Karaoke: For something that strikes fear into many hearts, it can be life-affirming magic in the hands of the right host. You, my friend, can be that host.
Personally, I have little interest in singing in front of strangers on a stage at a bar. But the Japanese-style, private rooms are completely different: It’s just you and your friends, blitzed and belting rock anthems from middle school in a glorious, no-judgment vacuum. It’s camaraderie, catharsis, and a shit ton of booze.
You can create this musical nirvana in your own home with some basic equipment and the right software. Songs shall be slain; memories shall be made. But some light investing needs to be done as well. Here’s what you’ll need.
Two Great Mics
Microphones are arguably the most important item for singing karaoke, so let’s start there.
You can’t have only one—one maintains that terrifying audition feel of Western-style karaoke. Meanwhile, more than two mics is too much. The great thing about private room karaoke is that it promotes sing-alongs rather than individual performances on a stage. Pass the mic.
Wireless and wired mics both exist, and wired is generally less expensive, but I recommend wireless. You don’t want to mix dancing and drinking with electronics cords.
Places specializing in karaoke gear, like Ace Karaoke, are good places to start looking for this gear. Ace’s wireless microphones range from budget ($20) to high-end (over $1,000). How often do you think you’ll be throwing karaoke parties? Let that be your guide. You can always upgrade to a higher quality microphone once you’re hooked.
Next you’ll need a sizable catalogue of karaoke tracks. There are lots of options, many of them free.
If you have CDs or DVDs you want to use, you can get a classic “karaoke machine,” though that method is pretty freaking outdated at this point. Instead, just roll with your computer, using song software that’s especially designed for singing karaoke.
You can also opt to pay a monthly fee to subscribe to song software services like RedKaraoke, KaraFun, or Karaoke Version. RedKaraoke is designed for your phone or tablet, but you could sync it with a wireless speaker for a low-maintenance karaoke experience. The latter two are used on a laptop to create a modern-day version of those all CD-playing karaoke machines.
Or you can keep it even simpler. YouTube has a trove of instrumental karaoke tracks with subtitled lyrics. Karasongs.com is a great database of all those existing karaoke videos. You can also download these videos from YouTube, though that’s technically against YouTube’s terms of service.
There are even 24/7 cable channels with on-demand karaoke music videos you can subscribe to nowadays, like The Karaoke Channel. You can check with your local cable provider to see if it’s offered.
Finally, here’s an interesting gadget, called Singtrix. It’s an all-in-one mic stand with a bunch of add-ons like backup harmonies created from your own voice and pitch correction. It’s kiiiiinda like cheating, and there’s only one mic, but it could be a good gateway for shy performers.
Some Kind of Sound System
Naturally, you’ll need sound system: Ones that are built for live musical performances, and can also plug in your mics, and ones that have multiple outlets.
“Your amp or amp/receiver may have plenty of power, and connecting to a TV is no problem, but the speakers are another thing altogether,” writes Richard Wise at Karaoke-Tutor.com. “Your surround sound speakers, cabinet stereo speakers, or soundbar, are all designed to reproduce recorded audio. They are not equipped to handle the dynamics of live vocals.”
He’s talking about PA speakers—public address speakers with power amplifiers built in, and which are made for live performances. Musicians use them, so if you’re in a band you might have some of these already.
Ace Karaoke, again, is a solid source for speakers, as well as VocoPro, Karaoke Warehouse, Electro Voice, Yamaha, and Acesonic. And since you’ll be in your own house, you can add more customization: the subwoofers you want, the amps you dig, a Bluetooth connection. VocoPro has some good speakers of its own, and Acesonic offers pairs for less than $130.
The ideal situation is getting yourself a cheap speaker/mixer combo that can handle at least two mics. Again, a karaoke specialist retailer is your best bet. For $499, you can buy the JamBox2, which ticks all those boxes, for example, or this cheaper, Bluetooth-ready, all-in-one set from Karaoke USA for $179. Whatever your decide, pick something with better sound quality than the speakers you probably already have on hand. Hook up your computer, plug in your mics, and boom.
Your living room’s fine, but if you’ve got a basement, utilize it.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby