A Reflection On The English Vocaloids
Somebodyrandom, a regular over at Vocaloid Otaku and one of the main editors on the Vocaloid Wikia, wrote an article for Vocaloidism on the subject of the Vocaloids produced outside Japan: how can the popularity gap between them and the Japanese Vocaloids be explained? Is it a problem of language, synthesis quality, or maybe fandom? Read on for some of her thoughts on these questions.
(The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Vocaloidism.)
It’s not gone unnoticed for some time now that we do not see the same reflections in the Vocaloids from Zero-G and PowerFX in terms of success. In comparison, Japanese Vocaloids are very popular. I’d like to think this was a single thing that could be singled out on one item, that everything is JUST linked to one problem. The reality is, this is a complex situation with a ton of things that have gone on for a while. If it were that easy to define, I wouldn’t have faced that many problems editing Wikipedia and the Wikia. I also apologise, I can’t really sum up a lot of this too much. This is possibly going to end up as one of the longest article Vocaloidism will face… I’m not a regular here I lurk.
For the sake of clarity, I’m going to avoid “Engloid” and refer to everyone capable of singing in English as “English capable” like I do generally at the Wikia. When I posted on Vocaloidism’s forums for the first time I was very shocked because on Vocaloid Otaku forums “Engloid” is used so openly. I also will define at this point “Vocaloid Fan” as a general person who like Vocaloid, there is quite a vast difference with a lot of fans being just general anime fans which I will cover later on.
When I first picked up Lola back in 2004 I found her in a stall at a con amongst some music based software. Now, Vocaloid was an expensive software even then, and there wasn’t yet a Vocaloid fandom. So when I first saw Miku I had NO IDEA that she was a Vocaloid and would not have guessed what she was at all. To me she was just some random anime character I started noticing on the net. I don’t know how it came to surpass, but at some point I bothered to take the time to look her up; my mind was blown I really WASN’T expecting what I got overloaded with.
I came to the Vocaloid Otaku (VO) forums just as Big Al was about to be released, I lurked there for a while before finally getting the guts to post. But after buying Al, I began to notice that the English capable Vocaloid were not really spoken about a lot. To make matters worse, no one really knew much about any non-Crypton Vocaloid anyway. I went to Wikipedia and noticed that it sort of reflected a lot of the problems that are still with the fandom. For a few months, I begged everyone at VO forums to help tidy it up.
A small note here: during the mid 2000’s, Wikipedia upset many anime fans who were editors there by enforcing strict rules of pratice, leading to a mass imigration to the Wikias we see around the net in many cases. I was admist that chaos. Many editors involved wiped their hands of the site and as I was amongst them it took a lot to bring myself to edit there.
Eventually, I decided the only way I was going to fix the problem was to come out of retirement (funny thing, the first time I edited Wikipedia reverted the entire page back to the bad version, haha). For the curious, that’s what it used to look like.
So the following months I bombarded it with links and information to pull the page together. In doing so, I pulled out information on the English capable Vocaloids like their reception, something that was difficult to find for Japanese Vocaloids.
This brings to the point made by a comment on the discussion page, that it was natural since the Vocaloid software was big in Japan that there will be more references. That WAS a good point, but I found if you leave out the English capable Vocaloids you lose the big picture and a GOOD chunk of Vocaloids history. In fact, it was looking over the English capable Vocaloids that brought to light the very first software to rival Vocaloid, Cantor. See? You leave out the English capable Vocaloids, you don’t notice these things exist!
From Postive beginnings to obscurity?
I will make it a point that every Vocaloid fan should at some point take a moment of their time to read up the views of the era previous to Miku. This is something I ask too much for perhaps? I don’t know, but for those who care to take the time, one article remains the most important for English based Vocaloids: “Could I Get That Song in Elvis, Please?“, from the New York Times.
I recommend every Vocaloid fan at some point read this article BEFORE they express their comments on English capable Vocaloids. It pretty much sums up the hopeful beginnings of Vocaloids, but also serves as a cornerstone for defining WHO the Vocaloids were aimed at: the professional muscian. Let me take you back to the early 2000’s, to the era before Youtube REALLY lept into action. At first, only those who took the time to make a website got attention on the net, but as the first big social networking sites like MySpace came along, providing access to many indie muscians, this switched. After all, you didn’t have to pay to host a MySpace account and it was easy to set up as such, you could also tell all your fans where your latest gigs were, your CD releases, etc, etc. It was a very easy service to use.
About the time of Sweet Ann’s release, times were begining to change, MySpace was about to suffer some major blows (I recently read an on-line report that 1 million users are leaving it a month) and other, better sites came along offfering better services. This removed a lot of the previous target audience from the English capable Vocaloids. I had friends who switched from MySpace to YouTube, for similair reasons a lot of indie music producers did.
