Photo/IllutrationA karaoke video a man posted on YouTube (Chihaya Inagaki)

Old-time karaoke machines were not for the faint of heart. Since there was no video screen displaying the lyrics of the song selected, the user had to read a printed lyrics card while taped music played.

Unless one was thoroughly familiar with the music and knew exactly when to start singing or how long each interlude lasted, the person's timing would be off and get progressively worse.

Before the appearance of karaoke boxes, I used to sing karaoke at drinking establishments, in front of total strangers. Not being able to carry the tune was quite embarrassing. But when someone I'd met for the first time applauded when I was done, I felt rather flattered.

After video karaoke machines came into broad use and karaoke boxes became ubiquitous, everything evolved rapidly.

Today, karaoke machines allow changing the pitch of the music to match the singer's vocal range, and even rate the person's performance. And since every machine comes with a remote-control panel, books of lyrics have become redundant.

But what has not changed is the singer's desire to perform well before an audience. Perhaps for the benefit of those who want to practice alone, there are plenty of social media postings of karaoke videos, complete with lyrics.

They certainly come in handy, but they also seem to create problems.

A charge of copyright violation was recently filed against a company worker for posting a karaoke video on YouTube.

The individual reportedly admitted to illegally downloading the original karaoke and attaching a video of his own making, earning about 8 million yen ($71,000) in ad revenue as a result--quite a business. And one of the songs reportedly received 2.6 million hits.

Long gone are the days when I paid for each karaoke song I sang at drinking establishments.

Nowadays, the Internet is full of free music, not only karaoke. But when the custom of paying for music dies, that will ultimately hurt the people who produce music--the artists who created, played and sang the songs that became my favorite karaoke numbers.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 22

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.