If the word “karaoke” summons dreadful moments on stage circa 2001 in front of a bar full of hecklers, it’s time for a rethink. Singing out of tune in front of a crowd of strangers went out with low-rise jeans, so if that scene made you check out, you now have a reason to check back in. And that reason is private karaoke. Sounds like the ultimate oxymoron, so read on…
Private karaoke booths have been growing in popularity in places like Washington, D.C., New York City and London over the past several years. These intimate settings are more akin to Japan’s karaoke parties with small, themed walls and furnishings, plush cushions and tiny dance floors, and they’re breathing new life into a trend that has had folks grabbing the mic since the 1960s. “It’s the Japanese essence of karaoke, really — not worrying about being a performer and just experiencing the exhilaration of singing,” says Franceska Brown, who works in business development at the U.K.-based karaoke network Lucky Voice.
It’s the Japanese essence of karaoke, really … just experiencing the exhilaration of singing.
In Britain, such venues like Karaoke Network are proving so popular that the chain is expanding at a rate of one location per month. Lucky Voice is seeing bars open private rooms equipped with their software at a rate of about two a month in London alone, and even more nationwide. So dedicated venues are growing, and bar owners are dedicating rooms to karaoke party areas in order to cash in on the growing trend.
Lucky Voice, for example, is predicting 40 percent sales growth this year alone, says Brown. “We’re off to a stonking start already,” she adds.
Stepping into the limelight in front of strangers used to require bravery — and alcoholic fortification — but now it can happen on your own terms, in more ways than one.
Most seductively, karaoke rooms offer privacy for the shy, melodically challenged masses. In terms of size, they range from small booths for just a handful of people — that can even be found in some Asian shopping centers — to luxury dining rooms at clubs that hold a few dozen, complete with disco balls, monitors, dance floors and song-filled sound systems.
There are usually a few microphones on offer, allowing friends to hit the high notes together. American Idol wannabes still get a chance to shine, while those who wouldn’t make the cut are mercifully drowned out — just like seventh-grade choir. And when the odd flat note hits the speakers, friends can laugh about it in private, rather than slinking off a spotlighted stage.
Another perk? Renting a private party room means that everyone gets to sing for as long as they like — no being forced to the back of the line or, worse, getting booed off the stage. Perk or punishment? You decide.
Friends chime in on the song selections and, for the more theatrical participants, there’s usually a costume box full of wigs and blow-up guitars.
No hourly rental would be worth its price tag without room service, so most venues have waitstaff available to bring drinks and appetizers to singers unwilling to miss their favorite tune for the sake of a Chardonnay.
In Britain, venues like Karaoke Network are proving so popular that the chain is expanding at a rate of one location per month. Lucky Voice is seeing bars open private rooms equipped with their software at a rate of about two a month in London alone, and even more nationwide. So dedicated venues are growing, and bar owners are dedicating rooms to karaoke party areas in order to cash in on the growing trend.
When Brown’s company set up its first venue in central London in 2005, there were only 11 other private-room karaoke venues around town; now there are more than 80.
In U.S. cities, live band karaoke — with singers performing alongside bands — is adding a new facet to the enduring trend. In addition to private karaoke, Brown says new firms are constantly cropping up to compete and offer more karaoke solutions, “whether it’s mobile setups in venues … or simply putting software into rooms.”
For those who want even more privacy, companies like Lucky Voice even offer subscription services akin to Netflix for access to their playlists — enabling people to log in from home.
So for anyone who thought karaoke’s heyday had come and gone, listen up: Private karaoke is putting a whole new spin on singing your heart out. In other words, “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Why you should care
Because karaoke isn’t dead after all, and there’s a way for you to enjoy time at the mic without suffering stage fright.