Quick. Can you name the hottest pop star in Japan and one of the most downloaded music videos on YouTube with 2.5 million downloads? Check it out here. This music phenomenon is likely to have more long-term relevance and value to music, entertainment and advertising businesses than Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber combined. The singer, Miku Hatsune, is a 'character' from the Vocaloid Character Vocal Series synthesizer developed by Yamaha Corporation. The character in this particular video is Black Rock Shooter, a manga character who has probably been drawn as much as the video has been downloaded. Also check out this Black Rock Shooter music video with English subtitles.
Miku Hatsune is a virtual music synthesizer program. In 2007, Miku Hatsune, whose name is comprised of the Japanese characters for Hatsu (First, 初); Ne (Sound, 音); and Miku (Future, 未来) was the first released installment of the Vocaloid2 Character Vocal series. Black Rock Shooter is a virtual character, one of many being developed by "fans" using popular art sites such as DeviantArt. A Google search of DeviantArt + Miku Hatsune turns up 36,800 search results.
Miku Hatsune's popularity increased because of Nico Nico Douga, (Smile Smile Video) a Japanese online and mobile video site. At the site, users began creating and submitting original compositions as well as remakes of released songs, and fans started collaborating on different projects. Miku Hatsune now has multiple characters in the market, such as Black Rock Shooter, and has manga book series and video games. There is a manga book about her titled Hatsune Mix, illustrated and written by KEI, where several different Vocaloid2 mascots make appearances.
Vocaloid, as described by Wikipedia, is a singing synthesizer application developed by the Yamaha Corporation that enables users to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody. It utilizes Yamaha's Vocaloid synthesizing technology with specially recorded vocals of voice actors or singers. To create a song, the user must input the melody and lyrics. A piano roll type interface is used to input the melody and the lyrics can be entered on each note. The software can change the stress of the pronunciations, add effects such as vibrato, or change the dynamics and tone of the voice. Each Vocaloid is sold as "a singer in a box". The software is available in English and Japanese, although a Chinese version has now been produced.
While the software is intended for professional musicians it has become a prominent fixture among amateur home video artists and musicians, with the only limitations being the users' own skills. Japanese musical group Supercell (Sony Music Entertainment Japan) have featured Vocaloid as vocals in their songs, and record labels in Japan also have released compilation albums featuring Vocaloids. The vocaloid will inevitably become a staple of user-generated consumer marketing initiatives as well as the new model for background music accompanying commercials, professional and amateur video entertainment, films and television. I anticipate the development of manga-based television series utilizing vocaloid music videos.
Crypton Future Media Inc., based in Sapporo, Japan, is a pioneer of using Vocaloid. Crypton's first two Vocaloids were Meiko, released in 2004 and Kaito, released in 2006. When Miku Hatsune was released in 2007 Crypton and Vocaloid became popular, and also influenced the use of 'avatars' or 'mascots' by other companies working on the Vocaloid program, making Crypton the leading Vocaloid developer.
This past April, according to Wikipedia, Yamaha released an updated version of Miku called Hatsune Miku Append, providing six different tones of Miku's voice: Soft (gentle, delicate voice), Sweet (young, chibi voice), Dark (mature, heartbroken-like voice), Vivid (bright, cheerful voice), Solid (loud, clear voice), and Light (innocent, heavenly voice). This was the first time a Vocaloid has such a release and more Append are reported from Crypton Future Media at later dates.
Other significant releases include Crypton's Megurine Luka, the first bilingual Vocaloid and Zero-G's Sonika, who was developed to speak any language, even though she is primarily an English vocalist. The website describes Sonika as "a natural-born singer, a sweet virtual voice at your fingertips. Sonika is a cyberspace starlet who will hit those high notes every time. Whether it's sweet and pure leads, harmonies and backing vocals, Sonika can sing any word from English and other languages too with a little work. Sonika is also very well suited if you want to be adventurous and experimental since her voice can be easily modified and shaped in many ways."
AH Software's Kaai Yuki became the first Vocaloid to use a child's voice. Wikipedia reports that two studios are working on franchise based Vocaloids. The first is AH-Software who will be publishing a Hello Kitty-based Vocaloid called "Nekomura Iroha".
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