The VOCALOID Collection Special Feature #4: kz (livetune) & Jin Discussion: The Online Music Scene Will Surely Keep On Being Interesting
To commemorate The VOCALOID Collection ~Winter 2020~, an event involving various projects related to Vocaloid, Natalie.mu has been posting a series of features putting the spotlight on creators supporting the event. This fourth and final article is a discussion between kz (livetune), who became a driving force in Vocaloid culture after posting Packaged in 2007 at the dawn of Vocaloid, and Jin, who took the world by storm with his Kagerou Project series of songs starting in 2011. More than a decade since the birth of music using Vocaloid, what do these two think as they continue to observe this long-standing video culture from within? Discussing the uniqueness of the internet music scene and changes in how Vocaloid music is accepted, the two spoke about the scene's past, present, and future.
— You've both had long careers, but you're from slightly different generations.
kz: Jin-kun started in 2011, so we're about 3 or 4 years apart?
Jin: Right. Since kz-san was already far above us mortals when I started Vocaloid.
kz: Oh, stop it. (laughs) I actually only started directly talking with Jin-kun last year, so we were late to having any communication.
Jin: I have connections with most people who've been active in Vocaloid for a long time, but for some reason I didn't talk to kz-san for nearly 10 years.
kz: There just weren't many opportunities for contact. Even though we both did theme songs for Nisekoi, they were divided into season 1 and season 2, so we didn't even meet at a launch party or anything. I think it was "Life is tasty!" that got us to meet?
Jin: That's right. kz-san did "Life is tasty!", a song I wrote, for an event. It sure surprised me. I thought kz-san wouldn't listen to the likes of my songs.
kz: No, no, I do. (laughs) Ontology from the other day was super great too.
Jin: Thank you very much. It's just my own bias, but I figured you lived in a brighter place, kz-san.
kz: I mean, if we're talking about brightness, you absolutely seem far more dazzling, Jin-kun. (laughs) Just looking back, I realize I wasn't checking on things too closely back when you were dropping Kagerou Project on everyone. Of course it was popular, and I experienced the songs and thought they were high-quality and cool, but I wasn't following it enough to have a full comprehension of Kagepro. I think I like cheery songs such as Moon-Viewing Recital. Lately, you've had a lot of cheery songs, so more of it has been in my wheelhouse. That's why I've been watching you these past few years and getting intrigued by you as an artist.
Jin: I learned about kz-san from Re:package (kz's debut album released in August 2008). Before I had started Vocaloid.
kz: Ah, so you knew me that long ago.
Jin: Yes. At a time when absolutely no Vocaloid CD had made it to a major label. So ryo-san and kz-san absolutely felt like they were taking charge to put out major albums. At the time, there tended to be more focus on Hatsune Miku than the artist, so more often than not people would release compilations that were like "a Hatsune Miku CD." But ryo-san and kz-san just slammed down albums with the artist's name on it. I pictured them as the big bosses of Vocaloid producers. (laughs)
kz: I do kind of get the impression ryo-san and I are generally feared... (laughs)
Jin: I mean, while I was uploading Kagepro, kz-san was making Tell Your World for a Google commercial, you know? Anyway, at the time, we were amateurs, and ryo-san and kz-san were pros - I felt that deeply. I really felt like even if we were both Vocaloid producers, we were on different stages.
kz: After ryo-san and I made major debuts, the next generation had DECO*27-kun and such. Further below that was Jin-kun. It feels like the generations shift in 2- or 3-year spans, and for all those who go on to major labels, the new generation seems to have a powerful will to do something interesting. Maybe that kind of generational difference is why people started making animations instead of using single illustrations, too. Indeed, an experiment like Jin-kun's Kagepro seems like the kind of project that could only be born in that indie space.
Jin: I think that's right. After ryo-san and kz-san went to the world of pros and made Hatsune Miku a public figure, the population of the Vocaloid community grew, and lots of different music came to be made. As a result, mega-hits like Senbonzakura showed up, and to those of us starting Vocaloid at the time, it felt like everything you could do with the tool called Hatsune Miku was being thoroughly done.
kz: I see.
Jin: That's not actually the case, of course, but a newbie's unavoidably going to think that. When I made up my mind to post songs using Hatsune Miku, but with music videos featuring non-Hatsune Miku characters, I got bashed super hard by Vocaloid fans being like "what's that about?"
kz: I remember that. As far as the intended purpose of the software, I think Jin-kun's usage was entirely proper, but there was a tendency to bash people for it at the time.