I also noticed in recent months that the music software magazines had disappeared from bookshelves here in the UK, something that according to my local newsagents happened a while ago across the broad. Electronic magazines replaced the paperbacks, removing the need to even print a page. After all, your audience was already on the internet, they already have the skills to research. Don’t know what its like abroad in other countries, but you do pretty much everything on-line now. But this also means you have to pray someone reads up about your product, and with the English Capable Vocaloids, information can be few and far between.
Prima was spoken about in the New York times I believe, but I do note that I have difficulty finding information on the post-Sweet Ann era in terms of technical information. Here is one of the Sound on Sound pages for everyone to read, this style of reporting disappears after Ann, remember!
Vocaloid fans have to understand that the Vocaloid project was a BIG event to begin with, that undertaking the art of human speech was never going to be easy. The problems Yamaha faced with the complexity of languages as difficult and vast to define like the English language was never going to be easy and it’s easy for a native speaker to not even realise that things like a “schwa” exist even though half the words they speak might be using it (note: apparently though, American accents tend to skip it something I didn’t know about myself until recently). In fact, it’s actually pretty darn easy to appreciate a language that you are naive towards than one you’re very familar with and I don’t want to say anything controversial there about it so I’m going to have to skip over this part.
So what is keeping them down?
The English capable Vocaloid engine is lagging behind for a number of reasons, I apologise, some of these are more observations. I also cannot and do not want to add names that might lead to someone being trolled or abused on-line. I will note, Crypton once was reported to put the blame on British accent for Leon and Lola, however, I don’t tend to accept this excuse because the Japanese Vocaloids are popular. I will however take their comments related to a lack of avatar a bit more seriously as an excuse for not liking Leon and Lola.
- Notablity: Possibly the most noticeable thing is that there is a huge lack of work both fanart and song wise. It’s not that there are none, in fact off the top of my head I know there’s at LEAST 450+ English songs. But there’s also no big music makers using the English capable Vocaloids openly, Mike Oldfield is one of the rare who even admits it. Without someone to say “I’m using a Vocaloid” the English capable Vocaloids cannot gain fame. There is a report from last year that confirmed Miku had 22,000+ songs. When you think about it, 450+ seems like nothing at all doesn’t it?
- Bias: it’s actually pretty high on the list of problems. I can only define it as this state: “Why does this thing that sings in English not sound like this thing that sings Japanese?” I don’t mean to insult anyone with that comment, but this is the core source of a LOT of bias: the first encounter with an English capable Vocaloid after seeing a Japanese Vocaloid can be off putting. The second level of bias comes from the question “Why doesn’t this thing that sings in English sound like this other thing singing in Japanese?” At this point, a person will draw up their own conclusions, for the better or worst and too often it’s for the worst. The last level of bias is “I don’t like this thing that sings English because it doesn’t sound like the thing that sings in Japanese”. And really… This is where the problem lies, this can easily turn into something that spreads propraganda and lies amongst other fans, either intentionally or unintentionally with proof or without it. I’ll give an example: on the website “The Escapist Magazine” I actually found a Vocaloid topic where someone spoke about English Vocaloids. Someone made the comment of Miku being Japanese and how they want an English version (I guess they don’t know about English Miku…). At this point, another person jumped in and basically said that there were English capable Vocaloids but “all of them are sh*t”. This type of negative comments can prevent someone from not only looking them up, but also make it harder for them to love what they hear if they do look them up. In the process, it spreads the bias around.
- Expectations: Recently in an e-mail Bil Bryant (PowerFX) commented that fans are very passionate about what they love, but often force their desires onto Vocaloid that they’ve come to know. This sets a “standard” for ALL Vocaloids. Unfortunately, this restricts what the English capable Vocaloids can do freely. I’m amazed at what Guiseppe produces, who isn’t? It’s cover songs, but some of what is released is quite interesting and often a good demonstration of what you can do with Vocaloid.
- Image: I have been pointing out for several months that our blond haired image of Leon is technically incorrect, as the box states both him and Lola are “Soul singers”. Soul music has its origins in African American music. In fact, Lola and Leon are typical singers of their genre (Lola more so than Leon I note). The sole image of that blond Leon also restricts creativity; Leon is without an avatar at the moment (Zero-G mentioned in early 2010 this might change). Until the VY series this was something that was foriegn amongst the other Vocaloids, particularly since all Japanese Vocaloids had a mascot on the boxart. But I do note (for those who can’t be bothered to read), Cantor had pretty much the same style of boxart and I sometimes wonder if anyone believes me when I say “it’s a reflection of that era”. There are non-art based portrayals, personas every fan puts on a Vocaloid themselves (I always view Leon based on the fact he was the soul English male voicebank for 6 years based on a joke at VO forums). Still, there is also a lack of portrayals to contend with of any of Zero-G or PowerFX Vocaloids, and the ones they’re lumbered with are stuck into them because not enough people try to make their own version of Prima, Sonika, Big Al, etc. But in a nutshell they’re a reflection of the music industry they’re part of and fans have to understand that not every country has the same culture.
