OPINION

The Cons of Singing Karaoke

March 08, 2009
Jo

Reproducing a popular song is not an easy task. You have to take care of so many things when you sing the karaoke version of a popular song. Your audience belong to different classes and it will show up in the feedback you get. For most people, it is an excellent performance if the singer has imitated the exact voice of the original singer. As a result, you will see singers struggling to sound like the original singer in many stage shows. It ends up being mimicry but people would applause saying "he sounds like Yesudas" or "his voice is the same as SPB" etc. Here, the singer is satisfied as he gets a round of big applause for trying to copy the exact song in the (almost) exact voice. But he/she fails as an individualistic singer. But for the professional performers who have to sing before the masses, they do not have a second choice as their livelihood depends on the success of the show.

There is another class of audience who does not care whether you imitate the voice of the original singer, but they want to hear the variations and nuances intact. They would be unhappy if you chose to ignore some of the original variations and put some of your own. This class could consist of people who are musically trained or have the technical knowledge of music. It is hard to please this class too.

If you choose to please these two classes of people, you will end up being a ghost or a xerox copy of some popular singer. When you try to imitate a singer or his styles too much, you end up being nothing but a copy. Also remember that even the original singer cannot exactly reproduce what they have sung in the studio. Watch some of their live shows as an example.

My suggestion is that do not bother too much about sounding like the original. Understand the lyrics, stick on to the basic emotion/expression/feel that the lyrics suggest and sing from your own heart. Do not bother too much about the original variations and nuances of a song. Just add your bits to it and sing it from your heart. Make it your version so that singing karaoke tracks would not be a monotonous task.

Just to add that I am not suggesting that you should not pay attention to the original song and it's variations when you sing a karaoke version. Paying attention to those details in the original version would help you a lot in the practice sessions. And you can learn a lot from those popular singers. So keep an ear for that in the practice sessions, but add your inputs when you actually sing/record a karaoke song.

In my early days of music blogging, there were people who told me that "you sound like Yesudas" or "your voice resembles Madhu Balakrishnan" or "you have a voice similar to Venugopal" etc. I think that as soon as people hear a new singer sing, they have a tendency to identify the singer with a popular singer. Or this could be the problem when you sing karaoke songs of a particular singer. Say for example, when Sonu Nigam used to sing Mohd. Rafi songs for a long time, he was seen as a Rafi double, but he failed to make his own mark. People who heard Sonu remembered Rafi. He was also branded as a singer who could do only sad songs. But we all know where he stands now after he got a couple of breaks in the film music industry.

I remember what an online friend of mine, who also happens to be a singer, said in one of your chat sessions about music - about karaoke singing and reality shows etc:

You can only satisfy one or more of the following but not all:1. Classes
2. Masses
3. Your own self

One of those 3 are always unhappy.

I would always prefer to please option #3 first which itself is a very tough task! :-)

Mallu who loves music, movies, photography, blogging, family and friends (not in that order). A goldsmith-turned-techie who now works as a web UI designer. Loves music, singing and composing are more than just a hobby. Founder of a global platform for amateur musicians called BlogSwara and M-Pod, the Malayalam Podcast. He blogs at Just Jo.
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The Cons of Singing Karaoke

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Author: Jo

 

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#1
Ritu
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March 8, 2009
11:30 AM

Nice write-up. Incidentally, I consider myself an involved music listener (as in I do notice nuances and people accuse me of being a fussy elitist more often than not) and I think what happens to people who listen to a lot of music is that the original song is ingrained in their being. They refuse to open their eyes(ears)to a different rendition. It is useless to even try and satisfy such people. Infact in musical reality shows I am many a times appalled when a judge pulls down a contestant for not being true to the original song. What are you trying to create? Clones?

Forget about a modest singer who makes a living by singing songs already made famous by great singers, even established singer like Sonu Nigam or absolute legends like Lata Mangeshkar have faced that flak. Years ago Lata Mangeshkar had done a Shradhanjali series where she gave tribute to greats like KL Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Rafi, Kishore, Geeta etc. The average music lover (OK yours truly included..) tore down her effort. No one can hold a candle to immortal Kundan Lal Saigal - Not even Lata Mangeshkar was the verdict!

So as the Kishore Kumar song goes, 'Tu kaun hai tera naam hai kya, Sita bhi yahan badnaam hui' :). Forget it, don't even try.

So the best as you said, is option #3. Be true to yourself and you will grow as an artist. All great music comes from satisfying the core of your inner self. It is an expression of the soul. If you cannot satisfy your own soul, you will never be able to reach out to another soul.

All the best!

#2
Ritu
URL
March 8, 2009
11:35 AM

P.S Talking of Karaoke I am reminded of my greatest nightmare. Sitting in the audience of a music club with wannabe singers. You have a lot of people who start singing Karoke and then miss the beat... a lo behold the entire song and track are out of synch then....nothing could be worse than that, not even Lata Mangeshkar singing 'Kabhi khushi kabhi gham'!!

#3
kaffir
March 8, 2009
01:24 PM

Ritu, the purpose of karaoke is to have fun - not to scale heights in singing. Perhaps it'll be helpful to look at it from that perspective and give some rest to the critical ear for that short time?

I love movies, but I don't go into the movie theater expecting an Apu Trilogy or the Decalogue each time. If I were to judge each movie by those very high standards, I doubt that I'd enjoy movies any more.

