The Ghost Orchestra: A History Of Karaoke And Karaoke Machines

Karaoke is a worldwide phenomenon that stretches back to the 1970s. Today, karaoke has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry, stretching far and wide across the globe from the country of its creation, Japan.

We will seek to guide you through the evolution and history of karaoke, what exactly defines karaoke, the meaning and origins of the world itself and of course karaoke equipment, whether you wish to know more about home karaoke machines or perhaps more costly professional karaoke machines.

Karaoke Definition & Karaoke Meaning

Karaoke can be defined as a form of digital entertainment in which the player has to sing along to the instrumental version of a popular song as the lyrics play on a screen, usually with some visual aid showing the progression of the lyrics and the recommended singing tempo.

The word karaoke has its origin in Japanese as that is who invented karaoke. Karaoke is a Japanese compound word in which the first half means empty (kara) and the second half is the shortened way of writing the Japanese word for orchestra (oke, from the longer ōkesutora).

Karaoke Sign in Japanese

Literally translated, empty orchestra makes sense when you consider the lack of vocals and the instrumental music still playing. This term is often translated somewhat more poetically to “ghost orchestra” which certainly does have its own hauntingly metaphorical appeal.

Other Karaoke Term Def​initions

There are a few other terms which are used in the realm of karaoke, most of them originating from Japan, we will list a few of them here.

Hitokara means singing to karaoke alone with no crowd, this comes from the Japanese word “hitori” meaning alone and the “kara” suffix comes from karaoke.

A juhachiban is a karaoke singer’s best song, often their favorite song or the one to which the player can best maintain tempo and vocal range.

History Of Karaoke

Karaoke originated in the 1970s from relatively obscure circumstances in Japan.

Before 1970, the closest one could find to karaoke were sing-along programs on the television, in which the viewer sings along to another singer as opposed to singing over the instrumental track of the song alone.

Sing-along programs are still quite popular with children today due to the relative ease in singing along to another’s voice when compared to having only the instrumental track and lyrics, for which one requires a somewhat rudimentary understanding of the song to which they are singing in the least. Even in 2018, many American parents love the idea of buying a cute karaoke machine for their kids.

Old Time Photo of Family Singing Karaoke

​​​​Regardless, there is a reason that sing-along programs have faded into relative obscurity and karaoke has become a massive, worldwide phenomenon, and it has a lot to do with the more enjoyable experience and freedom of being the only singer (or singers in the case of duets or more).

Returning to the actual origins of karaoke itself, it is rather confusing as to who invented it in the first place. Though it is widely accepted that Daisuke Inoue, a Japanese musician, was the inventor of karaoke.

How The Story Goes

The story goes that, Daisuke Inoue, himself a renowned drum​​​​mer, was often asked by guests at his workplace to play his music for them so they could sing along. Inoue came to realize that he could commercialize this idea in the form of a prototype karaoke machine which took money and played his music for the player to sing along to.

When it was first introduced, karaoke was seen as somewhat of a gimmick. Most people did not take it seriously, and they simply used it to pass the time while waiting for their friends to arrive at the bar. This had just as much to do with the novelty of the idea and the somewhat lacking technology of the 1970s.

The first karaoke machines were little more than cassette players, lacking many of the additional features which make karaoke machines what they are today.

Best Karaoke Machine For The Money

This was soon to change with the advent of more advanced technology for karaoke machines, and it would soon become ingrained in the culture of many countries worldwide. During the 1980s, karaoke machines started becoming more affordable and more venues began featuring them.

The 1980s was when karaoke started to gain worldwide renown and began to expand into a far bigger market than just Japan and a few parts of east Asia. Advancing technology such as CDs and laserdiscs made it more practical to play karaoke, and the machines began to resemble those of today.

How Do Karaoke Machines Work?

Best home karaoke machines are quite simple in operation. They can either accept a format of music such as CDs, cassettes (rarely used anymore), DVDs or even blu-rays or more modern karaoke machines have digital music libraries, some of which are linked to music providers for easy purchasing of more music.

Typically, karaoke machines feature a screen. This can range anywhere from a small CRT screen, to a touchscreen display, to a large, almost theatre-like experience. Some karaoke establishments feature multiple screens so the patrons can all follow along without having to all face the same screen as the player.

The screen can even be replaced by a projector in more opulent establishments. The purpose of the screen is to provide the lyrics and a method of singing along to them, such as a dot bouncing over the words or the words filling up with color as the song advances, better allowing the player to follow along with the lyrics.