- Fandom: This is the hardest thing to direct a comment at. Because you CANNOT say anything about fans without some backlash and disagreements. Part of the problem is there is a distinct lack of a fandom, although a slowly building one is appearing. I would have to say that certain types of Vocaloid fans are worse than others although I will not blame anyone. I think the fans have to acknowledge that every time they call something bad, it can be thrown back at them at a later date. Back to the bias and the Escapist Magazine comment, if no one bothers looking up a Vocaloid how can it get a fandom? I know the English capable Vocaloids fans are quite passionate at times, to silly proportions, but I seriously don’t know any other Vocaloid fandom where you have to CONSTANTLY find this classification that’s been lumped onto them. Yet in the midst of all of this, with the building of such a passion there is a sparkle of strength… Their fandom is still small yet the English capable Vocaloids fans can often have some of the strongest voices because they HAVE to defend them all the time.
- Development: Its a GOOD time for development right now for the English capable engine. There’s a Zero-G Vocaloid on the way, a male Vocaloid from PowerFX, English Miku, two voicebanks due from Bplats… And now confirmation has come through for Luka Append that sets the table on her Append status! That’s now many voicebanks aimed at the English Vocaloid engine! Now is a good time to be a fan of English capable Vocaloids, we’ve never had it so good. But in the past, progress was slow. Zero-G works by a yearly budget, if Vocaloids sell well they get more budget, they do badly it effects the budget for the next Vocaloid. PowerFX are pretty much the same but they’re a much smaller company (perhaps the smallest of the Vocaloid companies). I’m thankful if they produce one every few years (owning all 3 Zero-G’s and Big Al, Al’s one of the most interesting to use although out of him and Tonio I myself always fall back to Tonio). However, there are far more Japanese Vocaloids than English and more studios, so if those studios each produce a Japanese voicebank at least once a year they’ll out pace the English capable Vocaloids.
- Quality: I had the pleasures of researching the Kagamine’s in recent months. If you heard a song by the Kagamine’s, based on a lack of who they are or even the Japanese language, would you even know their Act1 was pretty awful overall? A native speaker can not only identify this, but improve the vocals, in fact it is possible to write a song so clean you would never know that the Kagamine’s ever needed an Act2. If I look up the Gumi “Bad Romance” song that exists on Youtube, I’ll find comments along the lines of “even better than Luka and the Engloids”. I also note, from the odd occasional question at Yahoo answers, that this sort of comments can be a rather deceiving remark. People DO presume that English will be fairly easy to recreate with a Vocaloid who has only a fraction of the sounds needed for English. There are good examples out there as well of those who’ve succeeded, but I’d like to see the presumption that “I will be able to use Japanese Vocaloids for English very easy” disappear. I’m NOT going to say “don’t use a Japanese Vocaloid”… As a former anime fan I know how presumptuous people can be though and I’ve had to sit there and witness people buying games all the time in Japanese they struggle to play. Really it comes down to the idea that anything from Japan is good without first making sure they got that comment correct. There are some excellent works in English song genres from the western hemisphere, if you give them a chance some surpassing the Japanese producers.
- Language: I can’t really say it any simpler, but the English language was never easy to begin with. With many loan words, stress accents, etc… I really can’t say much more than “Unlike the Japanese capable Vocaloids they’re not so easy or precise”. I briefly used a Japanese Vocaloid demo last year and I admit for what I got out of it (which was nothing to write home about) it was much easier.
- No events: now redundant as someone went and made one now… But for the most part, not a lot happens. Whenever I see an event involving Vocaloids in Japan where most of the action happens, the Japanese capable Vocaloids are pasted everywhere, and no overseas Vocaloid site is in sight.
- Not popular at all: they are actually apparently really popular within their market, but that market is quite small, at least based on the English capable sector according to Anders. In fact the only way to overcome this is that more sales have to be made. As sales increase, demand increases and the market expands. But in the meantime, popularity in comparison to the Japanese, and popularity within their market are too very different remarks to make and Vocaloid fans have to accept that there is a world within the music industry that they barely know about.
- Acceptance of progress/achievements: when word began to spread that Lola, not Meiko, had been used for the theme of Paprika, I found some of the comments quite shameful. The worst was one that was along the lines of “No, Meiko sang this! Wash away the horror, wash away the horror…”. I hate to say it but when you update Wikipedia or a Wikia, that information slowly spreads but I do get to witness peoples’ reactions in the progress sometimes. For a few months after it was added to the wiki pages, I witnessed some of the reactions to the change of information. I was quite shocked how some rejected the idea of Lola being the singer, yet at the same time I was amazed at other comments that welcomed the results. At the end of the day I must confess, it really comes down to accepting that a Vocaloid was used for Paprika, it really doesn’t matter who it is. I do believe that if Meiko had been confirmed though the reaction would have been remarkably different.
