Posted by: Leek | July 1, 2011

The Triumphs and Failures of a Wannabe Vocaloid Composer: America Edition

To give a bit of background to this post, this was a somewhat scheduled conversation in light of the slowly approaching “Miku concert” reaching to US shores. One of my good friends and a Vocaloid producer is coming right from Japan to sit in on the audience and take in the “experience” of what Western fans might bring to the event. Despite my objections, there has been chitter chatter here and there with me about the situation. Eventually I decided to call together a number of producers closer to me to talk about what’s been going on as well as reflecting on what this situation means. Originally it was just for fun but after concluding, I decided to log some moments from my recording and translate them (under permission of course).

After rolling in bed I didn’t like how the interview was looking typed up. It was messy and did seem to be dealing in both irrelevance and possibly too much mudslinging. Because of this I found it merely better to take individual questions and organize general thoughts into a typed article format. This way it saved me some time of having all these random tangents as well as worrying over offending someone. My only point was to let readers see a different side to things that may not have necessarilly crossed their mind.

And of course these aren’t opinions held by every single member of the older or current Vocaloid community. But I did feel they were amusing and if nothing else it gives an interesting read and perspective that many people might get to or ever hear.

To introduce the talk a bit, there were about five members including me participating. Conversation generally ended in trading different questions back and forth. We went through time, our backgrounds and who we met along the way; we shared lessons we learned and what we saw and felt when certain things happened. Most involved the current rising issue of Vocaloid not just locally but globally and what in the world the final result will be (answer is nothing but a CNN news report). And not too far from the usual, a nice sum of questions came my way for being the all (Sega) hating American. So there will be my opinion mixed in as well as those of my good colleagues. Those of you who know me might recognize those opinions but since I have matured around many of these people, I would not say that what I say is too unique to me at any point in time. So without further ado I will launch into this little compilation of thoughts.

Around four years or so ago, all of us were exposed to some funny new software. Hate, joy, excitement, fear, confusion, anxiety; you name it and someone expressed it around that time. Whatever it was that one of us felt when we first heard Miku’s voice and opened up that program, we all found ourselves in the same place eventually. Not everybody had the same background and nobody had the same motivation or skill for doing what we did. We all had something we wanted to prove and that was the starting Vocaloid community. Now that was far from what it comes to mean now. Back then it really was just a rag tag group of minor composers with something to prove. Those with a hobby, those looking for a career, and all looking for a sense of recognition.

Back then Miku wasn’t really the Miku she was now. Meaning, we had a character but to the extent she’s utilized now was a far reality. Miku evolved like the community and almost without the need for the community. But when things started we all wrote and contributed to get our music out. And it felt good. Writing like that could give a real high because it brought the writer really close to the listener. Sure, hearing a human synthesizer was a hook but it forced most to think about the person behind it. Miku was the proxy but, for once, the writer’s dream of being at eye level could be realized. The performer formula could be taken out and someone was listening to YOUR music. This was the start and charm for many in the beginning community.

Around a good year passed and things really heated up. 2008 was the true year of the Vocaloid community. The pure selling power increased and Miku went from a performer to a true virtual performer. Videos were created more carefully to go along with music. At that time, it was a real honor. Stills or lip synch software was the most that any limited producer could do. The ability to construct something yourself was almost a ticket to the top due to your pure variety of skills. Knowing someone that could help you out was godsend. And at the pinnacle was when someone would create or collaborate with you to create something. Both sides got to use Miku as a proxy to create something that could really shine. The hard work of both a musical and physical artist to create an active simulation, a simulation that normally wouldn’t get heads turned towards you. But both types of producers were turning heads and if you put the work in then people would know your name.

Good fractions of producers would step in during the 2008 year. All of us had good guidance if we looked for it and we stood a bit in the shadows of giants. The gap really wasn’t that large though because if you were willing then anybody could join in on the community. Everybody was family and information was shared between everyone. It still wouldn’t be wrong to say the community had become a bit saturated. There was a good pool of producers at that point and a lot maybe just looking for a short taste of fame. No one had time to judge since it was harmless fun. The competition wasn’t that fierce and when i was merely to get on the Nico rankings then there was no real harm to it.

3D Models, fiercer competition for rankings, certain producers getting deals to produce albums. The bar slowly started going up as the community grew. At this time, many still worked to manage the ever expanding community. Everyone was kept in check that wanted to be a part and participate on some equal footing with everyone even if the bar had been raised a bit. These were all evolutions that the community could control and thus it became a easy effort to make sure things worked out. It was just how the community functioned.

