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Karaoke

The Backing Track

Many of the tracks available on Karaoke are very professional with musical arrangements featuring full band and orchestra which bring the track very close to the original artists version; others feature electronically reproduced instruments which can differ substantially from the original. The quality of the tracks are generally determined by their origin (e.g.: Japan, USA etc.) or by the effort put in by the manufacturers. The key (pitch) of the track is generally the same as the original but not always; ask the operator before you attempt your choice. As a rough guide the DKG series of discs are sometimes the best arrangements, so if there is more than one song with the same title and artist it is recommended you chose the disc with the prefix 'DK' although it does not guarantee the DK track is better.

What backing track for me ?

Not always easy to decide which is the best track to sing to. If you sing at home to your favourite artists music, when you sing at Karaoke you would hope for an identical arrangement to that to which you are used to. This is seldom possible because the backing tracks you use will have been recorded by different musicians, arrangers, and producers. It is quite likely that no cost has been spared during the manufacture of the original music whereas the copy to which you are likely to sing has been made to budget. The producers for example, may have used electronic string ensembles instead of real strings in order to save costs. Electronic strings and other instruments are very noticeable on many of the Sunfly series of CDGraphic discs.

Errors

Another problem with backing tracks is that some of them may have been recorded with the producer working from sheet music and having no idea how the original recording sounded. Knowledge of the original recording is obviously sparse on many Japanese-originated discs and is noticeable simply by looking at the words displayed on the screen - there can be many errors. Some of these errors are as a result of poor translation between languages and have probably only been compiled by someone listening to the original record and misunderstanding the lyrics. Errors in words also stem from the backing tracks being made from original music manuscript before the words were changed or modified by the original artist prior to recording. Spelling mistakes are also rife but may be due to genuine differences between say, USA and the UK. One may also find mistakes on the CDG labels. The writer has at least two discs which have incorrect track listings on the CD surface.

Poor Quality

Such errors as have been described should not occur at all and the writer suspects that audit and quality control during the production and manufacture of Karaoke discs is not up to the standard experienced by the mainstream CD industry. One ponders the question - are we paying over the odds for second-rate discs?

It Could Happen To You

One expects the words on the TV screen to change colour at the time it should be sung. Not always so! Words on some recordings don't change colour at all. Although it is fair to say that this problem is rare it nevertheless suggests that if you are planning to sing you learn the lyrics and timing just in case this happens to you. Discs also exist in which the words are totally out of synchronisation with the music, so beware!

Can't Reach the Notes?

So the backing track is you like is too high or too low for you to sing. A common problem for which most Karaoke operators have a solution - change the key/pitch of the backing track to suit. In brief this means moving the existing pitch of the track up or down the musical scale. The singer basically needs to take the highest note in the song and try to sing it. If it can not be sung then the highest note needs to be lowered until it can be sung easily. If a note is too low then appropriate steps in the other direction need to be taken.

Moving the pitch of a track too far though can dramatically affect the authenticity of the instruments and overall sound of the track so it should be done with due consideration.

A woman's voice is generally higher than a man's - this means that a track written for female voice may be too high for a male to sing and visa-versa - and this fact needs to be considered when selecting your song, i.e. If a female track is chosen by a male the track may have to have its key lowered whereas a male track may need to be lifted higher for a female voice. Needless to say though this rule is only a guide and many singers can easily adjust their own voice to suit any song they care to chose.

Choice of Song

If the writer had a tenner (no longer a quid) for every time someone has sung "Theme from the Titanic" this sentence would be coming from the Caribbean. Add to that the number of times "Mack the Knife and "I Believe" have been heard and a veritable fortune would have been pocketed. There will always be songs that are more popular than others but it would be nice to hear a different selection from time to time.

'Titanic' - is not very easy to sing. The original drifts right up to the upper reaches of the female voice - well beyond the majority of people - and when these notes cannot be reached it sounds awful but people still struggle along regardless, in the belief that they are doing justice to a song that no-one has covered before. When many karaoke operators have 1000s of songs to chose from why do people insist on doing the same song over and over again ? It must surely demonstrate the versatility of a performer when a range of different songs are attempted, or is it simply that one particular song is their favourite to the exclusion of all others.

Of course the real reason is that the singer wants to give their best performance and they believe that by sticking to the song that they have sung countless times before is their best choice. Although, during an evening of karaoke a singer may only get one or two cracks at singing and therefore needs to be shrewd in their choice of song as there is little chance to practice although many singers buy their own Karaoke discs for practise at home and these are an essential part of their possessions when out on the town just in case they accidentally fall into a karaoke bar.
The karaoke operator may expect a visitor to bring his/her own disc to the gig, or nowadays a USB media stick with their own backing tracks.

Expectations

Having said that what do we really expect from Karaoke ? Does the audience expect a near perfect rendition of a song or do they accept a performance on face value - as good or as bad as it gets. The writer suspects that the average punter generally doesn't care.