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Karaoke and KTV Parlors

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Karaoke was invented in Japan in the late 1960s and is popular across East and Southeast Asia and among overseas Asian audiences.

  • Given Japan’s influence on Taiwan’s culture, it is not surprising that karaoke moved to Taiwan quite early. At first it was associated with Japanese culture, enka and nostalgia especially. In the 1980s and 1990s it became a mainstream form of entertainment.
  • After karaoke moved to Hong Kong in 1988 it has quickly taken over nightclubs as the most popular form of nightlife. Record companies test their songs in large karaoke parlors, and promotion among karaoke audiences is part of the launch of any mainstream pop album. 
  • Karaoke and KTV became popular Mainland China in the course of the 1990s.

 

Public karaoke and private KTV

  • The Taiwanese claim to have invented karaoke television or KTV. Whereas karaoke takes place around the karaoke jukebox in a bar and performers can thus be observed by all the clients, KTV not only introduces a visual element, it also takes place in separate private rooms.
  • In parks all over China small entrepreneurs still bring out carts with sound equipment on summer evenings. Costumers pay a fixed price for one or several songs and sing these publicly. Nevertheless, KTV in private rooms has been the dominant since the 1990s.
  • The use of private rooms resonates with Chinese group-oriented entertainment. Private rooms are a normal phenomenon in Peking opera, restaurants and discotheques, and minimize contact with complete strangers (whereas the dance arena enable meeting strangers).  
  • KTV has become an important part of business relations. A business meeting in a KTV forges alliances (guanxi) through heavy drinking and singing.

 

Illegal activities

  • Given business negotiations, in the PRC, KTV counts as one of the most private and well-protected spaces in the country.
  • Most KTVs offer an in-house escort service. One or more hostesses help the costumers drink, sing and have a good time. Sometimes the hostesses offer sexual services.
  • Like many profitable entertainment institutions, karaoke has been associated with the mafia and corruption. A number of the first KTV parlors and discotheques in the PRC were run by ex-cops, who had the right connections to survive crack-downs.
  • That prostitution takes place in KTV’s is an open secret. At the same time KTV is a completely acceptable kind of entertainment, for instance for students to celebrate the end of the semester or even to watch sports matches together (especially for Hong Kongers, who live in notoriously cramped apartments).

 

Technological developments

  • The development of VCD in the 1990s, laser disk and later DVD enabled fans to sing karaoke at home. Typical VCD’s would have the original track in mono on the left channel and an instrumental track on the right. DVD technology solved this problem by enabling different audio layers.
  • Basic mixers offer basic sound effects such as reverb. It is not yet possible to use Autotune or other software to correct pitch in real time.  
  • A more recent development is on line karaoke, which is offered by a range of websites and applications, such as changba.

 

Copyrights

  • Because the official video clips are copyrighted or non-existent, many KTVs only provide cheaply produced stereotypical and suggestive visuals. These would typically consist of female models on the beach or among flowers. The lower part of the screen is filled with large characters that fill up along the rhythm of melody. Since 2000 record companies have made deals with karaoke chain stores to provide better quality video clips. 
  • Copyrights have been arranged in most countries, with karaoke chain stores paying small percentages of their revenue in lump sums to copyright agencies, which in turn redistribute this income among major companies. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan have laws and functioning institutions.
  • In the PRC piracy in KTV has been a sore spot for over a decade, especially because the larger KTV companies earn substantial revenues and are not difficult to find. However, although some laws are in place and record companies have won individual cases, the industry lacks one or more properly functioning organizations. The new amendment of the copyright law proposed in March 2012 may change this (see Copyrights below).

 

Main companies

These companies have branches in Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities.

  • Cash Box. Based in Taiwan.
  • Holiday. Based in Taiwan.
  • Neway. Based in Hong Kong.
  • Red MR. Based in Hong Kong.
  • Melody. Based in the PRC.

 

 

For a more complete and detailed account, please download he entire chapter in PDF below