- The media: “Miku was the First Vocaloid”… No Leon and Lola were the first on the market. And from our Los Angeles information pages Meet the Vocaloids: “In the past, creating songs with English lyrics had always been somewhat awkward”… for Japanese Vocaloids. I blame part of the problem is Crypton Vocaloids are giants and can sometimes dwarf other Japanese Vocaloids, but there’s a lot of things being said that are being done without acknowledging other Vocaloids exist. The other English capable Vocaloids beyond Luka are also being ignored in all this. The media can only base their comments on what they see, read or are told and Crypton are probably asking the media to care to take time out to mention their Vocaloids anyway. With so much courage it is hard enough to get people to realise they are a few of the now many Vocaloids without having to correct misgivings in the process. I have to say, the media can be some of the worst sources of information at times and even bigger spreaders of incorrect information than the numerous trolls.
- “Wrong Vocaloid…“: This is not so much of a problem but I have seen this as an excuse not to buy an English capable Vocaloid. There is a strong desire for English versions of Japanese Vocaloids it seems (withEnglish Miku I note when we finally got one the negativity was quite amazing haha!). So some are not buying the current Vocaloids because they’re waiting for that “one” voicebank they want. There WAS a suggestions topic again for voice types and genres at VO forums… Anders was very appreciative of the boat (note: it was a cruise ship, not a rubber dingy!) load of suggested voices.
I don’t believe the problems they face are capable of being removed over night and things will likely improve as time passes by. I will note in closing that most Vocaloid fans are attracted by the PVs in anime style, this is no secret amongst Vocaloid fans. However, take note, the English speaking music industry is a much stronger industry than the Japanese one. In fact, for Vocaloid to be certain of a solid future, it MUST secure its place in the English speaking industry otherwise it will lose the oppotunity forever. For that reason, English capable Vocaloids will have to continue being developed and we must be prepared to sit through the ups and downs while progress is made. Japanese music in the western hemisphere is a minority interest in comparison and most notable of all, now Miku is in the mainstream people are currently looking at Vocaloid. Not everyone likes anime, and many will be turned off of Miku because of her voice, we need to have something to keep those who do not like this kind of things interested.
I will point out a little note I have. Microsoft Sam was a free voicebank made for people to use. True you have to pay for Vocaloid but does that mean it’s not fun? I’m having a GREAT time with my 4 English capable Vocaloids, even if I publish nothing in the process. Did the fact that Sam was robotic, censored and lacking in his language skills prevent users having fun? No. In fact he has a number of Internet Memes and jokes related to him. A product is what you make of it, and Vocaloid is in the hands of the fans to control. Remember, the efforts we do now impact the future of the software and if we want to see Vocaloid become much more than it is we’ve got to be a little prepared to act as pioneers.
I think already we’ve made progress: before VO was hit by malware Anders took away with him a LONG list (I was the suicidal idiot who foolishly volunteered to write all our suggestions down for him in a list) of Vocaloid 3 suggestions on improvements. And the best bit was, the ideas that flowed between the fans that gave him suggestions were quite interesting… If anything, without Zero-G and PowerFX, we’d have absolutely no involvement, or very little, on the developement of the Vocaloid engine. I think this is our greatest asset right now, that a humble handful of fans can define a product that is aimed at everyone from amateurs to professionals from country to country and that some of our ideas will make it into the hands of the Japanese producers we all love along the way.
So I put to the table the question of why must some of us insist making negative comments about English capable Vocaloids, when in doing so they cut into one of the core links we have with Vocaloid? If it breaks, we might loose this little something, how will Yamaha react? It might not be easy for English Vocaloid to return… And not this, at some point, Leon, Lola and Miriam were NOT on sale anymore. It’s only because of renewed interest they are now.
I thank everyone who took the time to read this.
26 thoughts on “A Reflection On The English Vocaloids”
Two points first:
1. Miku isn't the first VOCALOID but she is the first VOCALOID2. (Just saying)
2. Instead of reflecting on why English Vocaloids aren't popular, instead how about reflecting on why Japanese Vocaloids are popular. I think Japan is ahead of the game (like always) in this regard, since most people I know aren't very comfortable with the idea of synthesized singing, but the Japanese embrace it more, relatively.
I really liked your analysis on the problem. I have to admit I'm one of those Vocaloid fans who are mainly interested in the Japanese Vocaloid scene; my reasons for this are:
1. I speak English fluently, but only very low level Japanese. Hence, listening to Japanese Vocaloids used unskillfully don't irritate me as much as English Vocaloids used unskillfully.