Some earlier models of karaoke machines did not feature a screen, and instead, the player relied upon printout sheets of the lyrics, but today, these types of machines are also impossible to find, with how simple it has become to display the lyrics on a screen.

Singtrix SGTXPB1 Personal Bundle Home Karaoke System

The next aspect of the karaoke machine is of course a microphone, so the singer can have their voice heard throughout the venue or the room. The microphone may often connect to a form of pitch adjustment technology which allows players to sing songs which are normally out of their vocal range by adjusting the song’s pitch.

The next and final aspect to karaoke machines, and possibly the most expensive is the speaker setup. Depending on your budget, the speaker setup can range from full-on surround sound to stereo speakers to a simple mono speaker. But most karaoke booths and machines tend to feature at least stereo sound, as only the cheapest of offerings have mono speakers.

So in the end, all of these parts work together so you can sing along to your favorite music while easily keeping track of the lyrics and having your voice heard through the speakers by either your friends or anyone else who is in the karaoke bar.

Depending on whether it is a portable karaoke machine or a more professional karaoke set with an included karaoke sound system, the features will have varying degrees of price point and quality. After all, a wireless karaoke machine will not have the same powerful speakers that you can expect from one at a karaoke bar.

How To Set Up Karaoke At Home

One question karaoke usually fans ask is “How do I set up a Karaoke in my home?”

Karaoke is certainly great fun when you’re out and about with friends, but it does not always have to be an activity for which you need to go to a bar or a specific karaoke establishment to enjoy. There are many forms of home karaoke available, and it is not quite as difficult or expensive as it was in the past to set these up in your home.

One of the more well-known formats used for home karaoke is CD+G, which comes with a special subtitle track on the disc containing the lyrics. This format used to require very expensive players to run, but now it is inexpensive and commonplace to find CD+G karaoke machines available for purchase.

The CD+G format features a wide variety of songs for the English singing market, due to this being the more often preferred format for karaoke devices in the western world. This is simply due to western karaoke manufacturers seeing less demand for a karaoke format such as VCDs and DVDs.

Singing On Memorex Sing Stand 3 MKSSS3 Home Karaoke System

On the other hand, in the Asian market it is more common to find karaoke discs in the VCD and DVD formats, as they allow for more complex visual graphics to be displayed and also, DVDs have a higher storage capacity.

Another advantage to these formats is that it is quite common to find players capable of playing them as opposed to the more difficult task of finding a CD+G player, but again, this depends on the market in which you are searching for a karaoke machine.

These are all excellent options if you are searching for a karaoke system for tv. Your television is probably the best choice to use for a karaoke monitor unless you would not mind using a smaller, more affordable monitor. A television in the living room would be a good as you can have the machine in a centrally located area so everyone can participate.

Once you have chosen your method of displaying the lyrics for you karaoke setup, it is time to move on and choose the type of machine you would like to purchase and the type of media that it will accept.

Types Of Karaoke Machines

There are more affordable, less advanced machines which still use physical media such as CD+G, VCD and DVD to play your karaoke tracks and there are also digital karaoke machines which you can connect to the internet and download your preferred karaoke tracks or even playlists.

This is dependent on whether you prefer physical media and a lower price point, or you do not mind spending a bit more, so you do not have to deal with the clutter of a bunch of karaoke disks. Either way, the quality of your music will not be drastically affected and it is a bit of a tie between which one sounds better.

Some will say that digital karaoke machines have better sound quality due to the newer technology they use and others will say that nothing can beat the hard copy machines which do have a higher sound bitrate, but often use less advanced technology to get that music to your speakers and pick up your voice input through the microphone.

Karaoke USA GF840 Portable System, Black Details

​​​​The choice between physical media and digital has been going on for quite some time in many different forms of entertainment from music, to films, to video games and more. It is really a matter of personal preference, convenience, and budget.

Another choice you can make instead of buying a dedicated karaoke machine is using specifically made karaoke software on your computer, preferably a laptop to be able to play karaoke without any substantial investment besides speakers and a microphone.

All you need to do is connect your microphone and speakers to your laptop and use the karaoke program. Many programs are connected to digital music retailers which allow you to purchase your favorite karaoke tracks directly online.

As you can see, you have many choices when it comes to either purchasing a karaoke machine or a karaoke program so you can be able to play karaoke with your friends and family from the comfort of your home. Whether you are looking for a karaoke machine with screen or you simply want your computer to work as a karaoke machine for a little while, it certainly is possible.

