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|FOR VENUE OWNERS...|
Can bringing karaoke into my venue really help my business?
Just like any other form of live entertainment, there are no sure bets. But much like rock'n'roll itself, karaoke is here to stay. People just love to sing, especially when it's just for fun in a comfortable, noncompetitive, friendly environment. Karaoke shows have become a favorite setting for socializing, dating, meeting new people, and celebrating birthdays and special occasions. In many respects, the wedding of this Japanese musical technology with the American bar scene is a match made in heaven. And for many venues, karaoke night is their most successful night of the week.
This is not to say karaoke catches on in every bar and club where it's tried, but then the same can be said for live music. There is usually no knowing until you try it out.
The three factors that most effect the success of karaoke at any given venue are: location, advertising, and the quality of the show itself. We can't do anything about your location, and you're probably already used to advertising whatever promotions you run; a colorful window banner that says "karaoke here", and mentioning it in your regular business ads is all that takes. That only leaves hiring the right people to give you a quality karaoke show, and the best chance of success. We at Sonic Lizard are professionals, and guarantee the quality of our shows.
Is my venue right for karaoke?
Karaoke can work in almost any size venue, from neighborhood tap to large nightclub. If you host or have ever hosted live music, odds are karaoke will "fit" in your bar or club, as our sound system takes up the same space as a small bands (see diagram at the bottom of this page). If you have almost any kind of stage area, a small dance floor, or even just the space for a good size buffet table, odds are good we'll fit in quite nicely. But we don't take gigs sight unseen; we'll visit your venue first to make any technical determinations.
As to business considerations, it depends on how many more customers you are actually looking to draw in. If you consistently draw 40 customers on a Tuesday night, but your venue only holds 50 to begin with, you don't need karaoke; you may not make enough additional money packing in only 10 more customers to make it seem worthwhile (although retaining your current regulars by offering them entertainment is still a good thing). On the other hand, if your venue holds 50, but you only draw 10 customers on a certain night, then karaoke could be the magnet to pull in that missing 40 people, considerably increasing your net revenues in the process. We will happily discuss your business needs with you, visit your venue, and make a professional recommendation that is right for you.
What are the legal issues associated with karaoke?
This is becoming the most frequently asked question in the business. Unfortunately there is no short answer.
First of all, as a venue owner you are required by law to have your three PRO licenses (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) to have karaoke in your venue, just as you would for any other music. You probably already have these licenses, but if not you need them before karaoke or any other musical performances can legally occur in your venue. The three licenses mentioned above all come with annual fees that vary by the size and type of venue. You should also be aware of any municipal codes or zoning laws in your locality that may restrict or limit musical performances.
Secondly, make sure you hire a legal karaoke host, whether it's us or someone else. If the host isn't legal, that is to say a "pirate host", you could be named as a codefendant in any suit brought against that host by a karaoke disc manufacturer that's hunting down users of their pirated or bootlegged discs. Such lawsuits now occur on a fairly regular basis. You don't want that, so don't hire a pirate! Unfortunately there aren't many ways to spot a pirate, but if they have an unusually large song library (much over 15,000 songs) or are offering to work very cheaply, there is a strong chance that they work from illegally acquired karaoke tracks. Any host who has 100,000 or more songs is almost certainly illegal, as the retail price of that many tracks would be about a $250,000 -- yes, that's one quarter million dollars -- and not many people can afford to spend anywhere near that on a legal karaoke business. Karaoke tracks have historically cost about $2.50 each, so any host working for dirt cheap most likely doesn't earn the revenue to legally buy their music in the first place.
Also hosts who "stream" karaoke videos from YouTube in a commercial venue are doing so illegally, just as much as if they were playing from a copy of a CD they didn't actually own. Remember: there is no such thing as free music!
Sonic Lizard is 100% legal karaoke. We legally purchased our library one disc at a time, original manufacturer discs only -- no bootlegs and no copies. We can show you every disc to prove it. From the manufacturers that discontinued physical discs and/or sold tracks by Internet download, we legally purchased all such tracks and have a receipt for every such song in our library to prove it. We are 100% legal, and strongly advise everyone, venues in particular, to only hire 100% legal karaoke professionals in order to avoid liability. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an actual "karaoke license" or we'd be the first to have one.
