"In Fact, 2012 Was An Anomaly"; The Truth of Decline Theories From a Producer Long Observing the Vocaloid Scene
It's been 10 years since the release of Hatsune Miku in August 2007. In that time, many Vocaloid producers have written songs taking many approaches, made trends, and moved the scene forward. In recent years, some have whispered with an air of certainty that the Vocaloid boom is in decline, even though one could easily say the scene is entering a new phase, with the release of new-age anthems such as Nayutalien's "Alien Alien" in April 2016, or Balloon's "Charles" in October 2016.
Takeaki Wada (Kurage-P), who wrote the new song "Murderer Monster" for the Hatsune Miku 10th anniversary album Re:Start which released in August, is also one of the stars of 2017's Vocaloid scene. Beginning to post original songs in 2010, he's continued to release them without pause; his song "Chulurila Chilurila Da-Da-Da!" made a big splash in February 2016, 6 years into his Vocaloid career. As of September 2017, the song has over 5,200,000 views on YouTube.
Natalie.mu offered to talk with Wada, who has observed the long-lasting scene from within and continues to work inside it. He told us the state of the Vocaloid scene as he saw it, not holding anything back.
Q. Tell us about how things began, from when you first encountered Vocaloid.
A. If the question is "encountered," I saw an article online saying something called Hatsune Miku had been released. Initially, I thought "Huh, so you can set up vocals. Ah, but it just sounds robotic anyway, so no big deal." But after that, I heard ryo-san (supercell)'s Melt and was like "Huh?! You can take it this far?!" However, I was still in my hometown at the time. I played guitar for a band, but I'd barely made any songs - for every 10 songs our vocalist made, I made one.
Q. Ah, I see.
A. After a while, our band moved to Tokyo, and I became a roadie for studio guitarist Susumu Nishikawa. We went around to a number of places, but one day, the place was the recording for ryo-san's The Story You Don't Know. Though my job that day was just to open the door to the booth where the amp was to make it start howling... (laughs) Anyway, there was Nishikawa-san who I respected as a band guitarist, and ryo-san who I loved as a Vocaloid producer... I wouldn't call them two sides of a coin, but it felt like two of my gods of music had been brought together there.
Q. That's an interesting coincidence.
A. Then right after that, I went to the Summer MikuFes '09 (Hatsune Miku 2nd Anniversary) at Shin-Kiba Studio Coast. Nishikawa-san played guitar on ryo-san's stage, so while it wasn't one of my assistant days, I was there regardless. I think that was the first Hatsune Miku concert to use a DILAD screen, so I was really impressed when I saw it. I mean, I never imagined that a Vocaloid could do a concert.
Q. Now it's to be expected, but at the time, it was novel.
A. I'd just sort of bought Miku on a whim earlier, but MikuFes made me decide to use her in earnest. Also, at around the same time, my band had some troubles that made it fall through. With no band, I had no means to express myself, so I had Miku sing a song that I'd intended to do with my band but ultimately couldn't. That was my first song, Jellyfish (Kurage).
Q. What did you think when you posted your first Vocaloid song?
A. It was a mix of "I'm getting more ears than I thought" and "I wish more people would listen." In terms of views, it was just below middling, just barely unable to reach 10,000. But then again, I considered it a success to even reach 100 on Myspace with my band, so compared to that I was like "Whoa! Amazing!" And yet, remembering ryo-san at MikuFes, I felt strongly about wanting to be heard more and more.
Q. How did the Vocaloid scene look to you, coming from a band?
A. It was super interesting. What's most interesting about the Vocaloid scene is that rather than the vocalist, the composer is the artist. I played guitar in my band, and I had to make sure the key matched the vocals; the volume balance prioritized the vocals as well. It's not like I was that displeased, but it didn't sit right with me how it appeared as if "the vocalist is the most amazing." With Vocaloid, people who otherwise might have been in the background can come forth with their own names, and listeners can take notice of those people and listen to their songs. Even now in 2017, Vocaloid and EDM are pretty much the only music that's like that.
Q. You said that at first, your views were just below middling. But looking back, what do you think was a turning point for you as a Vocaloid producer?
A. The turning point was making the album Monochrome Underground in November 2014. Prior to that, I tended to think "I want to express more of myself" and just made things that I liked. But Monochrome Underground became something I could be really pleased with. I didn't sell that many copies, but I felt satisfied, like I'd made the best thing possible that practically couldn't be surpassed. That said, I also liked Vocaloid too much to quit, so I decided "okay, I'll live out my Vocaloid retirement," and started trying to make songs not for my own tastes, but for other people.
Q. I see.
A. That's when I switched from "electripper (Kurage-P)" to "Takeaki Wada (Kurage-P)." I posted two songs from the album that were relatively "made for someone else" - like fiction I wrote without putting my own intentions in it. After that, I made My Oar, a song that was made completely with the notion of "making it for someone else."
Q. And as a result, My Oar had a big impact. I suppose you had complex feelings about suddenly getting attention after making something different from the music you wanted to make?