By this logic it made sense that when Project Diva started and Sega stepped heavily into the picture that things could be managed properly. Unfortunately the push of Project Diva slowly took control away. It couldn’t be prevented and there could only be so much discussion with those involved. And this move is where the community split with respect to coping with Sega’s looming presence.

The common belief was Sega created a rather large gap between the rich and the poor. Saying this though it was a money gap but a credit gap. Since fame was hard to speak of, it was considered that those who had joined with Sega were getting high credit as big movers. While it was true that many were rather big movers it didn’t include everyone and it left behind a lot of people. While it’s true not everyone can be famous, those that were once on equal footing had suddenly suffered from the Diva rift. Among younger fans brought in by Sega, the history wasn’t evident and that gap got larger. What could older members say? They were on equal footing? The numbers didn’t say as much. Sure they had written some good music but it obviously wasn’t Project Diva worthy. The newer generation was difficult to communicate with and the community lost quite a bit of fabric that held it.

For the younger composers there was a gap created. Some that joined the DIVA Project were our mentors. They were our best friends but, just the same, those that had felt backstabbed were just as close to us. Opinions and alliances were spread and some of us were trapped right in the middle of things. It was difficult and, even if our relationships with our mentors held up, it didn’t mean that things held between those that didn’t have the same kind of connection.

Nobody tried to figure out who was right and wrong and everybody kept using the software in the meantime. The levels of fame had changed and it only began affecting the output of music only as the popularity and marketing of Miku increased for Sega. It meant money for Sega, money for certain people, but no benefits for the community outside of a larger market. Suddenly a gap that we never wanted to imagine was created: the gap between producers, Miku, and listeners. Miku had indeed evolved into a real diva and before we knew it everybody had lost a bit of credibility to a robot.

So how did some of us feel about a live concert featuring…Miku? There had been events before that were held. Small gatherings really. You could enjoy some music, producers show up to have some fun, and new projects were formulated. It was a good pool of inspiration and ways for the community to bond. What would it be like when you remove that producer element though? Miku becomes a separate artist supported by some guy in the back that everyone can ignore again.

The more real Miku became, the more producers got to fade into the back. It only made producers develop more spite towards Sega. That or for the younger generation, Sega was the objective. Getting a song on the Diva project didn’t mean money but it was a sign that you had made it. Again, there was nothing that could be done. The community simply tried to move forward and those that still wished to continue to write did as much. Those who felt their work on the project was no longer needed dropped out.

So did Sega ever do anything for the community? Did any of that money that Sega was so proud of that came in from Project Diva go back towards the community? No, but it sure did a great payday for Sega. Miku gave them no small profit and no surprise that they repaid…Miku by increasing her market. What did these mean for producers? Again, a bigger market and a little cash at the most. But was it really about the cash? Cash wasn’t the issue, at least not before. It was the community and the relationship between producer and audience. Of course some producers on the Diva Project managed to give back to the community they loved. It was a wonderful gesture but possibly too late to mean anything. Sega had stole the show and it only felt like a wasted effort and a community of the past.

Until Sega gains the sense to give something back, nobody could be sure if Sega will be forgiven by the community passed. Or, if Project Diva could be seen as anything more then a shallow rhythm game and the partnering with Sega as a mistake. Would an actual music company partnering have been better? Who knows.

All that can be left is the request of producers that have given up the art and those that keep working. Not all may have the same ideals of those who formed the community but that’s no reason for the situation to continue changing. Producers simply deserve the respect and recognition that they work for. Big or small, we all are a part of a minor community and one that can never grow without recognizing that this about more then some virtual character. We’d never speak out against concerts and it’s any producer’s dream to have their music heard by a greater audience. But those who crafted each song, each illustration, and worked hard to produce the starting community deserve credit. We all grew together, learned together, and tried to face every situation as best we could. While things cannot be perfect forever, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be fixed to resemble the ideal. And if nobody strives to do something then Sega (and larger companies stepping in) can only continue to remove Miku further from who brought her forward. And that shouldn’t take anybody giving up doing what they love just to prove that these companies cannot go on without producer support.

So for those of you who might be at the concert in the U.S. for the Miku concert or future concerts, think about it. Who did work hard on that song that’s playing. Are you really just there for flashing lights? Have you thought about who propelled things to this point. It wasn’t Sega, or at least, the community would love not to think as much.

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