VOCALOID: The sound of the future.


YAMAHA Corporation

The logo for VOCALOID5, which is the most recent version of the software.

Mason Montano, Music Editor

If you’re familiar with internet culture, then you’ve probably heard of Hatsune Miku. If you haven’t, then you must be living under a rock because over the past 12 years, Miku has become an iconic fixture in pop culture.

Her signature twin ponytails and unmistakable voice have been celebrated worldwide, with millions of devoted fans attending her concerts and buying her merchandise. There’s even an online petition demanding that she perform at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but while that all may sound impressive, what makes Miku really interesting is the fact that she’s not even a real person. Instead, she’s one of the hundreds of voices powered by VOCALOID.

VOCALOID is a revolutionary voice synthesis software developed by the YAMAHA Corporation that allows the user to synthesize singing by typing lyrics and melody into a piano roll type interface. The user can then tune the vocals by altering the stress of the pronunciation, changing the dynamics and tone of the voice, or adding effects such as vibrato or growl. It’s basically a digital instrument for vocals instead of music.

The VOCALOID program comes in two parts: the editor and the voicebank — each sold separately from the other. The editor includes the main interface that I previously described, and the voicebank is the actual vocal data that the editor uses to produce sound. Neither the editor nor the voicebank will function without the presence of the other, and they cannot be used as standalone products.

There’s a wide variety of voicebanks in many different languages available for use within the VOCALOID editor; including vocals built for English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese; developed by third-party studios under special license from YAMAHA.

Voicebanks are created by programming samples of phonetic data recorded by real vocalists into the software and are usually accompanied by a mascot character intended to represent the voice in media and make it easier to market to a general audience as well as distributors. 

Hatsune Miku is the most popular and well-known VOCALOID product and mascot. She’s the first VOCALOID to be recognized as a “pop diva” and has been the subject of a plethora of promotional material from figurines to apparel to an entire series of rhythm games based on the music created with her voice called Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA

Other notable VOCALOIDs include Kagamine Rin and Len, Megurine Luka, MEIKO, and KAITO; who were all developed by the same company that made Miku, Crypton Future Media; and Megpoid GUMI and Kamui Gakupo are among the more popular, non-Crypton VOCALOIDs.

VOCALOID began in 2000 as a collaborative research project between Kenmochi Hideki of the YAMAHA Corporation and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, the goal of which was to create a high-quality vocal synthesis engine that could be used to replicate singing with results that were both fluid and natural-sounding.

Although not originally intended to be a commercial product, VOCALOID made its initial debut at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade show in January 2004 with the release of the first VOCALOIDs: LEON, an English male vocal, and his counterpart, LOLA, an English female vocal.

Please note that VOCALOID is not intended to replace real singers entirely. It’s simply meant to act as a cheaper alternative to hiring a vocalist that can be used by anyone for music production. 

Now, you’re probably wondering why VOCALOID is important. While vocal synthesis may not be new technology, it had never been used for singing on the commercial level before, making VOCALOID the first of its kind. The program’s results are also extremely high in quality, and in my opinion, unmatched by any other vocal synth on the market.

Speaking of other vocal synths, VOCALOID’s success paired with the superstardom of Hatsune Miku would inspire the development of nearly every singing vocal synthesis software to follow, including UTAU and CeVIO. VOCALOID set the standard for what these programs should be in terms of quality and potential, but that’s not to say that every other vocal synth is bad. In fact, programs like CeVIO and SynthV are capable of producing very smooth, high-quality results. They simply pale in comparison to VOCALOID’s legacy and impact.

Since its debut over 15 years ago, VOCALOID has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon, with millions of dedicated fans and users around the world, who both make music with the software as well as support the continuing of its development. 

I’ve been an active member of the VOCALOID community since around 2013, and as of earlier this year, a VOCALOID user. Watching the software and fandom grow and evolve over the years has been an absolutely incredible experience, and I hope that one day, VOCALOID, and vocal synthesis engines in general, find their way into the mainstream music industry.

Even though I may be very knowledgeable on the subject, an opinion piece on a school newspaper can only go so far. I could literally teach a class on VOCALOID, but nobody has time for that, which is why I strongly encourage you to do your own research only if you’re interested, of course. 

I also suggest that you check out the work of the amazingly talented producers and musicians who make music with the software because, after all, VOCALOID is the sound of the future.

The official VOCALOID website: https://www.vocaloid.com/en/ 

The VOCALOID Wiki (Should you wish to do your own research): https://vocaloid.fandom.com/wiki/Vocaloid_Wiki 

Hatsune Miku’s most iconic performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhl5afLEKdo 

YAMAHA Corporation
The VOCALOID5 interface.