Jin: To me, it was like "Was there any rule about that?" I felt like Hatsune Miku was standing out too much as a public icon then. The people leading the pack were so powerful as songwriters, so if you went against that flow, you would always get criticized. So creators like me and kemu just had to survive by basically making a small autonomous state.
kz: I'm not someone who gives a high priority to the Vocaloid characters, so I definitely get how Jin-kun feels. And making Vocaloid music while also being in a band and selling well with your own originals... I think that kind of activity became prominent starting with Jin-kun, kemu-kun, and n-buna-kun's generation. Maybe creators could only discover that way of life, where they could operate unbound by the character of Hatsune Miku, because of people who went against the current back then.
Jin: Hearing you say that makes it feel worth it, but it was pretty rough at the time. It was very common for two threads exclusively for bashing me to be started at the same time. (laughs)
kz: Hahaha. (laughs)
Jin: In my mind, kz-san looks at us from on high as a god, so it's really refreshing to hear what he thought about that period.
kz: Well, I think it's pretty unique. Not long after I started doing work for a major label, I ceased to be a creator who wrote a lot of Vocaloid songs.
Jin: In a way, I think that actually makes you feel more like a pro. You start working not with Vocaloid, but with ClariS, and when you do occasionally write a Vocaloid song, it's this big collab.
kz: You're really focusing in on the best bits. (laughs) If it's going to be like that, then you're the same, Jin-kun, writing Stella for Project Sekai!
Jin: No, that's not true at all! But yes, I haven't written too many Vocaloid songs lately...
kz: How's that for a taste of your own medicine? (laughs)
Jin: Before I became a Vocaloid producer, I thought I was someone who'd listened to a bunch of music. Since high school, I'd listened to bands both Japanese and western, and I even made my own band. But a lot of the songs that rose up in the Vocaloid ranking system were in genres I'd never heard before. It was an interesting phenomenon where music you'd never hear at a concert venue got acclaim on the Japanese internet.
kz: Indeed, I think the scene's backbone contains a lot of out-there songs. I feel like that's still true to this day.
Jin: That aspect was super fun. When you go to concerts, they tend to collect a lot of similar-sounding music.
kz: I definitely get that. Not to shoot down music played at concerts, but as a community establishes, the music and the human relationships become more and more insular. Plus you get relationships like seniors and juniors.
Jin: I'd be told stuff like "That's the metal box, so it's not suited for you guys." I felt constrained by those kinds of strange customs. In comparison, on NicoNico, there was a mood of people with absolutely no supporters simply doing mixed martial arts through music. I wondered why such amazing people's music was only popular online.
kz: You get the sense that there are many incredibly talented creators out there, but they aren't being properly regarded.
Jin: Yet at some point, it became not so uncommon for an artist who started in Vocaloid to work on an anime song. I think it's an amazing era we've arrived at.
kz: Since it's been over a decade, there are increasingly people who can be like "I listened to you as a kid." The generation that had Vocaloid songs around them and listened to them like normal is reaching adult age, and starting to take part in various types of creation, so they can naturally call out even us Vocaloid old-timers. I believe that's now possible because the generations have shifted.
Jin: It's hard to keep up with the reality that online music, once so unaccepted by society, has now become as accepted as it is. I'm like "Wha, I was getting bashed super hard for this earlier, is everybody just okay with it now?" (laughs)
kz: Maybe that's something all creators feel. The creators have the hardest time keeping up. (laughs) And I don't think I could be talking with Jin-kun like this if we hadn't had nearly 10-year careers. When Jin-kun was writing lots for Kagepro, the online community was getting particularly rough, so people would probably have a heated reaction to us having a discussion then, for instance.
Jin: I would absolutely be hearing things like "kz-san approves of THAT?!"
kz: It feels like people have gotten a lot more tolerant of the diversity of artwork. I think it's a really nice atmosphere. Looking more recent, I could say the same about the Vtuber community, but I think there's always a process of a variety of people taking on a variety of challenges, others having conflicting responses that make a mess, and things ultimately settling into a nice atmosphere.
