Sunday, 5 June 2011

Vocaloid's Future : The missing link in Music Creation

After the 2 previous articles on the voice synthesizer Vocaloid (Introduction to Vocaloid, Examples of it), here's another one where I will just present a few ideas on what, I think, can be expect in the future. We already know that Vocaloid is very successful in Japan where it has caught the attention of the general population and even reached the first place nationwide in an album sales chart. So what about the future of the software outside its country? Can it happen too in our western societies?

I thought of making a post about the possible future developments of Vocaloid when I saw the news that after numerous requests from the English community, the US will now hold the first concert outside Japan with a virtual singer called “Mikunopolis”. It will take place next month during the Anime Expo in Los Angeles on July 2nd. I was expecting a concert outside Japan but not before the release of Hatsune Miku's English voicebank. It might be to give to the US something while they wait for English Miku. And a smart move from the Japanese, the successful concert of march 2010 will be the model for the US one with the same musicians. I bet the songs will be for most the same as last year. Japan's 2010 concert was the one that brought up Vocaloid popularity outside its country so it would be safer to not bring unknown songs on stage but just the popular ones. (I believe there will also be 1 or 2 songs in English to prepare for the English pack exportation).

Let's talk about the future of this phenomenon, or to be precise, the 2 phenomenons. The first one is of course the product itself : Vocaloid. The other one being the new process that emerge from it, which could be called the “missing link in Music Creation”.

Basic question: can Vocaloid be a success outside Japan? My answer is Yes.

First of all, Vocaloid is aiming at a new market where the popularity and recognition of the general public have yet to exist (at least outside Japan). Others may have tried something similar but haven't succeeded and we didn't heard of it. So does Vocaloid has an advantage?

Yes → There is a demand for the product. The first step is always the hardest one because, for a product to be sold, it has to display to the public its qualities, possibilities and usefulness. Japan's response was good and needed a few years to grow and form a strong defense against a product failure : a community. With internet and the already existing non-Japanese community interested in Japanese products, a specific part of international public shows a strong demand for the product.
Crypton Future Media already has that demand and just need to polish its Vocaloid products to sell it well in the future to us westerners. (To speak with numbers, recently Hatsune Miku English community Facebook page reached 200,000 which isn't bad at all. And the US concert has sold out before the other real singers).

Vocaloid exportation starts around now with the upcoming US concert and Toyota's campaign for the "Corolla Miku". Toyota is also one of the concert sponsors and will mostly use Miku's image to sell the Corolla as her official car to the Asian population in the US.

The TV spot :

Now, the “Missing link” idea. What do I mean?

I am referring to the point that what it is needed to bring an idea from a point A to B will be most likely obsolete in the future and be replaced by something more efficient. Those who can make that transition and be the first to present it to the world before its competitors, will win the race and be acknowledged as a strong entity.

In the world of business, that would mean that if a company find an opportunity and exploit it well before others discover its true potential, the first one will have a strong advance and will be marked as “succeeding where others couldn't even grasp the possibilities”. Vocaloid can be one of those if the English voicebank is well done and the community follows too.

In Japan, Vocaloid was the trigger, the spark that ignited the new musical creation idea of using the software as a draft for the composer and the use of Internet to post its full song even if the draft doesn't reach the standards we have today on the radio or TV. Without an instant worldwide communication device (Internet), how could someone create a full song by himself in sounds? At the best, he could write lyrics, play a few instruments, record it on a tape and present it to a producer. With Internet and Vocaloid, a new step has been created, right between the lyrics on a piece of paper and a song with a singer and some musicians : the “Draft step” or the “Composer's Vision” of the song.

That is a missing link. And as explained in a precious post, the advantages are numerous. (See “Hatsune Miku : Talent Ambassador”)

A good example of missing link success would be dematerialization. The popular store Itunes and video game platform Steam have been doing great because they saw the inevitable future that CDs and DVDs exist only as a support for product transportation between the creator and the customer. The Internet being more reliable, faster and used every year, the physical support that are CDs and DVDs will be obsolete one day. We had to have physical support because Internet wasn't seen as the missing link that will replace what we are used to since decades.

And once again, Internet will help by removing the unnecessary need of gathering individuals in the real world to create songs. Songs are sounds and it can be fully digitalized, so from point A to B, songs can be entirely developed with Internet as a unique communication device. And I think that, like Itunes and Steam, that is also inevitable. But how far the non-Japanese public will know about it?

In my opinion, there is 2 futures:

1) The virtual singer potential is recognized by general public and people takes interest in it.
2) The virtual singer stays a missing link, an intermediate step and only the final product with real musicians and singers is recognized.

If we take the US as an example, the previous concert in 2010 was entitled as an “Hologram staging concert in Japan”. Most of the time, the idea was that Japanese are mad about new technologies and went even crazier when they were cheering at a virtual singer instead of a real one. I wonder what will be their reactions this time when the “crazy” audience next month in LA, will be their own people. They will either think about it if they are open-minded or blame it on “a minority of asocial fans of Japanese crazy ideas” kinda stuff.

Either way, with the English voicebank, the existing community will create songs and like in Japan, a whole process of creation will emerge. So for it to be a real success, it would have to reach TVs, radios and other top charts in music sales. Maybe not number 1 like in Japan but top 10 or 20 is good enough.

When I see what reaches huge popularity in a short amount of time in the US, I believe it will be a piece of cake for Miku & Co. For example, the mini game Angry Birds on the Ipad. A few months with it and it even got some references on TVs shows and other popular medias. I played the game and frankly it barely reached the usual game standard we see on the Internet since years and there are so many more much better in every way scattered on Internet. We can see that the general public doesn't actually go deep enough on Internet and with the use of mass media, anything good enough can attain a very high popularity quickly if presented well. With all the qualities that Vocaloid will bring in English, I am certain it will work.

And between the 2 futures of above, I would say that most likely a song with real musicians and singers will succeed first and then a very talented composer will create one song, just one, a "Perfect Draft" with fantastic melody and will be recognized as such without the next steps involving real individuals. If the Perfect Draft is mostly electronic, it will starts first in nightclubs as a techno music and if the quality is even higher, it might go straight to TVs and radios. And then it starts for good.

We know that in Japan, the quality and quantity of virtual music are quite high, so if we need only one song to catch the English population, it will only be a matter of time. I don't know anything about the backstage of the music industry but I would bet on a public recognition between 3 months and a year after the release of Hatsune Miku's English voicebank. No more.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment.

Previous related Post 1 : “Hatsune Miku : Talent Ambassador"
Previous related Post 2 : “How to appreciate foreign language songs : Example of Japanese with Vocaloid

Vocaloidism : English Vocaloid Community
Hatsune Miku Community Facebook Page
US Concert Mikunopolis in LA (2nd July 2011)
Toyota Corolla Miku Website


  1. As a matter of Fact, "World is Mine" featuring Miku Hatsune already ranked #7 in the World Music category on iTunes.
    Also I'm almost certain that most of the producers releasing Vocaloid songs are releasing a finished product, with no intent to have it sang by a real singer.

  2. True Samuel, I saw that. Pretty good ^^
    But Itunes ranks are not something I would call one of the mass media needed to public recognition. The links between general population (with the one not using Internet or not much) can only be done on TV or radio.
    Itunes ranks could help only if a journalist where you look at it, understand that it's a virtual singer and then present it on TV/radio. For now, it is just a single webpage. Not a bad one though, but it can't beat even a few minutes on public television for instance. A top chart on TV will be perfect because the music will be automatically played to a good part of the country. This day will come ;P