#4
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 8, 2009
08:32 PM

Dear Ritu,

There are two schools of thought. One is yours which says you have to choose your own path, never imitate or follow another artist. There is some merit in that too. In principle a person can learn basics of classical music and then adapt it for popular singing without being a clone of anyone. It is possible but potentially a very difficult route to take. Even Lata Mangeshkar tried to imitate Noor Jahan in her initial years.

Otherwise you learn by singing the songs of the past masters and in the process develop the skills. Perhaps one day you would achieve mastery and a style of your own. I personally like to sing old songs while trying to sound like them. But I agree to your point that in almost all cases, the original is way better, though there have been exceptions. I would like to point out one example here: see Lata's rendition of Kuhu Kuhu Bole Payaliya (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ6sTjW2-O8) and that of Poonam a contestant in Saregamapa (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H95bcSvzp0Y&feature=related). Perhaps Poonam's effort is technically not as perfect as Lata's but it sure sounds better.

Singing is not about creativity but the skill. Creativity is the realm of the music composer. So even the original singer is really trying to render what a composer has in mind.

In the end, it is no mean thing to be a called a clone of a Lata or a Rafi.

Regards,

Ravi

#5
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 8, 2009
08:38 PM

Dear Jo,

Nice article. Don't forget the key of the original song. Often we can't sing at the same key in our natural voice. I found it to my embarrassment when I tried to sing Rafi's Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki with karaoke without having practiced before hand with it. My voice sounded so foreign to myself I didn't even know what I was singing.

Regards,

Ravi

#6
Ritu
URL
March 9, 2009
01:01 AM

@ Kaffir: Karoke is just a method to be able to sing with accompaniment without having a real accompanist. That is all. You can use it to 'scale heights in singing' or to have 'fun'. And the two are not mutually exclusive either. Popular music history has thrown up artists like Kishore Kumar, Geeta Dutt and Rafi who could have fun and scale heights in singing simultaneously.

As far the critical ear is concerned, I think that is something very core to your being. One tends to **react** to music first and assess it later. The reaction is usually based on quality. That need not be be only technical prowess, for me a folk singer who sings with spirit attracts as much attention as DV Paluskar would!

So no every film need not be an Apu Trilogy. It can be a 'Jhankar Beats' as well. But it shouldn't be 'Kabhi khushi kabhi gham' :)

#7
Ritu
URL
March 9, 2009
01:15 AM

@ Ravi: Yes ofcourse, even the great classical masters start off by imitating their gurus. It is not possible to be completely original. All great singers Kishore, Lata, Rafi, Asha started off by imitating someone or the other (interestingly Geeta Dutt it seems was never influenced by any particular singer in her early years). But that is just a starting point. At some point one needs to give the rendition their own stamp. If they really want to evolve as artists.

I would disagree that singing is merely about skills. Yes light music is a music directors medium unlike classical music which is basically a singer's medium. But how to use the right tone, timbre and expression to present the particular song is always the creativity of the singer.
Tandem version of the same song is a good example of how different singers can sing the same song in their own styles.

And yes, you are right about the key. I don't attempt karaoke because I cannot sing in Lata Mangeshkar's pitch. Unless you have a good system, you are stuck with the pitch and pace of the original track which is very difficult to emulate for lesser singers. I always maintain, it is far easier to sing with a harmonium and tabla.





#8
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 9, 2009
01:49 AM

Dear Ritu (#7),

When I said singing is mainly skill, I was talking about pop singing, as in bollywood, not classical singing which is a totally different ballgame. A classically trained musician can do pretty much everything needed to create pop music but not the other way around. Hindustani classical is popular because of the tremendous creativity that it demands of its practitioners.

Regards,

Ravi

#9
Ritu
URL
March 9, 2009
03:55 AM

Ravi, even with Bollywood singing, do you think a song like 'Allah Tero Naam' or 'Mere saajan hain us paar' could have happened only based on the skill of the singer? It is the creativity that makes a singer take up a basic tune and give it a distinct. Yes, you are correct in saying the creativity is not to the degree required in classical music (where a singer is a composer at the same time), but in light music also, what distinguishes a skilled singer from a great singer is this creativity.

#10
Jo
URL
March 9, 2009
08:48 AM

Ritu:

Musical reality shows are really a torture. I am just wondering how many of those judges (including the popular singers) performs inside the recording studios. Have they done their best tracks in just one take? Punching has become a common phenomena and now it is all up to the sound engineer to make a singer sound good. And such singers torture the kids based on their almost-perfect live performances. How many of these judges can sing live up to those kids' level, I wonder.

Kaffir:

I agree with Ritu on that one, when she says "Karoke is just a method to be able to sing with accompaniment without having a real accompanist. That is all. You can use it to 'scale heights in singing' or to have 'fun'".

Ravi:

For any singer who wants to make it on his/her own, I think being called a clone is a mean thing. I would never want to be called a clone of some popular singer, with all due respect to them. :-)

And you are right about the 'pitch' in a song. Except for a few great singers, there is a volume/pitch level that one's voice can raise up to, be it high or low. Anything that stands out of it would make it a horrible job for the singer. Understanding our own vocal range and sing the songs that suits it is a very important thing for a singer (meanwhile he/she should also try to increase the vocal range too).

About the creativity part of music, it is not solely on the music composer. Talented singers always make it a point to understand the lyrics and give the right expression/emotion/feel to it. Also they add their own bit - manodharma - at places which turns the song in a different dimension. You can see it if you attend some studio sessions.

#11
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 9, 2009
10:17 AM

Dear Jo,

Agree with you 100%. Really good singers are creative as well. Other singers are well... other singers.

Regards,

Ravi

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