about it, many big companies in Japan have already made “better” revisions of the product that the original three thought of. So there won’t be any reason to patent it either even if China or the USA would make better versions as well. Speaking of Rosario protecting his product, he also did bring to court a Chinese company, who attempts to copy what Rosario did on their product without permissions before the Supreme Court. So the court ruled that the Chinks violated the rights over his machine. And this was in 1996.

In other words: Japan can be also thankful that Rosario became “their shield” against things like that. And I guess Rosario’s pretty chill with it with the glorious earnings he gets (except, not that much in all honesty). Which means: His patent was recognize worldwide instead of the patent to his own product incidentally since most companies who creates the said machine, are of the same thing features with add-ons anyways.

 

History Lesson 104: So, who is the “true” inventor?

Let’s review:

  • Mitch Miller started his TV show called “Sing-Along with Mitch”, which showed lyrics on-screen for people to sing along with.
  • The three Japanese men made a machine, but differently. Only Inoue’s machine was a portable particular though and Inoue was the only person who thought of the name instead of saying “sing-along” in bad english. Nobody wants to say “shing-arong” right?
  • Roberto del Rosario made a patent to his own Sing-Along machine. However, was recognized instead as the patent holder.

Let’s be honest. All of them are sole contributors to what “karaoke” is today. There is no solid person who invents the machine. But, the name is what makes the difference as he will be known today as the person who gave “the baby a name” rather than a generic name that people can’t often use.

There were many people that can’t be listed, tried to claim they created it. Even Filipinos praised Rosario for being the sole inventor of the said machine (which he didn’t) but deserves credit in protecting it with a patent.

 

History Lesson 105: The evolution of the Karaoke Machine

Karaoke Booth in 2019. Photo by Wall Street Journal

From the Mid 70’s, Karaoke is becoming more and more popular. It went to bars, restaurants, even hotels as mentioned above. Except that, people are getting tired of changing tapes or waiting for their song to come up. So what to do? Develop it further.

It was in the 1980’s, a Japanese company called Pioneer, used a technology called the LaserDisc, and implemented the song selection system which is found also on CDs. However, this is the 80’s. And LaserDisc seems to be one of the first media formats to introduce video and audio solutions, where you can also watch a full-length movie on it too. Which can also mean, you can program the song ahead of time that you wanted to sing too.

The Pioneer CLD V840 Laserdisc player. Can also play karaoke and watch films at the same time.

This is one of the machines that introduced a way to choose your own songs from the list. And also has the scoring feature. But most of the songs are also pre-recorded and no voice too.

The LaserDisc didnt’ last long though. It had faults since they can not last nearly 5 hours for one party session for karaoke enjoyment. Despite the fact that this was able to carry up to at least 28 songs. And this is mostly used at home than at the bars as such as nobody wants to flip the disc to the next side just to get to the other songs they want to sing, for the other folks in the back. Also, VHS came to the ballpark of Karaoke as well too as it was cheaper than LaserDisc. In the 1995, the Video CD format replaced the VHS entirely, bearing also the same features as what the LaserKaraoke had except without the scoring functionality.

Although LaserDisc isn’t the only technlogical advancement, there were many improved machines that do require someone to help choose the tracks that they want to sing.

Though Karaoke machines were using actual music, some machines started using MIDI. MIDI means Musical Instrument Digital Interface. If you ever played on a video game console or hear 8-bit Mario music, that’s because of MIDI. Same goes for many gaming consoles or even synthesizers that use MIDI, helped build up the Electronic Music genre. But of course, the Japanese started using MIDI as a better alternative since they’ve also developed a computer that could read MIDI, implement what Pioneer did with their LaserDisc Karaoke, and eventually creating the ultimate machine that would make people program their own songs via the touch of a button by inputting the number based from the song catalogue provided. It replaced nearly Inoue’s machines with this technology and of course, added a feature to be viewed on TV via video composite.

The MIDI Karaoke machine can store up to 100 songs on an on-board memory chip. The same memory chip that video arcade game systems use in the Mid 80’s. The files of a MIDI Karaoke machine consist of the following:

  • a MIDI file that recorded from a MIDI machine
  • a text file containing timing and on-screen lyrics
  • another text file containing the title, artist, and other small data to show on-screen.
  • a timing file for scoring and voice-to-note analysis, and sync for both the MIDI and the lyric text file.\

These files were under a kilobyte. So nearly 3kb makes up one song. Of course, complete with a slideshow of images in 16-bit.

These machines were used until today. Except with vast improvements and also better features to serve every karaoke lover, ever. Most new features are with music videos, MP3 files, and even adding your own song to the storage unit of the karaoke machine. It also went from memory chips to discs, then to hard drives. It evolved so fast that you cannot keep up with the times. well, that’s how it is.

Modern Karaoke Bar in China.

So yeah, that’s it for this story. I hope you enjoyed reading it. It’s better than looking on the wikipedia or anything else.

Most of these were hours of research before I actually wrote them. And if you want another story, can make another but I’ll have to keep reading and researching for material for it.

 

One more thing: A Karaoke machine is also considered as an video arcade game too. And that’s why you see them in the arcade game centers in the Philippines. Because, you try your best to sing and get the best score. Ever.

Before you leave, enjoy a video about Foreigners singing Karaoke in a mall by The Juicy Vlog:

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