Guest Writer: Destrab#7777
If you’ve been on the internet, even without meaning to, you can stumble across it. Between music videos, memes, comics, figurines, and all of the above combined, you may have found yourself curious enough to become well-acquainted with this vast network of creative virtual showbusiness. You may have wondered, though, even after surveying the scene on the surface: What is VOCALOID?
The Loudest Noise you may never have heard
It becomes easy to dismiss the deluge of VOCALOID material that surely shows up in many an unrelated Google search. Without an “in” to the industry, it can all fade to the sidelines and become a background show most reasonable anime fans just sidle away from. Perhaps they think that it couldn’t be any of their business.
VOCALOID can be anyone’s business, though. From indie creators like DECO*27 who went on to find signed success in the wider music industry, to supercell and SEGA, audiences have risen to the occasion and made these projects a success.
I point you to piapro.jp as proof of just how much there is in VOCALOID, and while you might make little sense of what’s on the site without translation and a bit of scrutiny, browsing through some of the submitted work there can turn into a real ride. There are illustrations, pure music files, lyrics and even drafts and proof-of-concepts for already in-progress collaborations.
And how do they do it? VOCALOID is a term that umbrellas a few things:
The genre itself;
The community based around creating and loving the music;
The characters, these ‘virtual idols’, and the software that creates them.
Released in 2004, the software is a voice synthesizer that allows a pre-recorded voice bank to be used like instrumental parts, stringing together parts of words and building lyrics from the ground up. The software, for all intents and purposes, sings for you.
The Birth of an Icon
Voice banks initially had simple names and personalities as was the case for ‘Meiko’ and ‘Kaito’, the first two voice packages released for the VOCALOID software, but a company called Crypton Future Media, who had invested into the development of the software, stepped in with a more decided vision. They wanted to make idols.
You might have seen this face around:
If somehow you might have missed her, meet Hatsune Miku – decided icon and flagship character of the VOCALOID industry.
She was the first “real” Vocaloid, as was Crypton’s idea for a new series of virtual idols.
Crypton’s very own android diva won out among other second-gen VOCALOID characters, and was the first to receive an “Append”, extensions to the range and tone of voices in her banks in 2010. Yet even before this, Miku was the herald of an enterprise already exploding with potential.
To this day, she is one of the most recognizable and well-adored VOCALOID icons, and her popularity will only continue to grow over time.
Idols Brought to Life
For many, concerts are a staple of regular social fun, and for others they are a rare, breathtaking and life-defining experience. The music is blaring and the crowd is cheering and beating at the night as one, while your favourite artists live and breathe right there on stage, almost within arm’s reach.
VOCALOID brings an interesting twist to the mix. The centerpiece of these live Vocaloid performances isn’t an idol there and singing in the flesh, but their presence is felt all the same.
In amongst the vivid frenzy of lights and effects, a large transparent cube houses Miku’s real stage. The animations are pre-prepared and synced to the performance, everything “rehearsed” with no human error possible when it comes to the live show, nothing short of an electrical one to interrupt the clockwork.
These arrangements even laid the foundations for VTuber concerts, catering to the modern surge in Virtual YouTuber popularity in Japan. Does this format look familiar? It’s no coincidence that they chose a concert instead of, say, a comedy night. This is the example that VOCALOID has led, and one that Japan recognises and accepts.
Even so, these performances feel alive. The crowd is drawn to and revels around them, each dancing with the same joy you might expect from a flesh-and-blood venue, if not more.
Why is this? For one, I believe it’s a symptom of just what VOCALOID is. The Vocaloids were never developed with the pretense of replacing real idols. They never will, or should we cast our adoration onto Miku like we would a human being with a life, a history and a legacy, quite in the same way? Her legacy is one of a character with a story, her life is a fiction that gives rise to dreams. If real artists are a provider, who share with us the chalice of their creativity, Miku (and every other VOCALOID) is the cupholder, who reaches out to us and beckons us not to drink, but to fill.
VOCALOID is less of a true industry in the sense of the word, and more of a medium; for storytelling, for music, for creation in all of its boundaries, and all of the boundaries it lacks. In the words of Victoria Rose, whose article on the matter you can read here:
It’s why I’m more apt to call Vocaloid a “genre” than a “community.” The thing is, even if the fandom ebbs and flows, “Vocaloid” is still an achievable goal. Always has been, always will be. If you draw Miku, Rin, Luka, if you buy merch, if you make Miku dab in MMD, you’re participating in the Vocaloid genre, because all creation is, at the bare minimum.
And that’s what VOCALOID is all about. Participation. Its success over the years, and its ongoing efforts in collaboration and in creative enterprise, demonstrates that you can always find a home there. No matter if you’re decidedly there to stay, or just checking in to wander and explore, VOCALOID will always accept you, because it will always be alive. As long as people continue to wander, discover, and leave their mark on the ever-stretching legacy of the genre, there will always be a road laid for the next newcomer.
Even if you might not stick to VOCALOID, even then its lessons might not be wasted on you.
Human beings go their entire lives gaining, finding, losing, and moving on. Friends, homes, relationships, even loved ones. We might not know in the moment, but looking back we can know with certainty when certain ‘stages’ in our lives picked up, and broke off. It’s natural. Time marches on, and so must we.
But what is left behind in the wake of our footsteps is equally important to what we go on to do. If you cannot think of something you want to leave behind, think instead of what you want to build towards. Sometimes the best way to teach, is to learn. All of us inspire others just by moving forward, so if everything you’ve amounted to yields no lessons just yet, make like Miku and just keep Rolling. The world is yours.