Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Want Karaoke Tracks

So I like to sing. Generally, if I know the lyrics to something, I can't help but sing. Sometimes, even if I don't know the lyrics, I'll make something up and warble along. I don't own an mp3 player, so I make up for this by singing a capella to myself when I'm on the go or waiting for the bus or whatever. I suppose I like to think I'm reasonably good, so sometimes when I need a break from work or have random pent up energy, I'll have a recording session with Audacity and see if I can get anything half-decent recorded. As such, I really love the fact that many j-pop artists release off-vocal, instrumental, or karaoke tracks alongside their singles.

I don't normally play the karaoke tracks by themselves, mostly because I get really self-conscious if I don't have the original vocals to hide behind, but most of them will match up with the vocal version, so I can record myself alongside the original vocals, then trade the track for the karaoke to hear my own vocals. It works well enough. (Maybe someday, I'll have something that's decent enough to share here?)

Unfortunately, not all of the music I listen to and want to sing to provides karaoke tracks. I've noticed that most j-pop singers will provide them for their singles. Tommy heavenly6, angela, FictionJunction YUUKA, Nami Tamaki, Mika Nakashima, and Utada Hikaru all generally provide a karaoke track. ALI PROJECT usually has karaoke tracks (not like I'll ever be able to sing their stuff anyway). L'Arc~en~Ciel, Gackt, and T.M. Revolution are also pretty consistent about including a karaoke version of their singles. But the further you venture from pop and the more into rock and alternative you get, the less likely there will be karaoke tracks.

I don't expect -miyavi-, Dir en grey, or Maximum the Hormone to ever include karaoke tracks. Maybe it's just because it's much harder for the average person to sing along with their music, but that doesn't stop them from appearing on karaoke machines in karaoke bars, etc, so clearly there's some kind of demand for them. Most of the karaoke places I've visited have surprised me with the selection of music they have available. I don't really know how the licensing on these things work, but I suspect that a lot most of the songs don't feature "official" karaoke versions, only edited versions where someone has manually extracted the vocal track. Such methods usually leave a ghost voice, but at a karaoke bar, it'd be really hard to tell. This is probably how they manage to get karaoke versions of most English-language songs as well, 'cause really, when was the last time an American, Canadian, or British artist included an official karaoke track on their single or album?

It's obvious from the word itself that karaoke originated in Japan, but I've always wondered why its popularity is so subdued in the States when it's all the rage across Asia. I mean, it can't be that only Asians like singing, right? If shows like American Idol can be so popular, why aren't karaoke tracks more common on American musical releases? Why aren't there more karaoke places outside of Chinatowns? The Asian population is Savannah is slim to none, which means there isn't a karaoke place for miles and miles. This drives me crazy. I really want to go out to karaoke, but there's no where to go!

I think the only English-language official karaoke tracks I have are for Disney songs. Everyone loves to sing Disney songs, I guess? Or maybe it's because most of those movies are musicals? But if that's the case, why isn't there a karaoke version of every Broadway soundtrack? Why can't I find karaoke versions of the songs from The Lion King on Broadway? Beauty and the Beast on Broadway? RENT? I would really love to see more official karaoke version of English-language songs since it'd spare me the trouble of making them myself. Plenty of songs are begging to be sung to, so come on.

Maybe lack of encouragement in the form of karaoke tracks can be my excuse as to why I know the lyrics to more Japanese songs than English songs. 8|

6 comments:

omo said...

Americans do karaoke in bars, and if you care to bar hop you will see it all over the place, even if just occasionally. Well, I speak only from experience in my local areas (which are mostly suburbs near urban areas and cities in the US northeast). It's rare to see it at a family restaurant or a bar & grill though.

As to karaoke tracks, I think you might find something interesting if you dig deeper. There are karaoke tracks for a lot of stuff out there, even American music, but you are right that if you hit up a booth karaoke place in Manhattan you can find just about every song you think you know that exist in Japan. It's not as much the case for American music. What I found tho is that for most songs people who would bother to sing, there are off vocal tracks to them.

Heck, that's what all those new music games like Rock Band is all about.

A lot of the times what these Japanese karaoke machine/music companies do is they license the stuff, and obtain the off vocal tracks when they could. When it isn't available (or cost too much $) they'll just sew together a MIDI or something. You're not going to find that on a CD single, obviously.

Getting karaoke tracks as a c/w track from a single is really a unique-to-Japan thing, and since anyone buying the single will have it, it's also easy to find as pirated online. In America off vocal tracks are usually locked in as either a proprietary format associated with certain karaoke machines, or sold as collections separately from the mainstream. So it's hard to even just find them sometimes.

Kiriska said...

I kind of think karaoke at a bar is different from an actual karaoke place since the main purpose of the former is still to drink and the main purpose of the latter is to actually sing, whether or not alcohol is involved.

Even if there are karaoke tracks to more American music, I still really want to know why it isn't more widespread when, like you said, games like Rock Band are so popular. And even then, karaoke machines for home use have existed for ages and ages, but Rock Band is only now a huge hit? It's kind of puzzling to me. Is it just because Rock Band incorporates the rest of the band and not just the singer?

omo said...

Hmmmm. Some people karaoke at a bar to sing as well. It's like American Idol, y'know.

I don't know why it's not as wide spread, but I can guess. There are already a lot of common-folk musical traditions as part of Americana (gospel, church stuff, easier to make your own band because people have garages here) that Japan just doesn't have, for example. There's also the fact that Japan is a much more densely populated place, so karaoke booths and the like serves both as a private place to sing and more economically feasible to run to dedicate to just karaoke alone.

I'm only guessing.

Kiriska said...

Hmm, well, those theories definitely make sense. In that case, I wonder if the reason karaoke tracks are absent from most American releases is because of the absence of a widespread karaoke culture? Or is it more of a copyright concern?

omo said...

I don't know, that's a great question. But one thing that always was the case is that singles just don't sell very well in America. People who collected singles tend to be hardcore fans or music aficionados and not casual people. I guess that also means they're less likely to just sing karaoke to them.

In Japan this is less the case and a lot of people also just buy singles (such as theme songs to TV shows and movies) that they like, not the full albums. And as we know, karaoke is popular in Japan, so the off-vocal tracks are on the singles as a standard thing to do.

Kiriska said...

That's actually another thing I've always wondered about -- why there aren't as many singles released in America and/or why not as many people buy them. I never hear about singles in the States; hell, I honestly didn't even know musicians released singles in the States for the longest time. It kind of goes back to a post I made last year about how not many American shows promote current musicians and vice versa, and though there are exceptions to that observations, the relationship isn't nearly as utilized as it is in Japan.

I wonder if people don't buy as many singles in the States because there aren't as many extras or b-sides on them? And if that's the case, I wonder whether it'd really be so hard to include some.