Battling the Recession with My Own Karaoke Bar

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Megan Maloy / Stone / Getty

With unemployment expected to move rapidly into the double digits, I'm looking for a fallback plan — a way to generate cash fast until the new prez gets us out of this mess. So here's what I'm thinking, and please do not tell my wife: I'm turning my basement into a full-service karaoke bar.

I know a guy who did this and was very successful despite living in a modest suburban house. True, the suburb was on the outskirts of Tokyo, where zoning laws are less restrictive than in the Bay Area, where I live. And, yes, karaoke is somewhat more popular over there. But I am an American. Where others see the impossible, we see a way to make a buck.

Did you know that karaoke supposedly accounts for 1 out of every 4 consumer dollars spent on music worldwide? And the trend is only just catching on in the U.S., thanks to the popularity of hip video-game karaoke clones like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. My home karaoke bar will go much further, naturally, offering lots more songs (and maybe beer to minors). The trick is to keep my costs low, which won't be too difficult considering that many free, or cheap, karaoke sites have recently popped up online — Quittner's Qaraoke Qorner could be a bustling home business in 2009.

The Karaoke Channel Online (a Web version of the Karaoke Channel on cable) is a nifty service that streams professional-grade karaoke — with scrolling lyrics, instrumental and sing-along modes, and a community you can share your recorded masterpieces with — for $9.95 a month. (Only a fanatic or high-end home-karaoke-bar owner would pay that, of course; do-it-yourselfers can pay $14.95 per day, which is good for a party.) The site is the brainchild of Alexandre Taillefer, a fellow entrepreneur, who, not too long ago, got into the karaoke biz after hosting a sing-along party at his home with a bunch of rented high-end sound equipment. "It was a cumbersome project," he admitted. But it was fun: "We ended up going to bed at 3 o'clock in the morning, which is quite unusual for me and my friends." In case it wasn't obvious, Taillefer is Canadian.

The service now distributes karaoke all over North America and Europe. As far as I can tell, with 5,000 songs and growing at a rate of 50 a week, Taillefer's service has the biggest library of tunes out there; you can sample a collection of 200 for free.

My favorite website, though, is Karaoke Party, based in Gothenburg, Sweden. All of its songs are free. The downside is that there are only 154 of them. (They're pretty contemporary, though, and 16 new tunes are added each week, depending on what the site's 20,000 users request.) Karaoke Party's interface is the nicest I've seen, and this site, which launched in August, does something unique: its computer scores your performance based on your talent, à la Rock Band. Co-founder Mats Fors said he and his partners cut their teeth managing websites for banks, so building a karaoke site was trivial, engineering-wise. "We saw the opportunity for a good karaoke solution," he said. Don't we all?