VOCALOID: The Sound of the Future.

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VOCALOID: The Sound of the Future.

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

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

YAMAHA Corporation

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

YAMAHA Corporation

YAMAHA Corporation

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

Mason Montano, Music Editor

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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 a pop culture phenomenon. Her iconic twin ponytails and unique voice have been recognized and celebrated worldwide with thousands of dedicated fans attending her concerts and buying her merchandise. There’s even an online petition demanding she perform at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. But while all that 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 but for vocals instead of instrumentals.

The VOCALOID software 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. 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. Voicebanks are developed by third-party studios under special license from YAMAHA and are created by programming samples of phonetic data recorded by real vocalists into the software. They’re usually represented by a mascot character intended to represent the voice in media and make it easier to market to a general audience. Hatsune Miku is the most popular and well-known VOCALOID product and mascot. 

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 the project was to create a high-quality vocal synthesis engine that could be used to replicate singing and produce results that were both fluid and natural-sounding.

Although originally not intended to be a commercial product, VOCALOID made its debut and initial release at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade show in January 2004. Please note that VOCALOID is not intended to replace real singers entirely. It’s simply meant to act as a cheaper alternative to hiring an actual singer that can be used by anyone for music production. 

Now, you’re probably wondering, why is VOCALOID important? Well, for starters, 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 results of the program 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 success of Hatsune Miku would inspire the development of almost every singing vocal synthesis program to follow. VOCALOID set the standard for what vocal synths like these should be in terms of quality, marketing, and potential. 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 and high-quality results. They just pale in comparison to VOCALOID’s prowess.

Since its debut over 15 years ago, VOCALOID has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon with millions of devoted fans and users around the world who both make music with the software as well as support the continuing of its development. I hope that one-day VOCALOID, and vocal synthesis engines in general, find their way into mainstream music production.

On a personal note, I’ve been an active member of the VOCALOID community since around 2013, and as of earlier this year, a VOCALOID user, and watching the software and fandom grow and evolve over the years has been absolutely incredible. But while I am 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 encourage you to do your own research, only if you’re interested if course. I also encourage you to check out the work of the amazingly talented producers and musicians that make music with VOCALOID.

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