NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. — Back when Daisuke Inoue was a youngster banging drums with a local lounge band, he didn’t think his invention for singalong soundtracks and a portable microphone would amount to much.
He certainly had no idea of applying for a patent.
Three decades later, karaoke is a household word worldwide and Inoue hardly sees a yen. His closest link to the business is selling cockroach killer for karaoke booths.
“In 80 percent of the cases, karaoke machine breakdown is caused by bugs,” said the 62-year-old, pony-tailed entrepreneur at his office here.
The term karaoke — “empty orchestra” — actually predates Inoue’s 1971 invention, the 8-Juke, a red-and-white wood box that combined microphone, amplifier and an eight-track tape player with dials in English to “look modern.”
Inoue practiced the original karaoke as a tone-deaf drummer for a singerless band that made the lounge rounds playing requests for customers who wanted to get up and sing. Then he was struck with the idea that a machine could do the same thing.
“I was the worst in the band. I have absolutely no music skill. So they made me business manager,” Inoue said. “I thought, ‘Why can’t a machine do this instead of us?’ “
Under his wing, six band members formed the company Crescent, built 11 8-Juke machines and began renting them out to bars, where people fed the TV-size box a then-hefty 100 yen to belt out a tune.
It was a hefty price back then, but people were happy to pay to indulge their egos.
“Without karaoke, it was nearly impossible to sing like a real pro with a full background band,” Inoue said. “It used to be just a dream.”
Within three years, karaoke was so popular that big firms swooped in and introduced their own machines. By the time someone suggested he apply for a patent, it was too late.
“I never even once thought about a patent,” Inoue said.
Crescent battled the big boys until 1987, keeping pace with a range of newer, better karaoke machines. But when laser disc technology came out, he called it quits.
Inoue, once named by Time magazine among Asia’s most influential people with Mohandas Gandhi and Mao Zedong, said he has no regrets about losing the patent. Had one made him rich during the booming 1980s, he joked, he most likely would have overextended himself and now be buried in debt.
“I never bought land, stocks, a golf course membership. Nothing,” Inoue said. “And I never wear a jacket and tie except at funerals.”
For all his global impact on frustrated, undiscovered stars from Tokyo to Topeka, Inoue figures he has sung karaoke only four or five times, and he’s unsentimental about it.
“Sometimes l look at the new karaoke and it’s like, ‘Wow, great!’ But it’s totally unrelated to me.”
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