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An Introduction to Vocaloid: Rock Edition

Vocaloid is a software developed by Sega— a virtual, computerized voice that the user can apply to their songs as a vocal track. Type out your lyrics on a notated staff and Vocaloid can sing it for you! It was originally supposed to be used for demo recordings before a real singer was introduced, but the software was getting so much hype, they decided to roll with it and create a personified representation of the digital voice. That’s how CV 01: Hatsune Miku was born in 2007 (her name means “sound of the future” in Japanese)!

To Sega’s surprise, she was a mega hit. Studios and regular people alike were buying her to create their own music. But that wasn’t all, fans were also illustrating, choreographing dance routines and creating music videos. Miku became an overnight phenomenon due to her ability to make everyday people music producers; she sparked creativity in Japan tenfold. Hundreds of thousands of Miku songs have been produced in the ten years she’s been “alive” and Sega takes her most popular songs and tours with them. Whether you’re a music studio or a guy in your basement, you can make a best selling Vocaloid track. It’s really an amazing way to make the music industry accessible for all!

I am a huge fan of the Vocaloid movement. I found Miku during my early years in high school (2010-ish, so around the time she was starting to gain global popularity) and found her to be a really intriguing piece of software. I wasn’t sure at first since, in the beginning her voice sounded pretty bad, but was able to overlook that due to the music videos and stories the songs were telling. I wasn’t in love with the music, but the entire package: song, dance, illustration, narrative. Miku was a blank slate that could be made into anything; I loved coming home after school and seeing the new stories people were creating with her as their muse.

As the years went on, she started to sound a lot better and production quality went up tenfold. Vocaloid was becoming a respectable industry, with different users specializing in composition, illustration, tuning, and character design. One of my favorite users, kyaami, specializes in tuning and can make a Vocaloid sound almost identical to the human voice. In some songs, you can actually hear the Vocaloid breathe! There are even some cases where Vocaloid inspired users to put themselves out there and sing their own songs. Famous for the hit song Matryoshka in the early years of Vocaloid, producer Hachi eventually started singing his own songs and ended up becoming a famous Japanese pop star! Under his real name, Kenshi Yonezu created mainstream hits on Japanese radio and in anime. A strong start in Vocaloid helped him become a successful musician, what a time to be alive!

Vocaloid is mostly techno and pop music but the fun thing about it is that you can make something in any genre. It’s whatever the user wants to create! Growing up, I’ve always been into rock music. My parents are rockers (their first date was a Cheap Trick concert) and I grew up listening to my sister’s favorite prog bands, so when I found Vocaloid I was attracted to the rock hits first. Below is a list of my favorite Vocaloid rock songs with a little description. Enjoy!

CV 01: Hatsune Miku

You know a lot about Miku already, since she is the first Vocaloid. This 16-year old immortal pop star has played shows all around the world and has toured with Lady Gaga. She is easily the most famous of her counterparts, being the center of snow festivals throughout Japan and taking part in major advertising ads. Musically wise, her soprano can be piercing at times, but the technology has improved so much that she is sounding better and better every day.

As the most popular Vocaloid, she tells the most stories. Her song StargazeR (Kotsuban-P, 2008) is a simple but fun pop-rock song that was one of the first she did in the genre. For the story, watch the video, it’s easy to get. Rolling Girl (wowaka, 2010) is one of her most famous songs and one of her most tragic. It is a killer jam about a girl who…commits self-harm by throwing herself down a hill every day. Yeah, it’s a bummer, but it’s a really incredible song and, as one of her most popular it’s a must-see. People still fight over the end of the video to this day! One of her more recent songs is Hibana (Deco*27, 2017) and in it, you can really hear improvement in her voice track. It’s an upbeat song about relationship problems, about being “trapped inside a love I know I can’t escape.” Even the happy sounding songs can have an edge to them, and that’s what I love about Vocaloid. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Back in high school, my favorite Vocaloid song was Nisoku Hokou (2009), another song by Deco*27. This was my jam and I loved the words and the videos. I don’t understand it entirely and that’s what I love about it, every time I watch/listen to it I see something else. I interpret it as a metaphor for how growing up and educating oneself leads to the loss of innocence. “All the words that you learnt start to hurt / all the strife is like a knife cutting through you / is this right? / are they tearing up your life?” Just watch it and see what you think, but I think it’s a really great song (that I sing in the shower to this day).

