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Software Review of:
Karaoke
In the privacy of your own home

 

Susan Ives is a past president of Alamo PC. You can buy "sofia;s Table" and hear her singing the la-las at Viva! Bookstore or from Amazon.Com.

From the September, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Last year I reached one of my life goals. I got to sing on a CD, one that’s actually been nominated for a music award.  I showed up in the Blue Cat Studio where my friend Covita was recording “Sofia’s Table” and got to belt out the chorus of one song. The words were “la la la la la la la la la la la la la.” I keep waiting for Bruce Springsteen to call and offer astronomical sums to sing backup on his next hit, but hey. You take what you can get.

I figure that if I want to repeat the experience there is only one option — karaoke.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, karaoke is a Japanese word that means empty (karappo) orchestra (okesutura). Japanese businessmen meet in bars after work and sing along with popular songs that had the vocal tracks stripped out. Everyone can be a star. As the format evolved, dedicated karaoke machines were invented that contained video tracks of lyrics with bouncing balls following along with the words. It’s all over the world now. 

Even in San Antonio. There are a dozen or so karaoke clubs in town. There’s a list every week in the Current — check it out in the Night and Day listings at www.sacurrent.com. But if you’re too shy to grab a mike and make like George Strait in public, you can do it in the privacy of your own home on your PC. 

You’ll need a multimedia PC, which a fancy way of saying a sound card and speakers. If you want to record your masterpiece you’ll also need a microphone. You’ll need some software and an Internet connection to download new songs. And a strong streak of exhibitionism. I had it all.

Let’s start by talking about karaoke files. Most karaoke files have a .kar file extension, although clever people are inventing new file formats (such as .gas) and there is also an MP3 format that can contain lyrics. Kar files are MIDI file with lyrics added. There are several places to download .kar files from the Internet, but you might want to try looking at 

The last is classical music MIDI.s. There are lots of other sites – search for “karaoke files” on any search engine. You can also create your own .kar and .MIDI files, but that is beyond the scope of this review.

The first program I tested was vanBosco’s Karaoke Player, available as a free download.  I was singing along to Simon and Garfunkle’s The Boxer, figuring that “lie la lie” was not too big a stretch from my proven success at ”la la la.” Oh, this was so much fun. 

The program is a busy one, with multiple overlapping screens. There is a player, which has the main controls. Above that is a keyboard, which shows the notes being played. Piano players might find this useful; I usually turn it off. There is a MIDI output pane, which shows all of the instruments used in the file. There is a playlist window, which lists all the files and allows you to construct playlists. The neatest thing, in my opinion is the control panel. You can, of course adjust the volume, but you can also change the tempo and the key. This was a simple, intuitive program to use. All of the little boxes can be minimized, and with one click you can make the lyric window full-screen. You can customize the colors. The colors of the words change from white to red as you sing along. It’s free.

The other program I tried was Microsing Winkaraoke ver. 1.0. I chose The Beatles’ Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, again cashing in on my la-la triumph. 

The big advantage to this program is that you can record your singing, painful as that might be. In my case, very painful. I don’t know whether it was my cheap mike, a fatal flaw in the program or my crummy singing voice, but I sounded like Barney Fife – high pitched and tremulous. Sometimes it didn’t record me at all. The instructions were vile, and I’m still not sure what the buttons and sliders do. I did like the little bouncing ball that tells you which word to sing, but you can’t change the size of the text, which is smallish.  I’ll play around with this one a bit longer, but I’m not optimistic. This program can be downloaded from Microsing and costs $19.90.


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