2. I can barely keep up with the Japanese Vocaloid scene. If I had enough time I'd follow UTAU and English Vocaloids too, but I don't unfortunately.
3. I think image is VERY important. It is one of the reasons Vocaloid became so popular with Miku's release, as she was given a distinct character that was still malleable for the community to shape, which leads to
4. the community. I think that a large part of Vocaloid is the community. People going out and working together to make songs is what brought together Vocaloid as it is today. I may be going on a limb here, but I think the English/YouTube community is more focused on hoarding followers than actually creating works with originality and/or artistic merit and being a good sport about it (I'd say that a majority of the videos on YouTube have someone posting immature, nonconstructive comments on them).
Teeecccchnically Miku isn't even the first Vocaloid2, Sweet Ann is.
The media reports it "Miku is the first Vocaloid" that was my point. M point was to quote what I've seen the media say. I admit I should have made that more obivous
Agree with all points, especially point 4. Part of the asahi shinbun documentary about nnd: [youtube xBZOlipfjkQ&feature=player_detailpage#t=195s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBZOlipfjkQ&feature=player_detailpage#t=195s youtube]
The trouble with anaylsing why something is popular is you overlook other details. It is much easier to pick up why something is failing, then why something is not. Sometimes, theres only a handful of reasons behind the success of a product but theres a lot of reasons for a product failing.
Still I'll note this and perhaps write a response article to this based on the other way.
Also, as crazy as it seems, the things that make one product popular can also be the same reason another product succeeds.
Why Japanese ones are popular? Simple. They are all around aesthetically pleasing. They fit perfectly in an already increasingly popular field of cutesy Asian for the westerners and were BOUND to be hits with the Asian world to begin with.
Other than cute characters and a new vocal font for you to play with, the technology probably would never have seen much light of day in the hands of regular users, rather those of extreme technical abilities in the musical field and maybe people producing high end technology (oh gawd, Miku being the GPS directions lady.)
Speaking of Miku, it's already been said. She was definitely not released first, maybe first to develop (no citation; hee hee; speculation and hearsay), but she was the first one to gain notoriety. I gather.
I have to say, the four final points you state hit right on the dot for a good sum of the Vocaloid Fandom in the English speaking section.
Vocaloid is quickly stickied to Anime now, mainly for the obvious(those cryptonloid designs ;o ). It is alluded to in your third point.
Vocaloid fans are too lazy, a R3CURR1NG statement, to do any real research—it's also best to point out many are GULL1BL3.
The Creative Western Vocaloid people are usually charmed with views and fame—-because hey, the Japanese ones seem to have garnered enough love and attention—-why not get in on this action? I am guilty of this, as I have probably offered to do full blown animation PVs for at least 15 songs already.
but that is just me. The community definitely makes up what Vocaloid is today, had people not started this delicious slurry of synthetic vocal leading/backing songs, we'd see less interest from the companies in the software.
Since the Los Angeles event I've seen 3 questions on yahoo answers where the askers presumed Vocaloid was a band. Prob. based on the gorilla concert resemblance to Miku's concert resmblence. During the earthquake events, someone passed the rumour around "the led singer of Vocaloid has died" which some may be familair with was the Kaito voice provider death report that was fake.
There is a LOT of misinformation still. Usually a 5 second google search engine pulls up the actual Yamaha Vocaloid webpage, the wikipedia page and the Vocaloid wikia. Any one of the three will tell you WHAT Vocaloid is. I maintain for the last year at this point in time, there is no excuse for not knowing what Vocaloid is. Funny enought on Yahoo answers once again, I note there have been half a dozen "What is Vocaloid?" questions pretty much since the Los Angeles event announcement.
Someone at Anime News Network also estimated most of the 7000 tickets that were sold out were anime fans who truly did not know not what Vocaloid is, but bought the tickets anyway. That is quite sad really when you think about it. :-/
You ask: "how can the popularity gap between them and the Japanese Vocaloids be explained?"
I think this can be very simply explained by answering two questions, how did Miku become popular in the Japanese community in the first place, and how are the ACG communities of Japan and the western world different?
Firstly, we understand that the popularity of the Japanese Vocaloids is largely driven by the Japanese community and Japanese creators. As in, very few popular Vocaloid songs are produced by non-Japanese. That isn’t to say there aren’t international producers, just that a majority of the popular ones are Japanese, and that the Japanese are largely the driving force. Therefore, if you want to analyze the popularity of Japanese Vocaloids, then you are really just asking why do the Japanese creators use Japanese vocaloids. Of course, that is due to the general lack of English proficiency among the average Japanese. Even though English is required in Japanese education, most classes are taught by non-native speakers and as a result lead to poor teaching. Most Japanese won’t hesitate to tell you, even if they’re wrong, that their English is very poor.
So, since Japanese creators won’t choose to use English because their English is poor, what is to stop English speakers from picking up English Vocaloids and creating a large English Vocaloid ecosystem? The answer would be the answers to the two questions I asked at the beginning.
