Music is one of the oldest art forms known to man, and over the centuries it’s evolved in ways we never could have imagined. From singing and banging rocks together (seriously, was that their solution to everything back then?) to what it’s become, a competitive field for every genre, filled with talented rookies and classic masters, I’d argue it’s one of the most expressive pastimes we have. And it’s still changing. The most recent edition has been that of electronic singers, the most successful of which are the Vocaloids.
Vocaloid is a voice-synthesis software created by the Yamaha Corperation and the Pompeu Fabra University. Basically, singers record different syllables and tones, and those are turned into a “library” of sounds. That library can be accessed through the software and manipulated to form entire songs. The result is somewhat robotic, because of the artifical combining of the syllables. When done right, however, it sounds like an entirely new entity with a fresh sound.
It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course, but if you want all the technical jabber, the Wikipedia page has it all.
What makes Vocaloid more successful than other voice-synthesis programs, however, is its marketing. Think of it like Apple: it’s taking an idea that others have struggled with, made it cleaner and easier to work with, then shown it to the public as something new and fresh.
The way Vocaloid does this is by assigning a “character” to each voice library, so you feel like you’re working with a robot singer instead of the fragments of a real person’s voice. The program originated in Japan, so naturally those characters take the form of anime-style shoujo, shota, and bishoujo artworks.
The most popular Vocaloid by far is Miku Hatsune, a turquoise-haired beauty with a high, sharp voice. She’s marketed as an electronic diva (and sometimes a bit of a brat). Here’s a good sample of her vocal work, as well as her fictional persona.
Luka Megurine is a tall, pink-haired character with a softer, lighter voice. She was the first Vocaloid to be able to sing in Japanese and English. In this song, she does both.
The last voicebanks I’ll talk about tonight are a matched set. Rin and Len Kagamine are mirror images, commonly thought of as twins. Their voice libraries come from the same person, who just sang higher for Rin (the girl) and lower for Len (the guy). They sing a lot of duets and collaberations, because their libraries are sold together for the price of one.
There are plenty more voicebank characters, and the easiest way to find them is to look up “vocaloid” on Google or YouTube.
The Vocaloid characters may be what’s given a face to the otherwise technical product, but the real interest comes in the way their songs are written. Although the Vocaloids are made by Yamaha and then distributed to companies and individuals who write and release the songs, all seem to have an unspoken agreement: personality is key when trying to sell your audience a bunch of syllables strung together by a computer.
What do I mean by that? Every song, every series, every album has immense personality in the lyrics and the music videos to make up for the lack of it in the singer itself. For example, the song Kokoro (above) is about a scientist who creates a robot, then tries to show her how to love. Daughter of Evil and its sequel song Servant of Evil are about a pair of siblings who will do anything for each other, even if it means death. World’s End Dance Hall is about two people who agree to live to the fullest in a broken world. No Logic tells of a girl who wants to feel every emotion before she dies.
That’s what makes Vocaloid different–every song tells a story, and when the passion comes through the words, the passion comes through the voices.
I don’t know about you, but that makes the future of music look pretty bright.