(A minor point of clarification we should mention here is that you may hear of a "license" with regards to karaoke, but that is licensing specific to the use of one product (one set of songs) from one particular manufacturer; whereas there have been about 100 different manufacturers of karaoke discs in English alone. We already legally own all the songs we want from that particular set, having purchased the original discs, most from that very same manufacturer, many years ago; we're not about to pay for them a second time. In any event, that license only proves that one subset of a host's library is legal -- all the rest of their thousands of tracks by the other 99 manufacturers could still be completely illegal. Unfortunately, no organization exists to independently audit karaoke libraries and issue official licenses covering all the tracks that may have been purchased from all of the many possible sources -- we wish there was, because it would put all the pirates out of business.)
Okay, I'll try it. How soon do I start making money?
The truth is, it can take awhile for any given show at any given location to build up a regular following, even when the KJ (or "karaoke jockey", as the show host is called) is very successful at other locations. For example, we have an enormously loyal following at our Friday night venue in Wicker Park, where we've hosted an award winning show for many years, but the people who go out in Wicker Park on a Friday aren't necessarily the same ones who want to venture into Wrigleyville or Rogers Park on a Tuesday or Wednesday. A following for any show at any given location has to be built from scratch.
It helps if you already have some regulars, as word of mouth is the best promotion of all, but even with a base audience of some kind it can take awhile for a show to "spark" or catch on. It's also common for a new show to have a couple big nights, only to see business taper off again before gradually working its way up to a consistently high level. We have been in karaoke for over ten years, and observed that it can normally take eight to twelve weeks for a karaoke night at a new location to really catch fire. This can be very discouraging to club owners, especially the ones who've been previously mislead by "fly-by-night" KJ's into believing things work any other way. They don't. It always takes money to make money. We would rather be honest, and tell you up front that you can't expect to see a profit the first few weeks. However, we'd rather you didn't think of the money you spend hiring us those first few weeks as "lost". It is an investment, and if you give a new show a fair amount of time to catch on, it could pay great dividends in the long run. We are in this for the long haul, and looking to build successful business relationships, not just make a few quick bucks and disappear just when things are getting profitable. We have too much invested in our gear to do that. A big screen TV doesn't pay for itself in just a couple weeks either, but most venues find them well worth having in the long run.
We also know what it takes to build a successful show. Besides quality sound and a great song selection, it takes friendly and fair handling of the customers, and a large degree of consistency. Nothing derails a potentially successful show faster than canceled shows, late starts, or egotistical KJ's who hog the microphone for themselves, or give preferential treatment to their friends over the other customers. Obviously, we do not operate like that, but regret that there are people who do. Customers need to not only have a good time during a well run show, but they also need time to get used to the fact a certain night is always karaoke night at a given venue, and the show is always there and starts on time. This reliability is critical during the first few weeks at a new venue, as it's the only way to begin building that base of loyal regulars who will keep coming back and spending their money every week.
How about I try this once a month first?
We will be happy to take your money if you really twist our arm about it, but this really isn't the way to build what (for you) will be a consistently profitable show. As mentioned above, the customers need to get used to a regular, weekly karaoke night to build up a good base of regulars who will come to every show. The fact is people just don't remember a formula, such as "karaoke is the second Saturday of the month", or "alternate Sunday nights", or things of that sort. They end up forgetting to show up the night karaoke is there, then they show up on the wrong night and walk away upset because they didn't get to sing; that's when they start looking for other places to go. Having absent customers is bad, but having disappointed customers is worse.
On the other hand, if we already have an established karaoke night in your venue, adding an extra night monthly, or every two weeks, can work out very well. But this is because we've already created the regulars, and we can promote the extra shows directly to them over the mic while they're all there for the regular weekly show. Then it becomes a win win situation.
Okay, I've tried it, it's not working, now what?
