Syn Songs Vocaloid

Apr 1, 2022

Mew, Merli, Cyber Diva, Megpoid and Galaco - what does this ensemble of intergalactic names all have in common? Well, they are all Vocaloid products; a singing voice synthesiser product mimicking the human voice through a computer programme developed 18-years ago by Yamaha Corporation. As well as manufacturing everything from motorcycles and outboard motors to guitars and pianos, Yamaha provided the financial backing for a joint-venture (with Kenmochi Hideki at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona) which led to the development of these anthropomorphic computer voices. The computer programmes - our friends Mew, Merli, Cyber Diva, Megpoin and Galaco - are designed to produce human-sounding vocal production, with descriptions such as ‘English Female Vocal’ or ‘Japanese feminine vocal’, offering producers the opportunity to sculpt realistic human vocals over their tracks. Having just welcomed to the Syn Songs catalogue a collection of Vocaloid tracks, let’s look at the history of Vocaloid and where this quirky musical sub-genre sits in the bigger picture.

Vocaloid software enables producers to input lyrics and melody into their chosen DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The software then uses a combination of synthesising technology and pre-recorded voices from voice actors and singers to re-create the sound of the human voice. Using a piano roll (similar to a music score, but specifically related to MIDI), the producer then plots the lyrics and melody along their timeline, with the ability to add features such as dynamics or vibrato. Your very own personal session vocalist living inside your computer ! But why replicate the human voice using synthesised technology in the first place?

Whilst perhaps initially created as a convenience for producers who wanted to explore vocal opportunities without having a professional vocalist available in the studio, the use of Vocaloid software has become something of a genre of its own. Primarily used in Japanese, Chinese and Korean music culture, but with western-adoptees such as Mike Oldfield, Vocaloid has enabled producers to create highly stylised vocals in genres such as J-Pop and J-Rock. Since its inception in 2004 - when Vocaloid technology was first released - countless sound libraries of Vocaloid ‘voices’ have been released to the market. As technology has improved, mobile versions of Vocaloid, as well as Vocaloid-enabled keyboards have been developed, moving the technology further into the digital age.

It’s hard to talk about Vocaloid without talking about Anime, as the two are intrinsically linked. Anime is a style of Japanese film and television making, characterised by colourful graphics and fantastic/futuristic themes. In the marketing of Vocaloid software, each respective studio responsible for adaptations of the original Yamaha software often used anime-characters to personify and market their sounds. Famed Japanese manga artist, Kei Garou (often referred to as ‘KEI’), created some of the first anime characters for early Vocaloid releases and these characters were then portrayed in advertising and in magazine publications, giving producers the opportunity to trial Vocaloid software. Perhaps inspired by these early characterisations of Vocaloid, the sound of Vocaloid has become something of a soundtrack to many anime productions. The pop-sheen of Vocaloid voices, combined with the sometimes robotic digital tone, has become synonymous with anime, as well as being used in numerous brand activations, partnerships and commercials for the likes of Toyota. It’s safe to say that Vocaloid and anime go hand-in-hand, giving a synthesised voice to anime characters and putting them behind the microphone in previously unexplored ways.

Use of Vocaloid in Film, TV and Gaming is where Syn’s interest in Vocaloid is most relevant, and a recent case study highlights this. For integration in ‘The Sims 4’ - the iconic life simulation video game released by EA Games - Syn was approached about licensing a Vocaloid J-Pop track from our catalogue for the game. With gameplay set in Japan, featuring shrines, sushi bars, Izakayas and more, they were looking for something authentically Japanese which could be moulded into the Sims universe. Working with a Vocaloid track from the Syn Songs library, produced by Japanese artist Unite Satisfy, the challenge was to re-create the synthesised vocals (originally ‘sung’ in Japanese), and translate them into ‘Simlish’ (the in-game language of The Sims). From Japanese to Simlish, all whilst keeping a similar tone and vocal melody, we re-programmed the vocals to perform a fluent rendition in Simlish. Next time you venture into The Sims 4 landscape, keep your ears out for ‘Ninhursag’s Tone’ by Unite Satisfy, and you’ll hear the unmistakable character of Vocaloid.

It’s ironic that something so in-human can so vividly bring to mind the sound of modern Japanese pop-culture. Just as analogue synths are synonymous with the American 80s, and Roland TR909 drum machines instantly transport you to the British 90s, so this technology transports you to the early-2000s Tokyo. Summoning images of bright lights, vivid anime characters, neon lights, fantasy and crowded cities, Vocaloid lends itself to placement in Film, TV and Gaming where the spirit of modern Japanese culture needs to be evoked. Sitting alongside Syn’s existing collection of contemporary Japanese music, ‘Made In Japan’, this collection strengthens a unique glimpse into the heart of Japan with authenticity and historical accuracy. It’s quirky, characterful and unmistakable, and we invite you to enter the singing synthesis of Vocaloid with Syn’s J-Pop and J-Rock Vocaloid collection, listen here for J Rock and listen here for J Pop.