Jin: I was incredibly fascinated with the collab songs you wrote as an artist, kz-san. Tell Your World is a no-brainer, but the songs you write for NanaSis (Tokyo 7th Sisters), the songs you write for Vtubers... I get the impression you're just continuously writing super good songs.
kz: S-Sure. (laughs)
Jin: I feel like you're the opposite of me. I write books too, and being someone who writes manuscripts, it can feel like I'm insistent on making the music I want to express. But I think you're the type who, when approached, writes the best music for the client and himself - in other words, isn't fixated on anything. I think that's a pretty huge difference.
kz: But that's because you have things you want to write, that you want to express. I'm envious, since I don't have that. I'm just a different type of person, and when I make a song, I feel strongly about "delivering something suitable for the occasion."
Jin: I've finally started to understand that lately. Before, I would think too much about things like the meaning of me providing a song, and felt like I wouldn't be able to mesh well with the media I was providing it for. But when I wrote Suntory Nomu (Suntory's first official virtual YouTuber)'s "Life is tasty!" which kz-san worked on, I had it passionately explained to me what Suntory's ideas were, and what role Suntory Nomu had as a Vtuber, and so on. That made me aware of the obvious fact that I may have my own pride, but Suntory also has their pride, and Nomu-san has her pride. Like "Ah, these people have such wonderful ideas." To put it simply, I finally became able to get in tune with other people's thoughts.
kz: I think everyone's experienced this, but when you're doing something as a job, you can put out something you put 100% into, but you also want to put in your own distinct edge, even if it means forcing it in. Even I used to have those kinds of thoughts. But over the years, I think that's melted away, and I've become more tolerant toward all things.
Jin: I did sense a kind of contradiction in my commissioned songs prior to having that realization. To sum it up simply, it was like "Is this really the music I want to write?" But I'm not the sort of person who wants to do music; I just had no choice but to do music. A person who can't do anything besides make music can't be obstinate about "the music I want to make."
kz: And I never had such a contradiction.
Jin: I think that's an amazing thing about you. Until I realized that, I had the sensation that my music was split into two.
kz: Indeed, I think your older commissioned songs had a strong tinge of yourself as an artist. Maybe I started getting interested in your recent songs because your color and the color of the client's content were mixing more nicely.
Jin: I've read talk of "where myself and the work I'm collabing with are linked" in interviews with other artists, but that's only now started to feel real. Like "Oh, is this how it feels!" (laughs) Particularly with regard to Vtubers lately, it seems like really difficult stuff; I feel like I'm looking at the Vocaloid scene as it was 7 or 8 years ago.
kz: I definitely get that. You think "the internet is seriously rough," and have a tendency to commit to more than is necessary.
Jin: It makes me wanna tell them "Good luck! Don't give in!"
kz: A lot of Vocaloid producers might have experienced a change in perspective like you described, Jin-kun. Vocaloid is essentially something you can make alone, so you're not making music together with someone else like with a band, and you can keep creating songs that are 100% you.
Jin: You can make nothing but songs that are like "Everything By: Me." Though that can also be a good aspect.
kz: But when you make music for a job, the thoughts of many people enter into that music. How you feel about it, how you respond - as you repeat the process, it has an effect on your compositions and nature as an artist. I feel Vocaloid producers who are now active in bands or doing commissions surely wouldn't be writing the kinds of songs they are now if they'd just stayed solely on the internet. The songs they wrote then and now may differ, but there's a connection between what was good about then and what's good about now; it's been fun to feel those musical changes over 10 years.
kz: Since I've begun to work on anime and game songs, I've gotten more involved in the anime industry, but it doesn't feel right to say I myself am part of the anime community. Of course we're friendly, but I feel rather alienated when I'm among the anime industry.
Jin: I get that.
kz: That's not just me talking about the mood, either - I think the music I'm making is certainly different too. I've been asked a few times "Won't you make a character song for us?", and I've submitted demos, but they've all been rejected.
Jin: You're saying even kz-san loses competitions sometimes?
kz: All the time. I think most likely, the format of music expected from an anime character song and the format of the music we make simply doesn't match. There's a tendency to think songs derived from Vocaloid are suited for anime, but if you extract just the music, it's actually deviated quite a bit from the general style of anime songs - those are the anime songs we Vocaloid old-timer artists make.
Jin: You know, you might be right. I never used to think my music was suited for anime.
kz: And yet we get to do collabs anyway, which I think is because a proper internet music scene has been established, and we've gotten a sufficient amount of recognition.
