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Steve Titford

Writer  Musician  Producer  Presenter  Filmmaker

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Virtual Singers (Vocaloids) - Usable?

Yamaha’s Vocaloid is a virtual singer software package. I don’t really need it. I’m lucky enough to have singers I can bring in for recordings if I can’t perform vocals myself.

Despite this, I do have a not-so-secret love for synthesised vocals in small doses - mainly vintage records like Herbie Hancock’s “I Thought It Was You”.

I recently bought Vocaloid whilst going through another Kraftwerk and Daft Punk phase (I get them from time to time).

In short, Vocaloid is a very advanced vocal synthesiser, seemingly capable of producing lifelike female and male vocals without actually having to record anyone in the real world.

There is a whole culture based around this software, mainly in Japan, where various “Vocaloids” have a huge fan base and even have their own concerts, appearing on video screens in front of audiences - very Blade Runner!

I thought it might be good for demoing female or kids’ vocals initially before bringing real singers in for the actual job. Does Vocaloid work for this purpose? In my experience - no.

Is it a waste of money? Maybe not. While my publisher was very underwhelmed by a ‘robot’ singing a children’s song, Vocaloid isn’t all bad news. There is a definite “accent” present in these singers that is a little unsettling or quite cute, depending on your point of view. “Amy” is the English language factory female singer. If you remember the controversial Russian girl duo, Tatu, “Amy” might remind you of them.

My conclusion after about 12 hours of scattered use:

  • Possibly good for harmonies, although I prefer to record them for real. If recording harmonies for real isn’t an option, I might use Logic’s Flex Pitch facility on duplicates of the lead vocal track to fake the other parts. I was also a regular user of Melodyne prior to this.

  • Not worth wasting the hours trying to get convincing results, although the Vocaloid engine is very powerful.

  • The software itself is a bit uninspiring. Tweaking feels more like more a chore than a creative process.

  • With enough patience, you could create some very contemporary sounding recordings. Play a pop record from the past couple of years and all those glitchy vocal chops suddenly seem very achievable with Vocaloid.

  • For faking the soulful subtleties of a decent real-life singer under experienced directorship, forget it!

  • We’re still not at the stage where we can type the words, play the notes and expect the computer to come up with a touching performance. Professional vocalists, breathe a huge sigh of relief....for now, at least!

Around the same time, I also bought “Chipspeech” from Plogue. This is an unashamedly mechanical sounding collection of classic “robot” singers. It’s far more fun to play around with than Vocaloid.

Think there’s something better out there? Is there a more efficient way of making demo vocals? Do you think Vocaloid sounds too much like a robot? Let me know in the comments below!


My first partial attempt at a Vocaloid song (made back in February and featured in the attached YouTube video).

Ask Audio article about Vocaloid.

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