Can’t Sing? No One Will Hear Inside Soundproof Solo Karaoke Booths

Office furniture makers are not the only people finding uses for soundproof booths. According to a story in The Wall Street Journal today, in China, Cao Zhengning loves karaoke but fears her tone-deaf vocals irritate any audience. 

“I just feel sorry for people who have to listen to my singing,” says the 35-year-old sportswriter who has been self-conscious about it since childhood. 

Ms. Cao now indulges her pleasure in private. On her way to shop for groceries in a Shanghai mall, Ms. Cao slips into a soundproof room a little larger than a telephone booth and sings “The Sorrow That Hasn’t Yet Turned to Tears,” a pop ballad by the Japanese duo KinKi Kids.

Alone in the booth, she says, “I don’t care if I can sing well or not.”

In China, where karaoke is embedded into business and social life, the solo booths are a place for people who enjoy singing but don’t like the pressure of performing for others.

Coin-operated solo karaoke booths first spread in Japan and South Korea about five years ago. The booths are now sprouting in China’s malls, libraries and airports, more than 30,000 of them over the past two or three years, industry executives estimate. 

“A customer can sing karaoke in the middle of a shopping trip,” says Li Songlin, an industry analyst at Chinese research firm iiMedia. The firm estimates China’s karaoke-booth market will double to about $1.2 billion this year.

Han Zhimin, a 25-year-old consumer-trends researcher for a cosmetics company in Shanghai, dreads her office karaoke outings. Talented singers, turn into “mic hogs,” she says, while everyone else sits in silence—or worse.

“If you are a bad singer and you sing,” Ms. Han says, “it’s a disaster for everyone.” 

Ms. Han says she passed by a solo karaoke booth in Shanghai one evening and out of curiosity stepped inside. She sang Chinese folk songs and discovered she liked karaoke singing, just not with people listening.