Fire us. No hard feelings or strings attached. There's no contract, no obligation to keep us, so you can cancel the show at any time. Perhaps you'll want to try it again later, or perhaps you'll want to try it on another night, but either way the decision is entirely yours. Of course we're very confident in ourselves, and will be working very hard to increase your business. After all, that's how we keep our business. But karaoke isn't for every venue, and sometimes it just doesn't spark at a given locale. As stated above, it generally takes a few weeks for it to catch on, so patience is a virtue in this business. If there's no notable increase in your revenue after eight to twelve weeks, we'll save you the trouble and fire ourselves. This is business after all, and running a "dead" show isn't good for us either. We'd rather not wear out our welcome -- we'd rather keep you as a potential client in the future.
Why don't you have a cheap introductory fee?
Our show fees are already priced as low as we can go, and are actually quite competitive for this business. Besides the show itself, we also have equipment setup, breakdown, and travel time to take into account. About six hours work actually goes into putting on a four hour show. When you add to that the fact you're "renting" about $25,000 in sound equipment and music software for the night, besides the services of a professional host and sound tech, our fees are quite reasonable.
A word to the wise: beware of karaoke pirates offering you a fabulously low rate, especially those boasting they have many tens of thousands of songs. Legitimate karaoke hosts have too much overhead to work at those rates and not lose money! On average, karaoke tracks have historically cost about $2 per song, so ask yourself if the guy with 120,000 songs really looks like he's spent a quarter of a million on his library, and is dumb enough to only charge you $75 bucks a night. Anything that looks too good to be true, probably isn't. He might be that dumb, but it's far more likely his operation is made up of illegal copies and illegal downloads, which would place your venue at risk of litigation and costly copyright infringement lawsuits. Avoid that liability, and hire legal karaoke hosts only. Unfortunately there is no true certification process for legal KJ's. So use common sense, and if in doubt ask to see the host's original discs (not copies, but originals). Most KJ's have migrated their libraries to a computer these days, but a legal KJ will still have the original discs (in fact has to have them to remain legal) and a legal KJ won't mind showing them to you at all. Certain brands of karaoke music are available for purchase by legal downloads these days, but in those cases there will always be receipts as proof of ownership.
Also beware of anyone trying to sell you a "pre-loaded" karaoke machine, computer, or hard drive. Unless it's accompanied by the original cd+g discs it was loaded from, you'll be in reciept of stolen goods, which is even more serious trouble than a civil lawsuit over copyrights!
What are the payment arrangements?
Show fees are due in full at the end of each show, unless we have agreed to make a special exception in advance.
What about karaoke contests and prizes?
As a rule, we do not provide or participate in karaoke contests. In our experience they do little except alienate the regular customers, and can lead to bad feelings. We subscribe to the original philosophy that made karaoke so popular in the first place: singing is for fun -- it's not a competition, and trying to make it one usually spoils it for many customers. Most karaoke singers hate to be judged.
It is of course your venue, and you may choose to have a karaoke contest during one of our shows. We will however not disrupt or change our rotation for it -- every singer will still get their regular turn to sing. Nor will we participate in the judging, as the customers' perception that our hosts could be playing favorites could be very damaging to customer relations, hurting both our businesses down the line. You may choose to have judges present and awarding prizes, but we do not recommend it as good for long-term business.
Prizes and giveaways themselves are a great marketing idea, as long as they are random and not tied to a singer's performance -- that's where it gets dicey. Also, costume contests that coincide with karaoke (such as for Halloween) can be a great promotion, as can theme nights of any kind. Both can be a lot of fun for the customers while still inexpensive promotions for the venue.
Does Sonic Lizard Karaoke offer other DJ services?
No, sorry, we're strictly karaoke specialists. But we do know a good, professional DJ or two, and will be happy to put you in touch with them. Karaoke tracks aren't the same format as regular music, so offering both requires two libraries, which would significantly increase our operating costs and what we'd have to charge for services. There are a few wonderfully talented exceptions to the rule, but the rule of thumb is that the best DJ's are DJ's only, and the best KJ's are KJ's only.
MINIMUM SPACE REQUIREMENTS
Our full rig requires a minimum space 8 feet deep by 13 feet wide (see diagram below). Wider is even better because the main speakers cannot be too close to the singers, or there will be uncontrollable feedback. (In an ideal situation, the speakers you see below would actually be outside the borders of the diagram.) The back of the area (top of the diagram where the speakers are) should be a solid wall.
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