The Rise of the Vocaloid

Akihabara News: Yamaha Releases American English Vocaloid Software

Interesting development today from Yamaha: a new release of the vocaloid software with "natural English-speaker singing voice".

A what? A singing voice synthensizer. See the grand wiki for more.

Or, more bluntly, it removes the need for human singers...

For years, Japan has had virtual pop stars, and by virtual I don't mean the familar manufactured groups like AKB48, this is just sofware. Not only that, the software can perform live, with a sort of hologram - I use the term loosely, it's a 3D rendered figure projected on a 2D surface with dynamic lighting. Watch the video below, showing Hatsune Miku opening For Lady Gaga May 20, 2014 St. Paul MN, USA.

And this video is Hatsune Miku performing on the David Letterman show.

It's an interesing development, especially if you're fascinated by technology and cyberpunk culture as I am. I don't imagine this will lead to the end of human singers by any means, but it may lead to very manufactured pop music.

Never seen this before? Heard of Gorillaz? Those cool cartoon characters with awesome songs like Client Eastwood? They perform live too, just like Hatsune Miku (except with humans singing), see below. The formation of Gorillaz is interesting in this context because it was conceptualised as a comment on their perceived lack of original content on MTV.

The other pop culture reference that immediately comes to mind is William Gibson's Idoru, where a vocaloid like star is combined with real AI (we don't have that yet).

The way in which pop music has evolved has gone from naturally formed bands, to bands being created via talent shows chosen mostly for their chemistry and looks so they can be marketed well. Their songs are usually written for them and they're told how to look, perform and act on stage - it's all about the marketing. Can they sing? Doesn't matter, they're auto-tuned as they sing, even live, think of it as photoshopping your voice.

And now we're at the point where you don't even need a talent show, potentially. Think this can't be sucessful? Hatsune Miku has "over 100,000 released songs, 170,000 uploaded YouTube videos, 1,000,000 created artworks" (source). It won't happen in the west overnight, maybe it's a generation change thing, but it'll start with music for younger kids and move forward from there, I don't think it will ever dominate the music industry, but it'll become noticeable.

Am I decrying this direction? No, I just think it's interesting. Hatsune Miku has had hit records and is very recognisable in Japan and many parts of the world. The new vocaloid product is not the first English language product, but it is supposed to be very very good.