Home Karaoke Speakers

The next aspect to consider for your home setup is the budget you have allocated for your speakers and the placement of those speakers. The options range from a pair of affordable stereo speakers that would probably be ideal for apartments if you do not want to annoy your neighbors during a karaoke session.

On the other end of the spectrum, the more expensive option is a full surround sound system with subwoofers and the like. Of course, it is not a matter of choosing between these two extremes, as you can just as easily get a few stereo speakers and couple them with a relatively powerful subwoofer and you will be set to play.

Karaoke System With Great Speakers

This is the aspect of karaoke which most people choose to invest the largest sum of money into. Affordable machines are growing more and more common, but high-quality speaker set ups are still quite expensive, so if you are intent on having a great setup for karaoke, you can also have that room double as a home theater.

In fact, this is a common choice, whether customers choose to make their karaoke room into a home theater or to play karaoke in their already existing home theater, it seems like the two aspects go hand in hand. After all, they both benefit greatly from a decent amount of comfortable room and a powerful surround-sound speaker system.

On the lower end of the spectrum, you can always play on portable karaoke machines that have less potent speakers due to size constraints.

This is great if you know you are going to be playing with a small group and you will find yourselves moving around quite a bit. It can become more difficult to play on these machines as the group size increases due to the smaller speakers being overshadowed by the voices of the group.


Karaoke is a great pastime and a lot of fun for everyone involved, whether you are the player, singing along with your friends, or simply watching another group have a go. Karaoke is one of those social activities that tends to bring people together through popular music, a microphone and a healthy sprinkling of light embarrassment for some of our friends

Friends Singing Karaoke

So an article about karaoke would not be complete with just some advice about karaoke machines and the history of karaoke, we also want to include some tips on how to best enjoy your game of karaoke.

Best Karaoke Songs For Bad Singers

So what do you do if you can’t sing and your friends want to take a night out to a karaoke bar? You can always abstain from singing, but then your friends will spend the night endlessly teasing you and probably find a way to get you up to the machine, so the best you can do is be prepared.

We have compiled some of the best songs for bad karaoke singers in this list so you can enjoy a night out to a karaoke place with your friends and not have to worry about any embarrassment from having chosen too difficult of a song. While these songs may be easy to sing along to, they are still popular and should get the crowd riled up within hearing the first few notes.

“Summer Nights” – John Travolta And Olivia Newton-John

This song from the hit musical “Grease” is one of the most popular karaoke songs for duets. The best part about duets is that the pressure isn’t entirely on you, so you can afford to make a few insignificant mistakes, and you can take a break from singing every once in a while to catch your breath.

Summer Nights by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

The best part about this song is that the lyrics are easy to follow and the singing does not necessarily feature the most complex vocal range of a karaoke song. Another great part of this song is that it is almost universally adored, so the crowd will be having a good time as you breeze through the lyrics.

“Hollaback Girl” – Gwen Stefani

This 2004 hit from Gwen Stefani is another instant crowd pleaser that is easy to follow along with, mostly because the lyrics are more in the style of a rap than singing. As soon as you play the intro to this song the energy level will rise noticeably in the bar.

This is an example of a song which is not only easy to sing and still relatively popular as a karaoke choice but one which is exciting and fun to dance and perform to. Nobody ever said that the easier songs to sing also have to be boring. Turn up the volume and dance to the up-tempo beat when this song comes on to distract from your less-than-stellar singing.

“I Love Rock n’ Roll” Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

This song is one of the most legendary karaoke songs that you can possibly play and also one of the easiest to sing. Regardless of your vocal range, you shouldn’t have any difficulty keeping up with the booming drums and driving guitar of this timeless rock classic.

I Love Rock-n-Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

This song may be a little bit overplayed, but it has not lost any of its charm due to that. As long as nobody played it recently, you are usually good to go and the crowd will have a great time hearing you belt out the lyrics to this song. If you love rock n’ roll, and you are worried your voice can’t do it justice, then this song is the perfect match for you.


On a final note, many customers wonder how much is a karaoke machine, and this can vary from essentially free (using your computer and karaoke software) to home karaoke machines (which can be anywhere from fifty to several hundred dollars) to commercial karaoke machines, which can cost up to several thousand dollars.

We hope that this article has been informative and educational about the origins of karaoke and its role as a cultural pastime. We also hope that the included information and buying guides for karaoke machines comes in handy should you decide to purchase your very own karaoke machine.

Karaoke is a great activity that you can enjoy alone, with friends, or in public and its growing popularity will assure that it sticks around for some time.

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