In Japan, there are 3 things I am extremely passionate in: Ramen, Doraemon, and Karaoke. For me, karaoke is a social event with good friends and with new people. Karaoke is an excellent alone time to let my mind go and sing to my heart’s content. Karaoke is stress relief while also a personal challenge to sing better the next time. Karaoke is something to kill time with while also something I purposely make time for. Karaoke, to me, is serious business.
From my years of karaoke experiences, I have my set of tips that makes each karaoke session more enjoyable no matter who I am with or when I’m alone. Perhaps a tip or two from this article can help level your karaoke-game up.
1. Know Your shops
There are tens of Karaoke chains out here in Japan, with different shops occupying different regions throughout the country. It is important to know the differences among the shops: price, atmosphere, interior, services, etc. With the knowledge, you can then choose one best fitting for your particular karaoke party.
Of course there are the biggest chains like Big Echo and Karaoke-Kan where the rooms are nicely decorated and the machines are up-to-date so you will never go wrong with as long as you’re okay with the higher price point. On the other hand, smaller shops like Manekineko and BanBan might not be as pretty inside and often they are less convenient to get to, but they are also more affordable and much easier to reserve a room for a long time. These shops also welcome you to bring in your own food. The importance of different shops will be explained as we explore further below.
2. Choose Your Karaoke Room
Many karaoke shops have installed speciality rooms for different parties and occasions. The most common speciality room is the Family Room, painted colourfully and has little slides and toys for kids to play with while the parents enjoy themselves with karaoke. Another standard is the Girls Room, using a lot of pink and cutesy decorations plus comfortable cushions for some sweet No-Boys time. My personal absolute favourite is the Stage Room, where you would get a stage, mic-stand, disco-ball and two monitors, one for the audience to watch and one on the opposite side for the performer on stage. Other obscure options that I’ve visited include: Studio-Room, Low-sofa Room, the Massive Room (fitting about 30 people), Hello-Kitty Room, “American” Room, and Retro-Room. With the wide arrange of options available, you can choose and reserve what you want before visiting the shop.
3. Utilize the System and Equipment
There are only a few options from the armory of the Karaoke shops, but they could vastly alter your karaoke experience. The Karaoke Machine is of course the crucial item to work with. The market is currently dominated by two systems, Dam and Joysound, with Live Dam Stadium and Joysound Max being their latest entries on the market respectively. Since they are developed by different companies, they differ in their song choices, music arrangements for each song, music videos available, and other addition features such as scoring systems and sound effects.
Other equipment available like maracas and tambourines can bring a lot more energy and/or noise into the room, if others welcome it. And the occasionally available mic-stand can heavily change how a person sings. Regardless of what you choose to bring into the room, it is important to consider what your other karaoke members would prefer.
4. Balance the music, mic and mic-echo levels
This tip should be a no brainer. It is necessary to take the little bit of initial time to balance out the audio, because no one wants a karaoke session with the music too loud and blasting everyone’s ears or the music too low and not able to put everyone into the mood. Having the right music level and echo level also affect how loud the performer sings and how well they can use their voice. I tend to start off every session with the same couple of warm-up songs to adjust the machines to the right balance.
5. Drink Bar, and Bringing Food In
Most karaoke chains have a one-drink-order-per-person requirement, and most also offer the drink bar option which is unlimited soda fountain for a price slightly higher than ordering a single drink. Go for it! Not necessarily because you will drink a lot, but just having the various choices to choose from like soda, hot coffee and even corn soup for as much as you want will definitely help you enjoy letting yourself go even more. Also, with drink bars that have ice cream machines installed, you can easily make your own soda-float without spilling out the extra money for one.
Some shops also welcome you to bring your own food and non-alcoholic drinks in. Karaoke foods tend to be unhealthy and expensive anyway . Plus, going snack-shopping with the group of friends beforehand can easily be turned into another social activity, and you also open up the choices of food to a limitless selection.
6. Free-time – All day or All night
Despite the name “Free-Time”, you do have to pay for it, but you can sing for as long as you want typically from noon to 8 pm, or from 6 pm to 5 in the morning. The price is set so that it is a good deal if you will sing for more than 2.5-3 hours, and excellent for someone like me who would stay for 8 hours singing nonstop. It also takes away the time pressure so you and your friends can continue to sing if the party atmosphere is still going strong. Unless you have somewhere else to go to right after, Free-Time is certainly the way to go.
These tips are great starters for those new to karaoke in Japan and enjoy it. Also build up your experiences by going to different shops and with different chemistry of people. Next time, I will pitch to you some social rules and social tips of Karaoke. Until then, enjoy singing and bring out the performer within you!