By Ben Lawson
After a long 11-year run, the Karaoke Café in Seymour has closed its doors for the last time.
Owners Norbert and Debi Stovall transformed the venue into a well known location for everyone from families to aspiring singers. Regular customers turned out by the dozens every night, the hundreds every week, to take in the sights and sounds. The café became a draw for people to visit the area when hitting bigger locations like Pigeon Forge.
“It’s bittersweet,” Norbert Stovall said. “On one hand, we’re saying goodbye to eleven years of fantastic relationships and memories. On the other, we’re looking forward to what the future will bring.”
That future has been in the works for some time, according to David Grimes, chief communications officer for Chartbuster Karaoke, the label through which the Stovalls market their karaoke tracks. Grimes likened the change to an evolution for the café, just as the music industry itself has evolved.
“We’re taking a very successful concept and taking it to the next stage,” he said.
Grimes stressed that only the café is closing, but Big Mama Digital Entertainment, which runs Chartbuster Karaoke, remains in business. An expanded version of the café’s retail department will be offered from their main office on Ford Hill.
The café’s end resulted in part due to piracy. Grimes indicated that with the ever increasing prevalence of karaoke venues, many are offering unlicensed versions of popular songs, allowing them to cheaply accumulate a vast play list.
“Chartbuster Karaoke is pirated more than it’s purchased,” he said.
Although the company has taken steps to combat this problem, including several lawsuits against local karaoke offering venues that have been settled for undisclosed amounts, the price has been steep. Grimes said the label lost $24 million in the past four years due to piracy.
For now, BMDE wants to assure loyal patrons that the Karaoke Café will return in the near future. But instead of brick and mortar, they will focus on virtually offering their tracks to allow for instant access and have already taken the first step by launching a streaming service.
“It’s the culmination of literally years of work,” Norbert Stovall said. “And the direction we’ve been moving in for a long time – we’ve continued to update our goals, and in many cases had to wait for technology and end-user uptake to catch up with where we wanted to position ourselves.”
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