(Media1=William Harlow) No, this is not a story about Korean music or the blues. Instead, it is about the popular form of entertainment known as Karaoke in the west but called No Rae Bang in Korea. We will talk a lot about the nature of Korean Karaoke and then talk about a few tips to maximize your enjoyment.
All over entertainment districts throughout Korea you will see signs for No Rae Bang. At its essence, No Rae Bang is Karaoke. Karaoke (the Japanese word meaning silent orchestra) is basically having a machine where you can select songs, then the machines play the music, provided you the lyrics, and then you sing.
In the west a lot of Karaoke is done in larger venues where you get up and sing for the audience. In Korea, the No Rae Bang is different. The word means singing room (Bang is the Korean word for room). You pay for a private room with a Karaoke machine in it then you and your party just entertain each other. Therefore, you avoid the potential embarrassment of bombing in front of strangers.
So, you and your friends are out on the town. You’ve had a delicious Kalbi dinner or had a few beers and some chicken at your favorite Hof. The night is still young, so how do you wrap up the evening? You head to the nearby No Rae Bang. Which one do you pick? Most are reasonably priced mom and pop operations. Some are very elaborate and can be very expensive.
I always prefer the less expensive ones. You should always ask the hourly rates. These rates can vary based on the size of the room. You need to get a room large enough to accommodate your party. The rooms have couches, chairs and tables. They also come with the Karaoke machine, multiple televisions, microphones, tambourines, maracas, and a book listing all the songs.
The Karaoke machine will count down the time remaining in the room. On the table will be a remote control. Here is your first obstacle. All the control buttons are in Korean. If you have some Korean friends with you or your read Hangul you will be O.K. If not, ask the attendant at the entrance desk to show you how it works for basic entry.
Next you look up the songs you want to sing in the master song book in the room. These books have songs in Korean, Japanese, and English and the pages are color coded based on the language. The list songs alphabetically, by name, and also show the artists. They also have the corresponding song number that you enter into the Karaoke machine. You can enter multiple songs into the machine and they will play in the sequence they are entered. The song lines are in the language of the song (Korean songs have Hangul word to read, Japanese have Japanese, English have English).
Then you sing as the songs come up. The music is loud, sometimes too loud. Sometimes you hear the singing in other rooms; however, this is not normally a problem. After your song is done you get a score from one to one hundred. The scores are just for fun and reflect how accurately you read the word more than the quality of your voice.
One custom is that if you score a one hundred your throw 10,000 won (about nine dollars) into a pot to buy more time in the room or get some drinks depending what the party decides. Most No Rae Bangs sell refreshment; however, many do not sell alcohol. If the No Rae Bang is not crowded and there is not a wait for the rooms, most will let you finish all the songs you have programed even if it takes longer than your hour. If it is crowded you are held to your time.
No Rae Bang is a lot of fun because you are in the same room with all your friends without having to worry about bothering other people or others judging your singing. (It has been said that I sings great, it just sounds bad.) Another nice aspect to No Rae Bang is that it is something you and your Korean friends can all do together without major language difficulties. It is also a valuable shared cultural experience. One everyone has lost their voice or you simply run out of time you are now ready to head out to a Hof, dance club, or home depending on how you evening is going.
One tip I do have about No Rae Bang is the development of your own personal No Rae Bang song list. You will discover that the first ten or so minutes of your time in the room are spent familiarizing yourself with the song book. These song books are the same for almost all the No Rae Bangs in Korea. So having a list of your top ten favorite songs to sing will allow you to immediately enter them into the machine and get started right away. This will help maximize you No Rae Bang time.
My second tip is the use the tambourines and maracas to accompany you buddies. Third, do have some drinks in the room to help with dry throats created by lots of singing. My last tip is t with o have a lot of fun as you participate in making Seoul music.
Written by @William Harlow