Jin: I also believe this movement which got big enough to eat into pre-existing popular music was owed to the internet. I watched it happen as an person online, and feel like I bore witness to an amazing moment. Like I said before, concert venues had a kind of insularity, and the mood wouldn't let you say you liked something new and strange and amazing. But online music had all kinds of prosperity; it was a place where you could do away with all the "dignity" of J-pop, just publishing music and having it be evaluated. That's why I'm always thinking how the Vocaloid scene is akin to rock.
kz: Yeah, definitely.
Jin: Around ten years ago, there were times the rock scene didn't even look like rock anymore. Maybe that was just me feeling that way, and maybe it's not something I can just deny, but at the very least it felt like it wasn't suited for me.
kz: When the mood gets insular, it can start to look awfully lame. Of course, there are merits to being closed off, and not everything needs to be open, but I think you're doomed when the people on the inside start feeling like being closed off is superior. I feel like the Vocaloid scene also briefly had moments like that, but perhaps because new generations keep entering, I believe it's remained a space where everyone can have fun without discrimination.
— Thank you for a discussion so dense, I hardly even need to interject as an interviewer. (laughs) I want to ask you one thing. Do you think that with the barriers to posting videos being lowered, allowing everyone from pros to amateurs to participate, that it's now become difficult to find new people on video sharing sites?
Jin: As long as people keep writing good songs, I think it'll be alright. Periods where they aren't recognized as such aren't a waste. Because when music doesn't reach a wider audience, it gets polished the more it failed to spread. There may be people who think they won't reach anyone no matter what they do and give up, but those who stay to the end are those who have kept polishing their music. Even if there's some big fad, someone with a new sharpness will always show up. Whatever kind of place it is, I don't think that cycle will end, so I want people to keep polishing their music.
kz: Also, I won't deny saying "it's underground, so it's good," but I feel like that ties into what I said earlier about claiming being closed off is superior, and isn't very healthy. As long as you're in a video-based culture, perhaps there will always be some vexation about it being controlled by non-musical aspects like moving pictures, but like Jin-kun says, I believe if you keep writing good songs, they'll definitely find recognition.
— What do you think will happen with video sharing sites like NicoNico Douga and YouTube?
kz: For all we know, NicoNico could be more popular than YouTube in 5 years - I really don't think you can predict what will happen. I've seen it said again and again that Vocaloid will "die out this year," but it's remained passionate after over a decade. In fact, it's a little more exciting than it used to be lately.
Jin: It's exciting right now, yeah.
kz: I hope it won't seem as if the mood or characteristics of the place determine what can be born there. Ultimately, if it's interesting, people will come, and if it's not, people will leave, nothing more. Those who have remained after a decade are those who have kept doing amusing and amazing things, and it leaves an impression when people who you thought "this person will probably stick around" about 10 years ago do in fact stick around.
Jin: I think this decade has proven that fact. People who write super good melodies are still writing good melodies now.
kz: So I'm feeling at ease about what's to come. (laughs) I don't feel much sense of crisis about the community's future, and think I'll get to keep seeing interesting things for sure.
Jin: I think most people in the world could live in society without music. But while that applies to me, a considerable number of people couldn't interact with the world without music, and I think it's a salvation for those people to have a place where, if they steel themselves and put in the effort, it'll be repaid.
kz: It's best not to sulk like "this place got too big, so my songs won't be accepted." If you blame things on others, you're robbing yourself of the opportunity for your efforts to be repaid. And what I'm thinking now is, music is of course important, but so is talking with others. Jin-kun became able to work with the thoughts of his collab clients because of contact with others, and I've had a number of realizations in this very discussion.
Jin: There are a lot of shy people out there, myself included, but I think there are things that come into view through communication.
kz: Maybe the thing I've found to be most important after over a decade is "you should talk to people." (laughs) There may be people who think music means nothing to them, but talking to someone else and getting a fresh perspective is extremely important. At times, the perspectives of others have let me polish an 80-point song into a 100-point song. We started with Vocaloid, but the result we now have after making friends, the scene changing, different people coming in, and interacting with various people is an interesting one, and I have no doubt connections with others make your music and the scene more interesting. So the conclusion for today is, "try your best to talk." (laughs)
Jin: You know, I think all I can do is agree with that wholeheartedly. It's not like I've cured my shyness or anything either, so I'll continue to do my best to talk!