A. There were no negative feelings there. After all, this thing I had set out to make for other people had, in fact, been found worthy by other people. I did think "Well, then listen to my other songs too!" (laughs) But I was happy. However, making art only for other people is the same as steadily killing off your desire for self-expression. So following My Oar, as I made "Chulurila Chilurila Da-Da-Da!" and "Hate, Hate, Huge Ego!", I came to realize "I thought I was killing myself off, but maybe this is more my true nature?"
Q. Your true nature?
A. After continued efforts to kill myself off, the parts that remained no matter what were satirical, ironic, society-mocking expressions. That's very different from the emotional stuff I had felt was cool, but I started to feel like maybe that was what I really wanted to say.
Q. You began posting in 2010, and have remained in the Vocaloid scene to this day. How have you perceived the scene during that time?
A. Honestly, the inside perspective has never really changed my impressions much. Certainly, 2012 was exciting, with people debuting to ever-bigger numbers, and all the enthusiastic multimedia efforts, but being inside it didn't mean much. It's a cycle of cool new people coming in and people who want to quit, always.
Q. For instance, people have said that from 2013 to 2014, the number of Vocaloid songs to hit a million views had a sharp drop. Do you not have any particular insider insight on that period either?
A. I really don't know. I listened to songs other people made at the time, of course, but I wasn't minding how many views they'd racked up, and I only started checking the rankings once I got a song into them. By the way, my own songs' views have always leveled off, but they actually started to slowly increase around the end of 2014, so when I saw people going "Vocaloid has declined," I was like "Huh? Really?"
Q. That's right. During that time where people say it declined, BUMP OF CHICKEN released "ray" using Hatsune Miku, Hatsune Miku opened for Lady Gaga's world tour... To those outside the scene, it certainly looked like it was burning strong.
A. That might be. But sure, Jin-kun (Shizen-no-Teki-P) and other popular people stopped posting as much around that time, so I imagine people felt it was getting a bit lonely. But, while this may sound super malicious... if no one's on top, there's opportunity at the bottom.
A. People always say, young actors have nowhere to work because veteran actors never retire. And indeed, as a then-middling producer in the 2012 Vocaloid scene, it looked like "the ones above are putting a lid on top, so there's no chance for new people." Given that, I would say it was the opposite of "decline": there was excitement for what's to come.
Q. We at Natalie.mu did an interview with wowaka-san and DECO*27-san for our Hatsune Miku 10th anniversary special. There, wowaka-san spoke about distress over his style becoming a "template" for hit songs, and how it made him avoidant of the Vocaloid scene. Can you comment on this as someone who was also part of the scene at the time?
A. I read that interview. I've also felt that when one thing gets popular, a lot of things like it will pop up. wowaka-san was one instance, but I feel Jin-kun is the most striking case. Followers of his Kagepro (Kagerou Project) appeared in droves, and seeing that, I honestly felt like "well, that's boring." So to be a contrarian, I tried to make my songs and videos more mature. (laughs) But even so, I've never once felt like I hated the Vocaloid scene.
Q. Speaking of being contrary, I feel that stance of yours is also on display in the Miku 10th anniversary compilation album Re:Start. Many of the participants created songs more or less conscious of the 10th anniversary, whereas you...
A. I didn't pay it any mind at all. (laughs) Simply put, I expected over half of them would make 10th-anniversary-esque songs, so supposing that some would make 10th anniversary songs and some wouldn't, I figured my role would be the latter.
Q. I think I kind of get it. (laughs)
A. Releasing "Chulurila Chilurila Da-Da-Da!" in 2016 was also a form of rebellion. n-buna-kun and Orangestar-kun, who became active in 2014 and 2015, got popular doing the emotional rock that I'd once liked to do, and yet my songs were only modestly appreciated. Seeing that and being thus informed that I'm no prodigy, I thought "if my average self wants to make people happy, I'll have to counteract these prodigies." So I decided to make something different from the current trends, an intense, non-emotional song.
Q. While your song for the compilation wasn't one that focused on the 10th anniversary, how do you personally feel about having arrived at this anniversary year?
A. This is going to sound really rude as someone invited to take part in a commemorative album, but I have no strong feelings about the 10th anniversary. I think I'm just not interested in what's essentially a number ticking over. However, it was MikuFes that got me to start Vocaloid, and it was one of my dreams to do official work for Hatsune Miku, so I was very happy about that.
Q. To take it back a little, since you don't think the Vocaloid scene is declining, what would you say is appealing about the scene as of late?
A. I don't feel like much has really changed since back then. Both then and now, new people arrive and continue to create interesting works. Listening to Hachi-san's Sand Planet, and reading the Natalie.mu interview he had with ryo-san, I honestly got super angry at what they talked about.
