An Introduction to Vocaloid: The Virtual Pop Idols

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In my experience, the only people who know what “Vocaloid” means are people who are obsessed with Japan. Other people may have heard of “Hatsune Miku” but know nothing about her. This is a shame. Vocaloids are important to not only Japanese pop culture but to the world as a whole.

“Vocaloid”, mentioned above, is actually an umbrella term for a series of programs released in collaboration by YAMAHA, Crypton Future Media, Zero-G, and PowerFX. This term, Vocaloid, comes from a combination of the words “vocal” and “android”. Each program is a singing voice synthesizer that uses a single voice box that coordinates with a specific character. For example, if someone were to buy “Hatsune Miku,” they purchase the program with her specific voice box so the singing they produce would be uniquely “Hatsune Miku”. With this program, they can produce a singing voice by assigning vocals and pitches to time signatures.

There are many, many programs under this umbrella. Male, female, young, old, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, English, Spanish, there is a Vocaloid for nearly any song you would want to create. While Hatsune Miku is definitely the most well known, she was not actually the first. V1, the first Vocaloids, is comprised of Lola, Leon, Miriam, Kaito, and Meiko. These programs are a little more difficult than their more polished counterparts, but successful users can use the more robotic and rough sound to create distinctive and interesting vocals.

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Kaito and Meiko

V2, the second wave of Vocaloids, marked the creation of the most well known Vocaloids. Namely Hatsune Miku, Kagamine Rin and Len, Gakupoid (Gakupo), Megurine Luka, and Megpoid (Gumi). Unlike V1, this wave was very well received. This was mostly due to the introduction of character art which gave the people using the software a face to go with the voice. These programs were created to be usable to a wider market (much to the chagrin of professional musicians). And the voices, while still not realistic, sounded significantly better than V1.

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Len, Rin, Miku, and Luka

After V2’s characters became a knockout hit, V3 had a comparatively smaller impact. While it has some standout new voices like IA Aria on the Planets and SeeU, most of these Vocaloids focused on diversification to other countries with Chinese, Korean, English, and Spanish voice boxes. However, while many of these do sound more polished than their V2 counterparts, most were not well received and most people do not produce with them. If you’re curious about good V3 singers, I would suggest Oliver (a young male English voice) and IA (one of my personal favorites, with a slightly deeper female Japanese voice).

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IA: Aria on the Planets

V4 is the current wave and has a lot of really cool new voices and advances of technology. Despite these advances, these new Vocaloids don’t seem to have the same impact of the powerhouse V2 ones. There are a few V4 Vocaloids that are super cool that I hope people start producing more with. Namely, Ruby and Cyber Diva who have excellent pronunciation of English!

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Ruby

After talking your ear off about a program most people never use, why should you care? First of all, each Vocaloid has a unique and malleable singing capability with ranges and uses far outside what humans are able to produce. The songs created with these programs are unable to be sung by humans. Second, Vocaloids represent programs that give singing capabilities to people who don’t have the means or talent to do it themselves. There are thousands of songs written and produced by people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to create lyrical music themselves. Personally, the unique, slightly robotic, tone of the Vocaloids coupled with the wonderful and interesting lyrics makes Vocaloid songs some of my favorites.

Even without listening to their music, Vocaloids have had a wide effect on pop culture. The voice actor of Puppycat in “Bee and Puppycat” is Oliver, a V3 Vocaloid. The singer in the opening of Satoshi Kon’s movie “Paprika” is none other than Lola, one of the very first Vocaloids. Hatsune Miku has been universally used as a marketing tool, promoting Google Chrome and fronting a Toyota Corolla commercial line. Even beyond that, they are use popularly in video games, movies, anime, and novels, most of which are fan created!

The people who use Vocaloids are as varied as the characters themselves. From amateurs to professional musicians, anyone with money for the program can produce their own lyrics for their songs. Their music is also for everyone. At least one person has produced a Vocaloid song for whatever your taste is. I have even found a very well done Vocaloid polka song!

If you are now interested in the world of Vocaloids, I will soon be posting an article with some of my favorite Vocaloid songs from pretty much every genre one can imagine. Check it out and immerse yourself in a new way to make music!

About The Author

Japanese pop culture specialist, strange fashion lover, artist, and overall nerd! お疲れ様です!

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