Karaoke spawns a newspaper for people who move their lips when they read

September 08, 1993|By Sherry Stripling | Sherry Stripling,Seattle Times

By day, No. 6 in the karaoke contest doesn't get much feedback from her boss.

Almost certainly, she doesn't hear "Awesome!" or "You were so good."

But No. 6, Tiffany, is bombarded with such accolades as she comes off the stage at a restaurant in Seattle on a recent work night. She was terrific, her mates tell her. Too bad she doesn't win the singing contest, but she basks in the praise.

The need for a moment in the spotlight is what's given The International Karaoke Intelligence (TIKI) its galloping circulation since it started 18 months ago in Seattle, one of the first if not the first newspaper in the country devoted to karaoke.

For every person who says, "What on earth?" when he or she first hears and sees karaoke, there's another who's addicted to this lounge sport of belting out the words to popular songs with the same hip gyration, head toss, heartbreak and sass as professional singers.

TIKI tells the Tiffanys of the world where to go for their next fix, as well as rewarding the contest winners with praise and photo in the next edition.

As Tiffany takes the microphone, lamenting lost love to the instrumentals provided by a laser disc, Starr Marshall is down in front, snapping Tiffany's picture for possible use, while her business partner, Beverly Smith, is scribbling notes.

Since March 1992, starting with a budget of $0 and getting the first six-pager printed on the strength of six prepaid ads, TIKI has grown to a 24-page full-color paper that's distributed in 700 karaoke clubs from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Ore.

There's talk it may go national and become a color glossy as Ms. Marshall and Ms. Smith add another piece of technical equipment to their arsenal each month. Their paper now includes national karaoke establishments and international advertisements.

It's all been a little overwhelming for the women, who've had varied careers leading to midlife but very little journalistic background.

Ms. Marshall helped put out a small newsletter for a school where she once worked as an administrator. Ms. Smith has had some advertising training but spent more of her working life as a hypnotherapist.

The two moved to Seattle from Albuquerque, N.M., two years ago when Walla Walla, Wash.-born Smith persuaded Ms. Marshall it was time for an adventure. Ms. Smith paid her part of the living expenses working for a product distributor.

Ms. Marshall planned to work playing her guitar in clubs, but changed acts quickly when she learned she could make as much money playing host to karaoke as she could singing 30 to 40 songs a night herself.

She learned the new technology and went to work helping bar and restaurant clients pick out their songs. She fiddled with the machines to make the novice voices sound better. She coaxed people up by singing two or three songs herself, making it look easy.

And then she sat back and counted the endless stream of amateur singers. She estimates now there are 40 people a night singing some three nights a week in the 700 clubs the newspaper services.

But she could find no general clearing house of information. So, when Ms. Marshall's boss at the club where she worked suggested starting a newspaper, Ms. Marshall and Ms. Smith took on the task.

Thirteen days later, the first edition of TIKI was published, overcoming the neophyte publishers' belief that computers are really bear traps in disguise.

They've made their mistakes. They estimate they lost $3,000 on a 40-page special edition put out for a major contest. Advertisers weren't interested.

Recently, a mistake on the computer lost a three-day compilation of listings. Readers will find occasional careless editing: "to much" instead of "too;" "if your not into singing" instead of "you're," etc.

They have yet to draw salaries and estimate it will take three consecutive months of advertising filling 60 percent of the paper before the business will get out of the red.

But the demand keeps growing. The most recent press run was 17,500.

Ms. Marshall and Ms. Smith see their first obligation to readers as a calendar and directory of clubs that provide karaoke, both of which are growing. They do frequent articles on their advertisers, but they're not a trade publication.

They see their second obligation as recognition of the people who are out there singing.

"We feel it's important," says Ms. Marshall. "We've watched people sit for six or eight weeks getting up the nerve to get up there."

"We want to reward them," says Ms. Smith.

Despite the first-time reluctance, there's a drive to perform for most of the singers. They're risk takers, competitive and they want recognition, Ms. Smith says.

On the other hand, many are tiring of sitting in smoky bars to do their singing, and so home equipment and the new studios, which rent small rooms to individuals or families to sing in private, are future waves TIKI plans to cover.

Most recently, they ran a series on improving performance by a voice coach. Otherwise, almost all the writing is done by Ms. Smith.

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