CV 02: Kagamine Rin & Kagamine Len

Kagamine Rin and Len were the second iteration that came out only a few months after Miku. They are the most versatile Vocaloid; sold in a back, the user gets to use Rin’s high end and Len’s low to craft harmonies and duets. Usually personified as 14-year old twins, Rin and Len were actually conceptualized as reflections of each other in a mirror (Kagami=mirror, ne=sound, Rin=right, Len=left). I had an affinity to them when I discovered Vocaloid because I’m a twin myself (my bro Thomas hates Vocaloid, so sadly there are no cosplay opportunities) and listened to them more than I did Miku!

Fire Flower (halyosy, 2008) was another of my high school jams. It’s a simple song about fleeting first love being as powerful and short-lived as a firework in the sky. There’s a pretty intricate guitar riff that happens in the back that I really like and the song really shows Len’s range in the low and high ends. On Rin’s side, there’s Iroha Uta (Ginsaku, 2009), a song about a devoted servant who would do anything for his master. The song contains a lot of Japanese word play since the song’s title comes from the famous Japanese poem Iroha, a poem that uses each phonetic letter of the Japanese alphabet only once. It’s a clever song with a catchy melody that can get stuck in your head for days.

Rin’s most impactful rock song is easily Neru’s Lost One’s Weeping (2013) a beautifully tragic portrayal of adolescent insecurity and suicide in Japan. Although it came out in 2013, I only discovered this song a few years ago and was instantly engrossed in it. It is about a young boy who hates/struggles with school and questions what his performance in the classroom is a representation of his self-worth and character. The pressures of school on students in Japan is a big issue and this song sums up the feelings of these beaten-down students in a very powerful way. It’s a great song with a sick guitar riff, driving vocal line and scary but needed message.

CV 03: Megurine Luka & Others

A later iteration of the Vocaloid software, 2009's Megurine Luka is a more mature version of the previous teenage Vocaloids, designed with a more adult character design and alto voice range to differ from her counterparts. I personally was never a huge fan of Luka. Don't get me wrong, I do like some of her songs and she seems like a very nice lady...I just happened to like the others better (she's way better than Meiko and Kaito in my opinion too). But she is on this list because she has one of the most metal songs in the Vocaloid library, both literally and figuratively. It's a metal song and the concept is pretty metal.

Leia (Yuyoyuppe, 2010) is about an artist who paints a portrait of a beautiful woman and falls in love with her. However, he realizes his love will never be realized because the woman in the portrait is not real, so he kills himself. Yep. What a concept. But it's a really rockin' song that stands out from other Vocaloid songs for me. Miku and the Kagamines have rock songs...but this is a hard rock song. The rhythms are very complex (just listen to that double bass pedal) and it has a lot of layers that just create this really thick, heavy sound. It's a pretty interesting song, both lyrically and compositionally that probably brings the house down at concerts.

Luka has more rock songs; she's probably the edgiest out of all the Vocaloids. But I made this section Luka and others so I could include this song. There are a lot of Vocaloids out there, so many that I can't keep track of them. I only know the famous ones. But one of my favorite Vocaloid songs to date is Close to You (miki, 2014). Originally performed by VA-L01 Lily (2010), my girl kyaami created a beautiful cover of this song using Vocaloid3 v-flower (2014) when her software came out (Vocaloid codes can get confusing, just ignore them. They aren't that important). This driving power ballad is about mourning the loss of a loved one and coping with the turbulent aftermath of saying goodbye for good. kyaami is an amazing tuner that makes v-flower sound real; you can hear her breathe, you can hear her voice crack. This song is an amazing feat in Vocaloid engineering. It's not even that it's a good Vocaloid song, it's a good song period. No strings attached. I really hope you enjoy it.

And that's my rant about Vocaloid. Wow, I've been wanting to do one for ages. I think it's such a innovative technology that allows people who would have never given themselves a shot in music to give it a try. So many people have latched on to the Vocaloid movement and I think it's a great thing. Yes, it's all auto-tuned voices being sung by a hologram. It's not "Real." But the people who make it are. And the people who are passionate about it and have their lives changed by it are very real. If a "fake" voice is bringing positives to people, I don't think it's "realness" matters. It's all about the music, the stories behind it, and how it makes creators and audiences feel. And I think that's a beautiful thing.

*If anyone wants any other Vocaloid content, let me know. Another genre breakdown or anything's all good. I love this stuff!*

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