How did Miku (and thereafter Vocaloid) become popular among the Japanese ACG community?
ACG is important, because Vocaloid did not start out mainstream, and it still isn’t driven by mainstream forces. As you have mentioned, the artstyle that attracts Vocaloid fans would seem odd and weird to most mainstream media. But, it is precisely that artstyle that cause Miku and Vocaloid to become popular.
ACG – Anime, Comics (manga), Games, is the trinity of popular media in East Asia, largely driven by Japan, but slowly being picked up by original creators in Korea, Taiwan, China, and others in recent years. Korea has manhwa and multitudes of MMO’s, Chinese have manhua and also their own MMO’s. All these medium have a commonality, the artstyle and characterizations (archetypes). The commonalities allow popular franchise from one medium to jump to another fluidly and often.
Now, of the three, anime and games are very high budget, time-consuming, and hard to produce for small groups of fans. On the other hand, comics/manga is very simple to create single-handedly. Tezuka, the father of the style, even said himself that he pioneered the style to cut costs and time for production. This persists to today, where many manga artists can create human features with just a few short strokes recognizable to any other ACG-literate fan. This artstyle is what Crypton hired KEI to use, it is what he delivered, and it is what continues to tie most promotional work for Vocaloid productions (think huke, redjuice, miwa shirow for supercell).
So, what is it about ACG and its simplicity that helps it proliferate. The answer is doujin, and what epitomizes doujin such as events like Comiket. Compare the Artist Alley of Fanime (about 300) or Anime Expo (700 I think?), to Comiket (33,000). Compare the number of events in Japan (doujin.com) to the events in the whole rest of the world (animecons.com). Online, compare naruto on deviant art (500k) to touhou on pixiv.net/tags.php (almost 1 million). The scale doesn’t even begin to come close. In Japan, I would argue, there are many more *creators* than in the Western market, and they both want to create and create well. This is probably due to market saturation of the media, they get manga since childhood, can buy it at any 7/11 down the street, and are surrounded by other fans in their daily life in close proximity. As in, if you live in a Japanese city, very likely there will be many ACG fans around you for you to share your creations with first hand, whereas ACG fans internationally don’t get the same luxury. This creates a fertile environment for further creation among fans in Japan.
Fans in Japan love to create and share, and in the last decade this creation of manga has spilled into videos with NicoNicoDouga and MADs. Notably, events like Comiket not only sell manga, but also games, music, and other indie creations. There is NOTHING on the scale of independent creation comparable to Comiket in the West.
Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid just fits into this ecosystem with her cover drawing appealing to all the artists, and the flexibility of the software itself to the composers itching to try out a new instrument.
Now, why Miku and not Kaito or Meiko? I would attribute that partially to technology, since Miku is better, but also luck, thanks to Ievan Polka, Miku Miku ni Shite Ageru, and Melt. Arguably, if none of those happened, Miku would have taken a lot longer to start up.
Oh, fuck me, Nico Nico Douga was launched December 12, 2006. Nvm, there’s the reason. Why is nico nico douga important? Utattemita, kumikyoku, weekly vocaloid ranking, MADs, and memes.
"In fact, for Vocaloid to be certain of a solid future, it MUST secure its place in the English speaking industry"
It would be nice for Vocaloid to have a place in the English speaking industry, but I don't think it is necessary for survival. http://blog.piapro.jp/2010/07/vocaloid-1.html
Are you saying that if JPop singers can't sell in the US (which you have said most don't), they aren't successful?
Are you saying that selling out of seats at Anime Expo is not successful? I, for one, love Vocaloid music the way it is, and having it change too much would take away all that I liked about it. Localization is a double-edged sword.
I know for a fact there would be many people to pay for the original, unedited, Japanese version of the product. Yes, the localizers can widen their audience by changing it the way they think might be correct, but you can't satisfy everyone and any changes they make will for sure dissatisfy some of the original fans. The question is, do you try to pick up 100 new foreign customers by losing 10 original customers? (Do you, as a company, care about money, or care about the people who liked your product from the very beginning?)
"I know for a fact there would be many people to pay for the original, unedited, Japanese version of the product." <- Not that many, not if the main demographic for said product is people too young to hold a job.
Rather than localization being a double-edged sword, I think of it as a necessary evil. Though it's not that evil in my book. Because I'm a reasonable person. And not a fourteen year old.
I completely agree with your reasoning that the doujin community is what allows Japan’s Vocaloids to thrive, while the English Vocaloids suffer. The doujin community was already well established and ingrained in Japan when Miku came along. Her anime styling (voice and image) granted her an easy adoption into the community. And the growth of NND, a doujin artist’s playground, went hand in hand with her rise. Nothing defines a more “communal” experience then a person posting a video and having the viewing community add to it with their own commentary. There really is no international equivalent for English vocaloids to latch onto and grow. An excellent argument, Mr. Chou!
