Karaoke busi­ness brings Ja­panese tra­di­tion to Collingswood

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Sheri Berk­ery

so much in Ja­pan. Each room comes with a tam­bourine, mi­cro­phones, a vol­ume-con­trol re­mote and an iPad that lets par­ty­go­ers pro­gram their playlist.

And much like Sch­meltzer did in Ja­pan, guests seem to loosen up in the pri­vate en­vi­ron­ment.

Michael Sch­meltzer de­scribed one re­cent cus­tomer, a dad on the quiet side who fig­ured he might sing a song or two at his kid’s karaoke party.

“He re­ally got go­ing — he sang more songs that any­one in the room,” Michael said, adding the com­fort level comes be­cause “they’re in front of their group.”

The Sch­meltzers, mar­ried for 11 years, met in the travel busi­ness. Their fam­ily in­cludes daugh­ter Leah, 10; and sons Matt, 20; and Justin, 25 (who was work­ing and couldn’t join in the karaoke trip to Ja­pan).

When they re­turned from their Ja­pan ad­ven­ture, they re­al­ized they couldn’t find any­thing like the karaoke ex­pe­ri­ence they had over­seas.

They walked around their Collingswood neigh­bor­hood and sud­denly started to see open spa­ces as op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We were say­ing, ‘Wow, this could work. What if we did this?’ “Ron­nie Sch­meltzer said.

They found the per­fect spot in a for­mer ma­sonic hall at 790 Had­don Ave., spent a year ren­o­vat­ing the space and now live above the busi­ness. (“I don’t know how any­one who has a busi­ness doesn’t live there,” she said.)

In the few weeks that the karaoke spot has been open, there have been some sur­pris­ing book­ings: A group of li­brar­i­ans, a book club and a tod­dler who took over.

The lit­tle girl came in with her par­ents, and af­ter singing “Twin­kle, Twin­kle, Lit­tle Star” and “Take Me Out to the Ball­game,” she “wouldn’t give up the mic,” Ron­nie said.

Peo­ple of a cer­tain age might think karaoke was a trend they’d al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced. But it never fully de­vel­oped be­yond a weekly bar event in the U.S., largely be­cause of mu­sic li­cens­ing is­sues, Michael Sch­meltzer said.

Tech­nol­ogy has changed that. Song­bird uses the app­based Heal­sonic karaoke sys­tem, which of­fers ac­cess to more than 33,000 tunes in Eng­lish and 15,000 in Spanish. Should you want to sing in Chi­nese, you will have 35,000 op­tions.

In an age of es­cape rooms, ax throw­ing and paint­ing par­ties, karaoke suites seem to be­long, Ron­nie Sch­meltzer said.

“We think it fits as an over­all in­dus­try thing. Peo­ple want to be more in­volved in what they are do­ing. They want to do things to­gether.”

That was def­i­nitely true for Molly Cervini of Collingswood, who planned a baby shower for her cousin’s wife at Song­bird Karaoke.

“It gave us all some­thing to do be­sides watch­ing some­one open presents and do­ing cheesy games.”

Singing Broad­way num­bers and Dis­ney tunes turned out to be more fun, Cervini con­firmed.

“We were ner­vous no one was go­ing to ac­tu­ally sing, but once we ac­tu­ally did it, we were all fight­ing over who was go­ing to go next.”

Kate Woods of Collingswood, who re­cently had her daugh­ter’s high school grad­u­a­tion at Song­bird Karaoke, said the guest of honor wasn’t ini­tially sold on the idea.

“When I first told her, she said, ‘Mom, karaoke?’”

But the party ended up win­ning over her daugh­ter (“She had a ball”) and guests of all gen­er­a­tions.

“Ev­ery­body was up hav­ing fun. Peo­ple were singing with their moms and dads,” Woods said. “Peo­ple are dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, and some were up right away and some took a lit­tle longer, but ev­ery­one was singing.”

What’s the hottest hit among to­day’s karaoke singers?

“‘Bo­hemian Rhap­sody’ will not come down from No. 1,” Ron­nie Sch­meltzer said. The Back­street Boys, Cardi B, Jour­ney and Toto round out a re­cent top-five list.

Michael noted that guests can cre­ate a playlist of songs from the Heal­sonic karaoke app ahead of the party.

As for food, Song­bird of­fers in-suite party menus from four res­tau­rants in town — Tor­tilla Press, The Pop Shop, Cafe An­to­nio’s and Dragon House. Beer and wine is BYOB.

Since the karaoke party suite is a pretty new con­cept, the Sch­meltzers be­lieve peo­ple have to check out the space to truly ap­pre­ci­ate it. So dur­ing the Collingswood Crafts & Fine Art Fes­ti­val this sum­mer, they in­vited passers-by in­side. Some took a seat on the cozy love seats in the lobby, whipped out their phones and started mak­ing party plans.

Woods was one of those who started to vi­su­al­ize her event when she walked in­side. She had orig­i­nally planned to have her daugh­ter’s grad­u­a­tion party at home but wasn’t com­pletely thrilled with the idea.

“You know how much work it is to have a party at home.”

Woods ini­tially checked out Song­bird Karaoke be­cause she’s friends with Ron­nie Sch­meltzer.

“Ron­nie gave us a tour and gave us a lit­tle demo and I was like, ‘Oh my god, can I have my party here?’ “

(For the record, she was a pay­ing cus­tomer.)

“I didn’t have to set any­thing up. I didn’t have to clean any­thing up,” Woods said. “The kids had fun at our party.”

Song­bird Karaoke of­fers suites of vary­ing sizes for dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions, but none of the rooms will have guests feel­ing boxed in.

“We wanted peo­ple to be able to get up, move around and dance,” Michael Sch­meltzer said.

A party host helps with larger events.

“If it’s a kid’s party, they are go­ing to be hold­ing the iPad, mak­ing sure ev­ery­one gets a chance to sing,” Ron­nie said.

Cervini said she was glad to see Song­bird Karaoke of­fer an­other en­ter­tain­ment op­tion in her town, adding she’d re­turn for smaller gath­er­ings with friends.

“Collingswood doesn’t have a whole lot of af­ter­dinner things to do, es­pe­cially dur­ing the colder months,” she sad. “Any­one want­ing to do some­thing dif­fer­ent and who doesn’t mind mak­ing a fool out of them­selves would have a good time. It’s great.”

And as the Sch­meltzers point out, it’s a party genre that’s pretty unique.

There might be karaoke venues “on ev­ery cor­ner” in Ja­pan, said Michael Sch­meltzer, but “there’s re­ally noth­ing like this around here.”

On­line: https://on.cpsj. com/2CZe1Lg

In­for­ma­tion from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.couri­er­pos­ton­line.com/

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