Asians are mad about karaoke. Throw a stone into a crowd and you are guaranteed to hit one who can belt out the most popular karaoke songs instinctively.
But modern day karaoke systems are clumsy and expensive. And visiting a karaoke studio on a regular basis might be a tad costly for the aspiring songstress. A broomstick is a nice substitute, but the audience is usually a couple of mice, crickets and stray cats.
Well, the saviour may have just arrived.
Faruq Marican, CEO of Singapore-based startup named Popsical, has, after two years of development, released a relatively cheaper – and much more compact – karaoke device for the average enthusiast.
“Current karaoke systems are obsolete, poorly designed and very expensive,” says Marican in an interview with e27.
A quick check on Lazada reveals that most karaoke systems start from around S$900 (US$630).The karaoke machines also run on huge local storage systems and hence it is cumbersome to upload new songs.
“It’s much better to just stream off the cloud, so we looked for streaming systems. The most obvious thing is just to stream it from YouTube. We tried that, but that in itself had user flaws. YouTube itself is not designed for karaoke specifically – you can’t change the pitch or tempo. It is catered more towards people who want to watch a video, so at least half the songs have vocals in it,” says Marican.
Hence, the raison d’etre for Popsical’s existence. The palm-sized, donut-shaped karaoke device costs only S$199 (US$140). For an additional S$200 (S$140), users can get a set that comes with two wireless microphones and a soundbar.
Popsical connects to the TV using an HDMI cable. It streams and adds new songs via the cloud using a WiFi or ethernet connection (the demo that ran on 4G proved spotty).
As pictured below, the user interface looks like it is modelled after Spotify, so users of both apps should find navigating Popsical a breeze.
Users can create playlists and find songs with a physical remote control. However, smartphone users can also download an app and sync it with Popsical. Multiple users can sync their phones to one device so there is no need to pass the remote around.
Using either the physical remote or app, users can control the master or vocal volume. They can also play, pause or change tracks, and adjust the pitch and tempo of the songs.
Marican says Popsical currently streams over 20,000 songs in five languages including English, Chinese, Malay, Hindi and Tamil. He also claims that it offers a wider range of music genres than most karaoke outfits.
“I am a big fan of indie music, and on Popsical, we have Tame Impala (an Australia-based psychedelic band) on it. This is something you would never find in any KTV place,” he says.
The Popsical app is free to download. However, there is a premium subscription for S$9.99 per month (US$7.00) which blocks advertisements and provides access to all the latest songs.
Cheesy music videos
There is one problem that plagues nearly all karaoke software – one that has been parodied on many occasions – the accompanying music videos often have very little to do with the song’s content.
This is usually due to a lack of an official music video. More often than not, these videos are poorly produced, resulting in a generic and cheesy stock video-esque film.For example, a song about a forlorn love affair in Alabama might feature some Caucasian model staring off a pier in Singapore. No way any self-respecting artist would endorse such a subpar video.
“A lot of people [tell] us that they don’t want to see [those videos]. And some of these videos are not really family-friendly,” says Marican.
To tackle this problem, Marican says Popsical might start producing its own videos, and while no concrete plans have been drawn up yet, he has laid down a few guidelines.
“First is, they have to be in HD (high definition), secondly some music videos use midi versions of the songs, so we want to have the original music in there. We are also looking at concert videos for songs that don’t have official music videos,” he says.
Funding the venture
Marican, who is also the Vice President of the investment bank BANQ and an associate of Tripoint Global Equities, LLC, grew Popsical in MediaCorp’s Mediapreneur incubation programme. Besides MediaCorp, it also has the backing of Quest Ventures and ACE Spring Singapore. The investment amount was not disclosed.
Marican says several small businesses have expressed interest in Popsical, but ultimately, his goal is for Popsical to penetrate large local karaoke chains including Party World KTV or Teo Heng.
That said, the Singapore market for home karaoke systems is small, he admits, but he hopes Popsical affordability will change that sentiment. Marican says he is also aiming to expand regionally quickly to other markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Will Popsical disrupt the karaoke market? To be fair, its idea is not exactly novel, cloud-based karaoke systems have been in the market for a while.
But since this space is still fairly nascent, there is still ample chance for Popsical to win over its target audience as long it can deliver on its promises and introduce new innovations (singing with people across the world maybe?) in the coming months.
Currently, Popsical is crowdfunding on Kickstarter with a goal of S$36,000 (US$25,400).
Image Credit: Popsical