To preface my answer- There are very few times when I am overjoyed by my brother’s seemingly strange obsession with Japanese culture. Normally, I just wonder how he got to be so weird, and I’m so normal…This is one of those times when I appreciate his weirdness; other instances of appreciation have included when learning to use chop sticks, when deciphering menus at sushi restaurants, and in my dreams when I am on Cash Cab and the question involves naming 5 of the Sailor Scouts.
When first introduced to Hatsune Miku in Games and Sims last fall, Dr. Partridge couldn’t remember the character’s name. So I Facebooked Ryan (my brother) to see what the name of the Japanese holographic character was who sang concerts and was real popular. I didn’t understand why he kept asking me “which one?” even after I so clearly described her as the cartoon who looks like Sailor Moon but isn’t and has big Anime eyes and bluish teal hair. After a few good frustrating messages, he explained that Hatsune Miku is a synthesized voice using Yamaha’s Vocaloid 2 technology, so really, if I had Vocaloid software and the Miku character, I could be her.
Ryan likes to be smarter than me and not answer questions when I don’t ask them perfectly right. Oh, the joys of having an older brother.
The Vocaloid program is made by Yamaha, a Japanese company that makes a myriad of products. From motorcycles, to hunting equipment, Yamaha makes it all. Yamaha makes almost any musical instrument a person could need. They even make keytars. They make bands like Boston’s synthpop group, Freezepop, possible with their QY-70 portable MIDI sequencer. They make PA systems, recording equipment and as of 2004, vocal synthesizers.
The path to get to Vocaloid 3 has been 11 years in the making. The original Vocaloid software development began in 2000. It was released in 2004. Instruments are easy to sample for synthesizer use while sampling a voice for use is much more difficult. Not only does a voice carry melody, it also has lyrics to carry a message. Humans can pick up on the incorrect intonation or other issues in a voice very easily. The Vocaloid program utilizes sampling of a singers voice to create their characters. The singers are recorded singing a whole lot of nonsensical phrases that include all possible transitions between syllables. Transitions vary depending on phonemes (speech sounds). By sampling in the way the Yamaha corporation did, they helped to eliminate the artificial sound that can occur when using synthesized voice.
To create a vocal track, lyrics are entered into a score editor. This is where music is entered as well. Expressive elements can be imported via a MIDI File or entered manually. The tracks are then sent through the synthesis engine where the phonetic elements are combined. They are combined with the melody and blended so that the lyrics and melodic lines match up correctly. The actual process is more complicated, but this creates a meaningful conceptualization as to how to create a track. Users are only limited by their ability to use the program.
Vocaloid Characters & Hatsune Miku
Studios are responsible for the marketing of the Vocaloid characters they create. With the original Vocaloid software two of the better known characters are Leon and Lola. Zero-G released these Vocaloids and then followed up in 2004 with a new Vocaloid character, Miriam. Crypton Future Music took a step forward from the other studios when they released their Character Vocal Series. The first of the Vocaloids from this series is Hatsune Miku.
Hatsune Miku is the first of the Vocaloid sounds to have an image associated with the voice. Miku is essentially the Japanese Barbie Doll. At 5 foot 2 inches and 93 pounds, Miku has a BMI of 17. Body Mass Index numbers below 18.5 are considered underweight, making Hatsune Miku a great stereotypical teen idol. It seems like in Japanese culture, every character has a height and weight regardless of their form. Hello Kitty is a cartoon cat who weighs as much as 3 shiny apples. Hatsune Miku isn’t even a person. She is a character, created by Crypton Future Music, but the press and madness associated with her rival any real life pop music sensation.
IP & Hatsune Miku
If Miku sings a song, who gets the profit? Miku is marketed as a character, an android Diva to be exact, but Miku is really just an instrument. Just like a traditional instrument, anyone can play the instrument so long as they know how to play. If someone records a song on a cello, there’s not a big push for the cello to get royalties for being played. When someone uses a synthesizer in a song, there isn’t a prescribed set of rules for the amount of money the company that created and manufactured that synthesizer should get. When a person uses Miku to sing their song, what they are really doing is playing an instrument. They bought the software, they bought the character, what they do with the character is their own intellectual property.
Saki Fujita, the woman behind the character Hatsune Miku, may feel differently, but as one of the only characters to have an appended software release, if anything she makes history. Miku is acting as a spokesperson for Toyota’s Corolla, she has innumerable fans, she creates a frenzy, she puts on concerts; she does exactly what a real pop star would be doing. The only difference is that she is not a real person. When it comes to riders and temper tantrums, dealing with a holographic character must be easier than a real person, but when it comes to payment and rights, dealing with a holographic character makes for a sticky situation.
When seen as an instrument, Miku is an easy problem to solve- the intellectual property rights from whatever is made with Miku belong to the artist who has created the music. When seen as a character, there is a copyright obligation to consider. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. The use of Miku is great for those who need a singer but can’t find one, for backup vocals or any other singing need. Vocaloid technology can be used to keep the voices of famous singers and people active after their death or loss of voice. The use of this technology in other areas could be beneficial for children of active military persons – as a way to put a voice singing them lullabies with the face children learn is their parent from pictures. Further research should focus on IP right aspects of Vocaloid technology, but also on other applications of the technology.
BILL, W. (2003, November 23). MUSIC; Could I Get That Song in Elvis, Please?. New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Wilkinson, S. (2003). Humanoid or Vocaloid?. Electronic Musician, 19(9), 28. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.