Vocal Synthesisers: What are they and why are they so important to the history and future of music?

Volcaloids, virtual singers, are gaining popularity.

Vocal Synthesisers: What are they and why are they so important to the history and future of music?

Andriana Rud

Imagine you’re at a concert venue, seeing a band on stage with room in the middle for the singer. Then, a hologram appears, the band starts playing, and the fans cheer with enthusiasm. What you just witnessed was a Vocaloid concert, which are popular throughout Japan as well as America and China. At these concerts, a band plays music to a song sung by a virtual singer. Japan has been the source of many new inventions and products throughout the years, but the most interesting ones yet are vocal synthesizers. Programs like Utau, CeVIO, SynthV, and most famous of all, Vocaloid, have been gaining popularity for years. But what are these programs? How do they work? And most important of all, why do we need them? Aren’t human singers good enough? Well, let’s take a dive into the world of vocal synthesizers and explain why virtual singers are so important to the history and future of music.

The way these singing programs are created is simpler than you might think. Companies bring in singers to sing different sounds and notes, and when it is finally done they use a vocal program to turn all of those recordings into what is called a voicebank. They then give this voicebank a human-like design as if it is a character and put the software on sale to the general public. Producers can then buy that voicebank and use the character’s voice to create a song or cover by mixing and matching different syllables, tones, and notes in a process known as tuning. There are some exceptions with programs like Utau which let you make your own voicebank, but that’s because it has much lower quality than Vocaloid. As they have been improving voicebanks, these companies have also been improving the live performances they have.

Vocal singers have been able to perform live since 2009 and the technology for it has only been improving. Companies that own these products gain permission from producers to use songs for the voice to perform at a concert venue, with a hologram of the voicebanks design being projected onto a stage with a band playing along. While Magical Mirai is the most popular and official one of these concerts, there are others like Nico Nico Party, and each venue has its own set of different voicebanks and programs that they use. Magical Mirai is the official Vocaloid Crypton concert where the company showcases all of the vocaloids it has created, which have stayed as some of the most popular vocaloids in the community. Speaking of vocaloids in the lineup, it’s finally time to discuss why vocal programs and software have an advantage over real-life singers in terms of overall practicality.

Meika Hime and Mikoto are some of the most recent vocaloids from the Vocaloid 5 lineup and listening to their voices showcases how far these synthesizers have come. They sound incredibly realistic, nobody outside of the community would likely be able to identify that they are programs. Just because these vocals are “artificial products”, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t as good as real singers because there are plenty more examples of this kind of quality from many other songs. These programs can portray just as much emotion and power that real voices can produce. It’s extremely helpful for producers to use these because a) they don’t need to worry about doing multiple takes or the singer messing up because they control the voice, and b) the producer doesn’t need to worry about the singer getting burnout or struggling with personal issues because the voicebank isn’t a real person so you won’t harm anyone’s health in the process of making new music. It also allows producers who are good at making songs to get a head start in the music industry without having to look for a singer. Overall, we could solve some important issues in the music industry if voicebanks were more widespread.

These voice programs show how far we have come and will come if we continue to expand and improve this technology. There are many benefits to using them and the quality that they have been reaching is just growing and progressing every day. It really is stellar what various producers, cover artists, and even simple fans have been able to create with these programs and they are definitely something to look into.