The Man Who Invented Karaoke (And Why He Didn't Get Rich From It!)

Given how many horrendous karaoke performances we've been subjected to, we weren't at all surprised to learn that the guy who invented the karaoke machine can't sing, can't read music, and plays the keyboards about as well as your average third-grader.

Songs in the Off-Key of Life

We were, however, surprised to learn that poor Daisuke Inoue has made almost no money from his invention, and that he didn't even give it a try himself until 1999, his 59th birthday. (Photo: lvhrd.org)

Inoue's happy-go-lucky ineptitude has been pretty much the driving force of his entire life. In high school he picked up the drums, which he chose as an instrument because, hey, all you had to do was hit them. Eventually, he took his limited talent and started playing with a Hawaiian band that frequented old dance halls from the days of the American World War II occupation.

Inoue, shall we say, marched to the beat of a different drummer. Noticing this, the other band members quickly, and somewhat mercifully, realized that he'd be of better use on the business side, and he started acting as the band's manager. But he still served as occasional drummer, particularly on amateur nights playing backup for rich Japanese businessmen.

Because Inoue can't read musical notation, he had to reply on watching the singer's lips in order to strike the right beat. One of his clients apparently found his drum technique flattering and asked Inoue to accompany him to a hot springs resort as his personal drummer. But Inoue couldn't go. Time Asia tells what happened next: "[Inoue] obliged by providing him with a tape of his accompaniment. The boss delivered an emotional rendition of Frank Nagai's 'Leaving Haneda Airport on a 7:50 Flight,' Inoue collected his money in absentia and karaoke (a term long used in the industry for house musicians – it literally means 'empty orchestra') was born."

Inoue quickly realized he was on to something. With some help from his buddies, he built 11 prototype machines, kitted them out with amplifiers and background music, and then leased them to bars in Kobe. They were an immediate hit. But Inoue made one crucial mistake: He didn't patent his invention. Big companies quickly realized they could make a mint on machines and tapes and made their own.

Inoue only went so far as to patent two things: a type of plastic-covered songbook for wannabe Frank Sinatras, and a concoction he claimed could ward off rats and cockroaches in more downscale karaoke joints. But hey, give the poor guy credit: He certainly did things His Way.

The article above was reprinted with permission from mental_floss' book In the Beginning.

From Big Hair to the Big Bang, here's a Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything by our friends at mental_floss.

Did you know that paper clips started out as Nazi-fighting warriors? Or that cruise control was invented by a blind genius? Read it all in the book!


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I always tell folks that the word Karaoke means "revenge" in Japanese....the ass-raping of one of your favorite songs by an off-pitched fan, is as bad a nuclear strike against yer home town...as well, the residual damage can last for years.
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He did not invent karaoke, he merely decided to plug it in to the wall. Americans have been enjoying karaoke since 1900, player pianos were the original karaoke. The piano rolls played the piano and the lyrics were written on the rolls. I have a player piano from 1911 and have been singing karaoke since 1972.
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there is a big differnce with his machine and the filipino one that got it famous.

there is a controversy on who coined the term "karaoke" it was supposedly named by the company who bootlegged the invention from the filipino inventor who tried to get it mass produced by them.

the filipino inventor sued the company but thousands were already sold to the masses. even tho they stopped the sale of the pirated machine the name just stuck with it.

its actually called the "minus-one" machine.
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