Excellent article, gives vocaloid fans a lot to think about. I am definitely looking forward to the all the english voicebanks being released in the future (especially excited for the VYs).
My personal feelings on the English Vocaloids (this is in no way meant to offend anyone, this is just personal opinion): When I first heard them, I'll admit, I wasn't impressed. But then I realized how much more complicated English is compared to Japanese. When I realized that, my respect for those who can make a clear English song shot up. Also, Japanese Vocaloids simply cannot speak clear English. The English Vocaloids will always speak better English (the one exception is darkninjavn's My Heart Will Go On cover by Luka). I'm not a big fan of the English Vocaloids mainly because I don't like the voice type. But I do realize that as more people start using them, people will start experimenting with their voices more, so I stay on the lookout. I have been surprised by Japanese Vocaloids that I didn't like, so I'm sure the English Vocaloids will surprise me one day.
Very nice article SBR, and thanks for your effort on putting this here. But as already very well addressed by Russel, the major reason japloids are standing out compared to the engloids is the target audience: amateurs and a thriving community compared to professionals who has you said are even reluctant to admit their use of Vocaloid software.
And this really is what I love with Vocaloid (I'm absolutely not in anime): it's the power given to the independent music producers.
Right! I love that producers who might have been overlooked or unnoticed now have a way to get recognition. Vocaloids provide a singing voice as well as an audience. It’s just a perfect recipe for budding independent artists!
Please don't use the word "Japloid". JPloid is a more acceptable alternative if you need to differentiate.
All I can say is fantastic work as usual, SBR. Eloquence where needed with a great deal of info slapped right in.
I personally throw in my two sense once in a while, but it will always stand at least a good majority (70% +?) don't quite understand much on the matter. P3R1OD.
It's a shame, too. So much info available thanks to you and all the lovely editors down at the Vocaloid Wikia as well as teh Main Wikipedia Vocaloid Article.
…and no matter how many times I re-do the dictionaries on both Firefox and Chrome betas—-I can never get it to properly recognize "Vocaloid" as a word that I recognize ;p
As for Russel's post—-I will read it as soon as my eyes recover from screen strain ;D
From a journalist point of view, this article is terrible. It's all over the place, it's too informal, and there are numerous spelling and grammatical errors. Also, you have a remarkable talent for writing entire paragraphs without really saying anything at all. It's not long because it needs to be. It's long because it hasn't been edited– at least, not properly.
Looking at the content, though, you make some good, insightful points. Though I will maintain what someone else said on VO when you first brought it up: just because they're -soul- singers doesn't mean Leon and Lola are black, and it smacks of presumption to think that way automatically.
I applaud you for making this article. It clears off a lot of misconceptions about Vocaloids! Too tell you the truth I think MIku is being too publizied. I really wished I have the time to write a long reply but I can't OTL. I think everyone dislikes Engloids because those outside the fandom have those "ROBOTS WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD" ideas and most of the people in the vocaloid are Weaboos who think Japan is a god country or something 😛 Engloids need more love <3
I admit that i mainly focused on the japanese vocaloids, and i was one of the stupid persons who bought the Kagamines withput knowing about their flaws… And my japanese sucked to much to tell….
But recently, my eyes have opened a lot for the english vocaloids, like i recently bought Leon, and is saving for big al(sadly he is the third in my to buy list) but i started loving the english vocaloids and i hope they get famous sometime.
Also my suggestion to the engloids… Make a darn moe moe kyun character or a shota xD serriously if they did the sales with burst up for sure…
(bad grammar ftw… It is 2AM i am tired as hell and i am on a phone…i don’t think about Grammar)
Actually, Sweet Anne (June 29, 2007) was the first vocaloid to be released in Vocaloid 2. Miku Hatsune (August 17th, 2007 ) was the second to be released in Vocaloid 2. The only thing that Miku Hatsune is first in is being the most popular.
The Oriental people have such sweet voices – that’s why so many in the west loves them, we kinda have heard the European/American singers for a long time. People in Japan work hard so the sweet childish voices remind them of paradise lost, and only the wives and children have time to enjoy vocaloid art.
I still just need a library with 50 + singers both gender, young, adult, mature, folk, jazz, pop, classic &.c.
A little like the VirSyn Cantor 2 singing software! – And like Cantor with a good pronunciation dictionary for my languages, so that they can sing directly ‘from the leaf’ in Sibelius, Cubase Score &.c.A composer I don’t see the idea of personalized star singers. – Once ‘everyone’ thought that synthesizer-sound would never ‘fool’ people, to day as synths and samplers sound better than ‘the real thing’ no one thinks about that any more. – And no one can tell whether this violin or that viola comes from Kontakt, LA-Strings or East West Quantum Leap.But with no update from Vocaloids 1 to 3 and still this silly idea of purchasing ‘Miriam’, ‘Big Al’ &.c. and not a whole library drawing from a common set of pronunciation dictionaries the market seems not really serious business at best and a rip off at worst – or will Vocaloid Vers. 4 use sound-fonts from 2 & 3???
