Some people love the sing-along concept, and others hate it! But after three decades of steady growth into a multi-billion dollar market world-wide, it looks this type of entertainment is here to stay. There has been a controversy brewing for many years pertaining to who actually invented karaoke?
AudioSynTrac (AST) Corporation and CEO Scott Ebright conceived and implemented the concept of letting singers perform live with music background tapes and electronic amplification equipment. Scott’s advertising hype included the slogan, “A Revolutionary New Dimension In Live Entertainment”. He faced a hailstorm of resistance: investors, musicians, and yes – even singers made fun of the notion that any audience would ever take “canned music” seriously.
But the name of AudioSynTrac has been lost through the hundreds of millions of dollars of aggressive promotions paid for by many Asian electronics companies that conspired to use the Japanese word “karaoke” to describe the process. Never mind the American roots of AST: after all, anyone who contributes to Wikipedia articles are experts, right? Wikipedia has always made the claim that the inventor of karaoke was a Japanese inventor, since he connected a coin vending machine to a tape player (sounds a bit like a “jukebox”) – or a Filipino man – or even someone from Korea. But Wikipedia’s editors has also gone on record to disclaim any portion of the sing-along market to Scott Ebright’s creation of AudioSynTrac. But Wikipedia is not the world’s leading authority on truth or history – not by any means. Their self-appointed editors struggle for relevance through a subjective policy of allowing contributors write and edit their own perceptions of historical facts. Needless to say, Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information about the history of karaoke or AudioSynTrac.
A Concept Born out of Need
In the early 1960’s, Scott Ebright was a drummer and singer in rock and roll bands. In 1971, he wanted to get away from the limitations of being a band member and he sought a new to earn a living while entertaining audiences with music. But, unlike piano players or guitar players sitting on a stool, drummers are not considered a soloist that can entertain an audience for a full evening’s worth of music. Imagine audiences trying to listen to four sets a night of nothing but drum solos! So, Scott used his nightclub Disc Jockey exposure to sing live with tapes of background music without lead vocals.
By the late 1970’s, he devoted full time towards producing stage shows which put singers on a stage with wireless microphones, then added choreography and the singers sang live while the studio tapes were played back through a PA system. This show format became affordable for many more venues than before, and the problem of replacing and training new musicians was suddenly solved (although Musician’s Unions objected fiercely). Also, Scott used some of these tapes to sing his own songs while performing occasionally as “The Singing DJ”. AudioSynTrac was was defined through advertising as “A Revolutionary New Dimension in Live Entertainment”.
Based upon the enthusiastic reception of audiences responding to this new production format, Scott continued to promote AudioSynTrac in an effort to make his music tapes available to the general public and professional singers alike. That initiated a production deal with an electronics company that could produce his hardware to play the tapes on..
Numark Electronics Pacts Deal with AST Sing-Along Venture
Numark Electronics Corporation believed in the future of Scott Ebright’s concept of AudioSynTrac (AST) in the 1970’s. President Harry Kotovsky agreed to adapt Ebright’s designs and build the $220,000 prototype AudioSynTrac music machine for mass production and world-wide distribution.
As CEO and President of the venture-capital company AudioSynTrac, Ebright went into production recording all the music software for use in AST machines. A major marketing plan was next conceived and implemented to distribute AST products to a world-wide market.
The first phase of the AST singing machine actually consisted of three proprietary inventions. (1) the speed of the standard Nakamichi cassette tape transports was sped up to 5 ips (inches per second) from the standard 3.25 ips, (2) the key of songs had to be a variable button without changing the speed of the song, and (3) a digital vocal processor needed to be invented that would encompass all desired effects that singers wanted in a a small package (echo, repeat, chorus doubling, and flanging).
After demonstrating this prototype equipment with live cabaret singers in Las Vegas and Chicago CES trade shows, Japanese electronics companies sent representatives to photograph and study the AudioSynTrac concept. Mr. Ebright even recalls the times when Harry Kotovsky from Numark dove dramatically in front of the AST equipment being displayed on the aisle of the CES show in Las Vegas. He bent over and used his opened hands to cover his brand-new prototype and scolded the Japanese “industrial spies” by telling them, “If you want to copy this equipment, then buy a machine and take it back to Japan to copy it.”
The beginning of the end: Within months, Japanese companies came up with 8-track versions of this concept – calling it “Karaoke”. Heavyweight companies like Pioneer and Matsushita Corporation had marketing war chests of over $10 million dollars to launch their karaoke products. This action forced AudioSynTrac Corporation and Numark Corporation to “abandon ship” on their project. AudioSynTrac Corporation officially closed down by 1984, and over 3 million shares of Scott Ebright’s preferred stock became worthless overnight (see photo of stock certificate below). Numark was able to recoup their R&D costs by selling separate components of the newly patented proprietary electronics.
AST Invented the VERY FIRST electronic REVERB and KEY CHANGER!
Certain electronic functions were requested by Scott Ebright to be part of the original AST machine design. Ebright demanded that a computer chip be invented that would serve the functions of reverb and changing the key of any song by precisely half-step intervals (sharps and flats). These inventions literally took six months of development by Numark’s top electronics whiz kid: “Ikezawa” from Japan). These functions were proprietary, thus NUMARK’s engineering team created the first EVER digital reverb and a digital harmonic key changer that maintained the speed of a song while raising or lowering the key. Numark’s success increased with the growing Disc Jockey market as well as all professional entertainers in general. In this way, Harry Kovtosky was a winner and sold his electronic inventions to manufacturers throughout the electronics world. And as AudioSynTrac fell victim to the unfair ‘karaoke sweepstakes’ game, Ebright chalked up the whole experience as just another life lesson learned….the hard way…
Click on any photo below to read enlarged version
Explanation of above photos
Photograph of AudioSynTrac Machine designed by Scott Ebright and built by Numark Electronics
News release sent out to the media describing Ebright’s “Revolutionary New Concept in Live Entertainment”.
3 Million shares of Preferred Stock (majority holder) owned by AudioSynTrac inventor, Scott Ebright.
First 2 pages of 47 page business plan for AudioSynTrac, Corp.
1977 promo piece promoting Ebright and his one-man show using AST.
Phoenix press describing Ebright and his new singing invention.