During Anime Expo 2015, we had the chance to sit down with 1st PLACE‘s CEO Murayama Kumiko and ask her a few questions regarding the VOCALOID sound bank and character IA. During this interview, she explained their approach to marketing IA as well as the possibility for an English version.
Would you mind introducing yourself?
I’m Murayama Kumiko, president and CEO of 1st PLACE Co., Ltd. and the producer in charge of IA.
How did the idea to create a VOCALOID voice bank based on Lia come about?
To start with, we are the talent agency behind Lia. When Lia got married and was expecting a child, she had to go on hiatus. Since we had worked together for so long, we wondered what kind of project we could take on to keep fans happy in the meantime. We first came across this singing voice synthesis software called VOCALOID during this time frame; we felt that this could keep on working in Lia’s stead during her absence and hence proceeded to record her voice. And thus, IA was born.
Unlike some other VOCALOID software companies, 1st PLACE seems to have a close relationship with their producers who use the software. What influenced your decision to market IA this way?
When we entered the VOCALOID market, VOCALOID was already up to version 3. At that point in Japan, VOCALOID was already popular and had its own fan base. As a newcomer, rather than simply stepping onto the existing scene, we felt it was our mission to further develop and expand the market into new areas. When we released IA, we had a firm grasp on this culture of creators using VOCALOID software to produce and release new music. However, we wanted not just VOCALOID producers, but creators from all walks of life, e.g. J-pop musicians and crowd-sourced music producers, to use our software, and hence we sought to introduce VOCALOID culture to this latter demographic.
And of course, we at 1st PLACE are a talent agency supporting creators in music production, and we thought that instead of simply releasing a few “VOCALOID” songs, it would be better if we let professional composers and arrangers take this software for a spin; we were sure that they would enjoy it and expand their horizons musically, and thus we boldly approached people who had never used VOCALOID before.
Seeing as you participated in last year’s New York Comic Con and this year’s Anime Expo, it seems that you have a big interest in America? Could you tell us the reason behind this?
We definitely have a huge interest in America. As we are a talent agency supporting artists such as IA and Lia, we of course would like to spread their fanbase worldwide. To have our artists active all across America is one of our goals, and we used New York Comic Con as a stepping stone to gauge just how many fans IA had.
Since Lia’s English pronunciation is quite good, have you considered looking into making an English voice bank?
If we had the chance, of course we would like to make an English version; we’d like to release an English voice bank if people in the English-speaking community would be able to clearly hear and enjoy her voice. Of course, we would not want to release such a product if there are problems with the sound quality. However, releasing an English voice bank is something we want to try.
Promotional video for Anime Expo
IA has many collaborations; she has a racing team, her music appeared in games, and she has done collaborations with fashion labels, etc. Could you expand on the reasoning behind expanding into these areas?
The idea behind collaborations is similar to our reasoning before regarding artist-rapport; as a newcomer we want to expand the market, not just stay within the existing scene. This VOCALOID culture in Japan has gotten quite big, but it’s mostly a subset of people being extremely excited about it; there’s still people who don’t know about VOCALOID or don’t listen to VOCALOID music. With these collaborations, we hoped to introduce VOCALOID and IA to these people. For example someone who doesn’t listen to VOCALOID might enjoy video games a lot, and thus we can introduce them to VOCALOID through a video game.
Are you familiar with this game called Groove Coaster? [Groove Coaster is a rhythm game which included several IA songs.] With this collaboration, it was a great way to have people who aren’t VOCALOID fans listen to these songs. We also did collaborated with famous apparel brands in Japan for the same reason. [IA has collaborated with fashion labels such as FIG&VIPER and GLAD NEWS.]
To wrap things up, do you have a message for IA’s overseas fans?
We were informed that outside of Japan, there are many fans of not only IA but VOCALOID in general. Right now, although there are some limitations with regards to the software, we look forward to hearing more and more music created by VOCALOID creators all over the world, whether it’s through creators uploading their songs onto YouTube or releasing albums for sale.
Of course the bar to entry is pretty high right now because currently there is no English version, and thus IA can only sing in Japanese. However, we think it might be nice as a first step to start with some interesting English phrases that can be mixed in with the Japanese.
Would you be interested in listening to IA sing in English?
If, hypothetically, that a high-quality English version of IA were to be released, would you prefer to listen to her sing in English or Japanese?
Later, during the press conference, Murayama also mentioned their design philosophy with regards to IA—make the voice simple and straightforward but easy to adjust and customize, letting creators create their own version of IA.