Karaoke scares the wits out of me. I can sing in front of a crowd with a guitar and my own songs without batting an eyelash, but something about karaoke makes me want to hide under the nearest table. The only time I've karaoked was in a backwoods bar called The Rose in Cuba, Mo. I barely survived a shaky rendition of "Jumping Jack Flash" just minutes before closing time.
My karaoke phobia has now taken a turn for the better, however, as I've gone virtual. Utherverse, a provider of virtual worlds along the lines of , has introduced 3D Tunes, the latest place where virtual reality, avatars, and online karaoke collide.
You record a karaoke number through the SingSnap online karaoke service and then jump onto a virtual stage where your avatar shares your earth-shaking talent with a crowd of avatar attendees. No huge bar tab. No awkward dancing. No cab home afterward.
Taking your own turn on-stage requires a little preparation, though. Here's how to do it:
Step 1: Join 3D Tunes. Download and install the program. Adjust your avatar to your liking and have a look around the Utherverse.
Step 2: Make your way through the SingSnap sign-up process. Test out your Webcam and microphone. You can leave the Webcam out if you want to be truly anonymous.
Step 3: Pick a tune and record it. Basic SingSnap membership gives you access to some free songs. Upgrade to Gold, starting at $12 per month, to open up the entire catalog of more than 17,000 songs. You can pick from pop, country, classic rock, folk, and rap tunes. There are even categories for classical and jazz. Record your song and copy the link.
Step 4: Drop into the Utherverse for Karaoke Wednesdays, which start at 4 p.m. PT. Hand your song link over to one of the event staff. When your moment comes, march right up on that stage and be the rock (country, pop, folk, etc.) star that you were born to be while your video plays behind you.
3D Tunes is a big program that can take some time to download (around 15 minutes for me). Customizing your avatar is just a matter of pushing buttons until you find the combination of clothes and hair that you like. The biggest decision I faced was choosing between "human" or "furry." My furry avatar looked like a fugitive from a bag of Cheetos, so I stuck with human.
I recorded my version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" using an ancient Logitech Quickcam Chat for Skype and a cheap, crummy microphone attached to a headset. I'm sure a little of my karaoke panic shines through in the video, but I'm proud that I did it anyway. So go easy on me, you aspiring "American Idol" judges.
The experience of walking on-stage as an avatar and facing more than 60 audience members still managed to give me (the real me) a few butterflies. At least I didn't knock my teeth into the microphone like I've done on a few real stages. It helps that the crowd is incredibly supportive, relaying a text stream of encouraging words that scrolls in the corner of the screen. It doesn't seem to matter if you can sing well, just that you get up and do it.
I ran into a small snafu when my inadequate DSL connection got hung up on all that live data coming in and the audience was left staring at my avatar's butt for most of the song. Your avatar isn't synced to the music, so it's up to you to play to the crowd using your movement controls. If your computer starts running behind, so does your avatar.
3D Tunes recently hosted a Karaoke SuperStar Challenge, and the winner, Wylde_Fukkigan, was crowned last Wednesday after beating out two other finalists. He won his own virtual karaoke club for a year based on the number of votes his SingSnap videos received. That's the kind of true virtual karaoke stardom I can only dream about.
In the meantime, I'm getting up my nerve to tackle "Sweet Child o' Mine." If you stop by on Wednesday karaoke night, come say hello. I'm the blonde in the red cowgirl hat going by the name "Kooseroke."