I’ve just gotten into the whole vocaloid thing, but my first exposure was a youtube video of Sweet Ann sing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. I was fascinated at the possibilities. I didn’t even know about the Japanese vocaloids at that time though Miku must have been around a few years. My first vocaloid was Miriam, and I plan to purchase Prima later.
Two of the main reasons I think the English Vocaloids haven’t caught on are, first; the Luddite nature of the western music industry. We believe that artistry and technology are mutually exclusive. I still remember, (and still hear occasionally ) that; the use of synthesizers and digital instruments does not constitute “real” music. The idea that the human voice can be synthesized has sent more people into the pews than the notion of kids and birth control. You still see comments that the concept scares some people. Japan simply embraces technology faster than we in the West. Number two, is that the fans in the West who are into vocaloids are typically fans of anything Japanese. Consider all the fans (who don’t speak Japanese) that attempt to use the Japanese vocaloids to cover English songs even though the results are often much poorer than they’d be if the person had just used an English Vocaloid to start with. “The Japanese Vocaloid is much cuter”. They basically don’t want an English vocaloid. They want a Japanese vocaloid that sings in English. That or a legitimate English Vocaloid manufactured by a Japanese company. It’s simply bias pure and simple, and while fandom is a good thing it tends to be forgotten that vocaloids are simply instruments that take some degree of proficiency to use, and some instruments require more proficiency than others. I’m pretty sure that the number of westerners that actually take the time to learn the software, as opposed those those that just listen to the results is pretty small. For the people who comment that they are not impressed by the English vocaloids (which I assume to mean that they are impressed by the Japanese ones, I’d like to know how many of those people are fluent, or mildly familiar with Japanese language?) I often wondered if this wasn’t behind the dislike to dubs when companies used bad, over-acting English voice talent in videos. A native speaker simply knows bad acting (or singing) in his own language, but probably wouldn’t recognize the same in a foreign language he was unfamiliar with.
I don’t think there is a solution to this problem until the vocaloid phenomenon grows beyond the bounds of “fandom” and moves into the mainstream and musical circles.
I used to hate “Engloids” , I still do sometimes. But they’ve grown on me a little bit lately , especially some newer ones. I think part of the problem is that some people who take the time to buy the product are too stupid / lazy to do a good job with the “vocaloid” they have and in my opinion a lot of the time Big Al and Sweet Ann sound bad , but then there are some smart people out there that have done great things with those two by doing good covers and making original songs. The character designs were part of the problem but character designs can be changed and have been. So , more people should stop trying to cover their favorite songs – ( especially todays music ) – or at least take the time to make the cover sound good. In my opinion vocaloids – ( especially the english ones ) – sound best when singing original lyrics. Avanna and Oliver sound good most of the time. Usually it doesn’t sound good though when people try to have vocaloids that are japanese language try to sing english language. Another problem is that people use the wrong vocaloids for certain songs…there’s a reason why opera singers sing opera and not…say, for example , rock or rap songs. People keep using the opera vocaloids and “soul” vocaloids for non-opera and non-soul songs though…*facepalm* I’m not even a big fan of Miku but people need to understand that no, it’s not just looks that people are upset about when it comes to English language vocaloids or japanese vocaloids trying to sing in English. I think the obvious racism in the vocaloid world is sad. FYI liking japanese vocaloids over engloids doesn’t make you a “weaboo” , it just means you prefer a certain sound over other certain sounds and / or you are a japanophile. “weaboo” is an insensitive term that only immature people use. Engloids do have a fanbase , they are just very small compared to the japanese vocaloid fanbase but if you look around youtube you’ll see that the engloid fans are growing in number all the time. I’m come to consider myself a fan of both engloids – ( well certain ones anyway and sometimes I even like Big Al and Sweet Ann ) – and the japanese vocaloids. I have also listened to vocaloids singing in other languages like Spanish for example and other “virtual singers” that are not vocaloids. And for the people thinking “dur hur , it’s ok to portray Leon and Lola as white because soul singers don’t have to be black” …umm…the people who provided the voices for those two _are_ black. Or at least that’s what we’ve “been told” ….so unless somebody provides proof that Leon and Lola are white , people like me are going to continue to protest that people are being racist and should stop portraying Leon and Lola with “white folk” type character design.
I know it’s a really old comment but I just had to also add that it’s racist to refer to asian people as “oriental” …for example it’s ok to call a rug oriental or refer to a spice as an oriental spice but it’s not ok to call a person “oriental” ….