Q. Like the lyric likening NicoNico Douga to "an already-obsolete desert."
A. Yes. I was fuming, like... "How can someone who hasn't been in the scene for years suddenly come back and talk like he knows anything?" "Putting myself aside, you're going to say Nayutalien, Balloon, n-buna, Orangestar, the people who've supported this scene in these years, are just "sand"?" Also, since that song was posted, more people have become aware of the talk of Vocaloid's decline that was discussed only moderately in 2014, and I worry that it's planted a cursed seed in many people to think that Vocaloid is "out of date."
Q. I see.
A. But eventually I sorted out my feelings, and concluded "it's not like that song's going to change anything." I said before, the Vocaloid scene hasn't changed much to this day. Vocaloid, as something anyone can try simply by buying the software, has an unwavering acceptance of those who come to it, and has led to the creation of many fantastic songs even when people said it was in decline, so I believe interesting people will still appear and the scene will carry on without issue. For 10 years, Vocaloid has been staunchly rejected by those who dislike it, so I can't imagine some outsiders saying "it's old hat" now will have any effect on the quality of songs. Well, but if its public image worsens, maybe less people will be able to make major debuts.
Q. I suppose so.
A. But even that's simply because the record companies no longer "overfish" like they did in 2012. Personally, I think the situation in 2012 was an anomaly. At that time, there was an unstoppable wave of thought that "truly interesting people will go out into the world," and adults who didn't really understand things were like "Vocaloid seems big right now!" and just picked up Vocaloid producers left and right - that's basically what was happening. The Vocaloid scene is a special place, and if you don't properly understand it, it'll look like some unfathomable thing. So when you lose the public impression of "Vocaloid seems big right now," the people who are just trying to ride the boom leave, while the adults who do understand remain to pick up real talent, which I think is much healthier.
Q. When you put it that way, it's sort of like the band boom in the late 1980s. Hundreds of bands of varying quality debuted, and almost all of them vanished.
A. Maybe. People said "Vocaloid looks exciting," adults who didn't understand it kept pursuing boring projects, and they didn't sell, so they withdrew their hands, that's all. I can't think of that as a decline whatsoever. Saying there was a decline because some overfished, crudely-handled things didn't sell is just much too selfish and shallow.
Q. I believe Hachi-san made Sand Planet with the wish for it to be a shot in the arm that revitalizes the scene he was raised in. He hoped that people would be stimulated by the song and appear on the scene to make great music. What do you think about that?
A. I don't really feel like it'll do that. When I first listened to it, I got all angry like "Dammiiit!", but looking at the response, there are all these people just glad he posted something again. Like I've said, I like to be contrary, so I think it's really interesting for him to take such an aggressive stance with the 10th anniversary Magical Mirai theme song, and I think the music itself is really cool. But the lyrics are written with only recognition of the conditions in 2013, with absolutely nothing about the 4 years since. They reference lines from other Vocaloid songs, but even those are only songs up to about 2013, absolutely nothing recent. As far as I've heard from acquaintances, Hachi-kun does know recent Vocaloid songs fairly well, so I feel like maybe he dared to ignore them. But to purposefully ignore the past four years just to give more weight to the claim of "an obsolete desert" just makes me wonder, "What about the people who've been working so hard in that time?"
A. If he'd sung "an obsolete desert" while also touching upon the recent state of things, I'm sure I would have accepted that. It would just be like "Ah, I could see it like that."
Q. Lastly, what kind of entity is Hatsune Miku to you?
A. My own self. Many Vocaloid producers start singing for themselves later on, but fundamentally, they're "singer-songwriters who don't sing." They configure the voice themselves, so it's effectively their own singing. As such, I think all the Vocaloids I own, including Miku, are part of myself. The illustrations are like my avatars.
Q. Ahh, I see.
A. This might sound a little weird, but having Vocaloids sing, putting Vocaloid characters in videos, and as I mentioned earlier, saying things I didn't realize I wanted to say... Doing that, it feels like I've become a Vocaloid myself. I think boys who draw pretty girls might understand this feeling too. Apparently someone once asked Takami Akai-san of Gainax, who also appeared in Aoi Honoo, "Do you draw girls because you want to be a girl?" and he replied "You might be right." There's a Vocaloid producer named Carlos Hakamada-san (Saize-P) who draws his own illustrations, and when I asked "Since you draw them so much, do you ever feel like you are Hatsune Miku or Otomachi Una?", he also replied "Totally." (laughs)
Q. I thought many Vocaloid producers had the viewpoint of, well, a producer - so I'm a little surprised to hear the expression "singer-songwriters who don't sing."
A. The term "Vocaloid producer" is all wrong. I mean, yes, I'm known as Kurage-P myself, but. (laughs) People who create things being called "Something-P" came from THE IDOLM@STER (a simulation game where you're a producer for idols). The "P" usage likened making songs that Hatsune Miku sings to being an idol producer, but looking at what everyone actually does, I believe they're much closer to singer-songwriters than idol producers.
Q. Well, this may not be the best way to wrap up the interview, but is there anything you'd like to say to readers here?
A. I feel like I said a lot of things to make people hate me today, so I apologize for upsetting you. (laughs) I hope you'll continue to give your support.