Virtual Singer Hatsune Miku
The World’s Leading Vocaloid Opens for Lady Gaga
Japan’s top superstar with more fans on the Internet than any other Japanese pop star is virtual. Synthesized songstress Hatsune Miku has wowed audiences around the world with an innovative ensemble of music software that has allowed her fans to create over 100,000 songs, digital animation and live 3D performances both in Japan and abroad. She also opened for Lady Gaga in the U.S. Tokyo Journal’s Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie explored what’s behind global phenom Hatsune Miku with Crypton Future Media, the creators behind Japan’s virtual singer
TJ: Could you explain a little about what a vocaloid is? How does it work? Who uses it, and for what?
CRYPTON: “VOCALOID” is singing synthesizing technology developed by YAMAHA Corp. Hatsune Miku is software which came into the world as a result of this technology. By entering melodies and lyrics on one’s PC, the software sings them exactly as they are.
TJ: Hatsune Miku means “first sound from the future.” Do you believe Vocaloids are the future of music?
CRYPTON: There was already a lot of software which could reproduce the sound of musical instruments on a PC, but there had not been any software that could reproduce the human voice to this extent until “VOCALOID” appeared. We believe that Hatsune Miku truly deserves to be called “first sound from the future.”
TJ: Who had the original idea for Hatsune Miku?
CRYPTON: No specific person offered the idea of creating Hatsune Miku. The software was produced as a result of our staff’s careful consideration for users.
TJ: Can you explain the concept of Hatsune Miku?
CRYPTON: Hatsune Miku is singing synthesizing software that uses “VOCALOID” technology. It was developed based on the voice of Ms. Saki Fujita, a Japanese voice actress. Hatsune Miku’s profile data is - Age: 16, Height: 158cm, Weight: 42kg
TJ: As a digital star who only exists as an image, Miku’s appearance must be crucial: how did you come to choose what Miku would look like? Was Hatsune Miku based on anyone in particular? She is known for her turquoise pigtails. Why the color and style?
CRYPTON: The design for Hatsune Miku used “DX-7,” a synthesizer released by YAMAHA Corp., as its motif. Turquoise, the color of Hatsune Miku’s hair, is used partly in this synthesizer. Also because its name means “first sound from the future” and it features a non-human voice nonetheless made from a real human voice, the character Hatsune Miku was designed with a futuristic, android-like image. As one of the characteristics of her image, Hatsune Miku has extraordinarily long pigtails, which would never exist in the real world.
TJ: Has Miku changed at all since her creation?
CRYPTON: The latest software version of Hatsune Miku was developed and distributed in 2013. The character’s profile has never changed.
TJ: Rather than having one assigned designer, why do you choose to have so many designs for Hatsune Miku?
CRYPTON: The popularity of “Hatsune Miku” has spread due to various users’ creations. We would like to support creative activities by such users, so we continue to use various users’ works.
TJ: Saki Fujita’s voice was used as the basis of Miku’s voice. Is Saki Fujita still involved in this project?
CRYPTON: Her voice was used again as the basis of Hatsune Miku’s for the latest software released in 2013. Also she sometimes appears at our events and so on.
TJ: For which audience was Hatsune Miku originally targeted?
CRYPTON: It was originally produced as singing synthesizing software targeted at music creators.
TJ: Tell us about the process that went into animating a pop-star.
CRYPTON: As for animating Hatsune Miku, that was started by users, not by us. At first, videos with only songs and still images were posted on video sharing sites. Meanwhile, users started to make videos using songs and animations, and after that the movie-making began.
TJ: Hatsune Miku was not the first VOCALOID created. What do you think was different and made Hatsune Miku a phenomenal success?
CRYPTON: Hatsune Miku is not the first “VOCALOID” software we produced, but we had distributed and developed “VOCALOID” software since its appearance. The first Japanese “VOCALOID” software developed by us, called “MEIKO,” was released in 2004. We first used a female character for the “MEIKO” package and it became a talking-point. As Hatsune Miku featured new technology and concepts following the success of “MEIKO,” it became software used by a great many users. Also we allowed users to use official character images and make derivative works of characters on the condition that they follow some guidelines. We feel this became a factor that encouraged them to be creative.
TJ: Have you seen any big changes in your industry since 2007, when Miku was launched? Did you ever expect Miku to become such a craze?
CRYPTON: We recognize that the number of characters used for “VOCALOID” software packages has increased after Hatsune Miku. We had never expected such an enormous phenomenon before we released Hatsune Miku. As not only Hatsune Miku songs but also illustrations and videos have been produced, we feel there has been an expansion of creativity and the beginning of new creative culture.
TJ: I understand that Miku is in part a Crypton Future Media creation, but in part too a crowd-sourced creation, created by her millions of fans. How much control does Crypton Future Media still retain over Miku?
CRYPTON: Hatsune Miku is the software of Crypton Future Media and we own the rights to the character. We allow users to make derivative works as they like on the assumption that they follow guidelines produced by us, but we do not “control” all such works. Because of this, Hatsune Miku works continue to be produced by a number of users. Regarding commercial use, we control each case because that is not covered by the guidelines.
TJ: I understand that Miku’s songs are created by her fans, and number over 100,000. Is there anyone who oversees her repertoire, and who owns her music in terms of intellectual property?
CRYPTON: We own the right for the name Hatsune Miku and the character image. When considering commercial use, there must be an application to us subject to the terms of the guidelines. However, regarding the work itself, the user owns the right for the work he/she produced.
TJ: To what extent has the brand become international, and how was this achieved? Was it deliberate?
CRYPTON: Hatsune Miku has so many fans around the world that she can now have concerts overseas and participate in concerts with foreign artists. As her popularity spread throughout the Internet, she now has fans all around the world. Another factor that led to her international appeal is that we released an English version of the software.
TJ: Does Hatsune Miku get a lot of fan letters?
CRYPTON: We receive so many fan letters from people of all ages, from young children to senior citizens. All of them write to us passionately about how they like Hatsune Miku.
TJ: What made you decide not to give Miku a personality, or at least not to declare what her personality was?
CRYPTON: We dared not set anything for Hatsune Miku but age, height and weight. This way users can be creative with their imaginations.
TJ: Hiroyuki Itoh was awarded the Blue Ribbon Medal of Honor for having “made prosperous efforts in the areas of public welfare and education.” How did your creation, Hatsune Miku, help him to achieve this?
CRYPTON: Hiroyuki Itoh, The CEO of Crypton Future Media is not the creator of Hatsune Miku but the representative of the development and distribution company. The Blue Ribbon Medal is the award received by people who have served the public interest in the areas of education, medical services, social welfare and industrial development, and Itoh received the award for his achievements in a new industry. The business development of Hatsune Miku was considered to be one of his achievements.
TJ: Has the reaction from international performances been different from performances in Japan?
CRYPTON: Hatsune Miku has gone overseas for concerts several times. The reactions to the concert differ from concert to concert, regardless of if it’s in Japan or some other part of the world, but we believe that many people enjoy the concerts.
TJ: What’s the secret to maintaining an iconic product like Miku and keeping her current and successful for so many years?
CRYPTON: We think one of the factors is our guidelines that allow users to create derivative works as they like. Because of this, various users have come to participate in their own ways, including music, illustration and videos, and as a result, a large circle of creation has grown. One of the attractions to Miku is that people can find what touches them amongst the enormous variety of Hatsune Miku content.
TJ: Do you think that Hatsune Miku might try other music genres in the future? Or even other industries?
CRYPTON: We develop Hatsune Miku so that the users can enjoy music and creativity. We hope that people will find pleasure in participating in Hatsune Miku’s creative development. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #275 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.