Sing-along v. Karaoke

August 6, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Technology gives, and it takes away. It changes the way we relate to one another, and it changes our motivations. Here’s a simple example, a sort of footnote to yesterday’s post:

Mitch Miller is sometimes called “the grandfather of karaoke.” According to Wikipedia, the Sing Along With Mitch records and TV show were the foundation for “what would become karaoke.”

But the difference between sing-along and karaoke is not just one of degree. It’s a difference in kind. Sing-along is not karaoke, and the technological difference between them makes for social, structural, and even psychological differences. In a sing-along, our goal, our motivation, is to do something together– in this case, sing the same song – and our pleasure comes from doing it together. Sing-along is less about performance, more about group activity, and we wind up sounding like, well, us.

Karaoke changes the roles. We are no longer all group members. One of us is the performer, the rest are an audience. Singing is not a group activity, it is a performance. The singer’s goal is to sing well, ideally to sound like the person on the original recording – Britney or Whitney or Pitney or whoever. The singer’s rewards are those of narcissism, but the narcissism resides more in the technology than in the individual psyche.

By conventional artistic standards, karaoke is “better”– nobody would want to buy a record of me and my friends singing, accompanied only by our own guitars or whatever was at hand or maybe nothing. In karaoke, by contrast, everything except perhaps the singer’s voice, sounds just like the hit recording. But in sing-along, what’s important is not the product but the process.
In this same way, a technologically advanced video game like Madden Football is “better” than a pick-up game of touch football. Madden looks like real pro football. It allows you to use complex plays and defenses. The non-technological pick-up game is more like sing-along. You use only your own resources, and the object is not so much to win as to go outside and have a good time doing something together.

1 comment:

singtothe said...

I always thought that they were just two different terms for the same thing! I have got into karaoke recently and got myself started with Sing To The World so I will just not make the mistake of saying to someone to have a sing-along anymore!