Pinocchio-P & Harumaki Gohan & Shannon: The Ups and Downs of Vocaloid Culture, From Three Generations of Producers
Vocaloid history cannot be told without mentioning NicoNico Douga.
After Hatsune Miku was released, music creators known as Vocaloid-Ps (producers) quickly began writing songs. They needed a place to post their songs so they could be heard, and that place was NicoNico Douga.
The Vocaloid songs they posted went on to cross genre and get fanworks - being sung, danced, performed - and that immense creative energy resulted in a great number of commercial artists and major debuts. Even after this, Vocaloid culture has only continued to produce numerous hits and mature.
Now, in December 2020, to bring about renewed enthusiasm, a new event deeming itself a festival of Vocaloid, The VOCALOID Collection, will be held from the 11th (Friday) to the 13th (Sunday).
Popular Vocaloid producers are involved in the project in various ways, such as doing live performances or providing mixing data for their songs. Here, we picked three Vocaloid producers from three different generations to have a round-table discussion.
Pinocchio-P-san: Posted music using Vocaloid to video sharing sites starting 2009. He has continued to actively release original songs ever since, and besides offering compositions for other artists, he's also actively pursued opportunities for live shows.
Harumaki Gohan-san: Started activity in 2014. Handles all creation, including lyrics, composition, arrangement, illustration, art, and animation alone, producing works with a unique style that are heartrending and emotional.
Shannon: Started posting Vocaloid works in 2017. A new-generation Vocaloid producer who does all lyrics, composition, arrangement, illustration, and animation themselves. Member of Studio Gohan, an animation team led by Harumaki Gohan.
Pinocchio-P-san who first posted in 2009, Harumaki Gohan-san who first posted in 2014, and Shannon-san who first posted in 2017. We had them talk openly about their respective reasons for starting, the good and bad aspects of NicoNico, and other such things involving the Vocaloid scene.
— When each of you posted your first songs, what mood did the Vocaloid scene have?
Pinocchio-P: Around 2009, it felt like everyone was playing with this thing called Vocaloid. I was basically thinking of it like "it'd be nice if my song got to be at the top of the NicoNico rankings." Not like I would get anything from that - it was just a playground for all of us, where that was more or less the game we were playing.
I thought "I'll make myself stand out with my first song," so I made a song called "Hanauta" [readable as either "humming" or "nose song"] with an image of Hatsune Miku's nose extending super long. Unfortunately, the video's views didn't "extend" nearly as much. (laughs) But I was really glad for the comments I got at the time. In a way that felt like going "I'll help this grow," people I didn't know complimented me over the internet for the first time. That made me very happy.
Harumaki Gohan: The time when I started might be when the Vocaloid community was at its most calm. Vocaloid was known to an extent, but that said, there weren't many new goings-on either. I think it was right when things were taking a bit of a pause.
Pinocchio-P: I remember thinking "huh, the mood's kinda changed" around 2014 too.
Harumaki Gohan: But also, 2014 was the time when people who listened to Vocaloid music in the prime of their youth in middle and high school were starting to acquire musical skill of their own. Once you got to college age or so, everyone more or less becomes able to make music.
Pinocchio-P & Shannon: Right, sure. (laughing)
Harumaki Gohan: I didn't get much attention from my first upload. I only started getting a lot of people watching in 2016, so it feels a lot like that's when I genuinely started doing music. It was around the time n-buna-san, Orangestar-san, and Nayutalien-san were getting popular. There was a mood of "Huh, is it just me, or is a new era of Vocaloid coming?"
— Are there producers you've listened to before you started posting your own songs?
Harumaki Gohan: There are tons. For instance, I listened to wowaka-san, DECO*27-san, Hachi (Kenshi Yonezu)-san, sasakure.UK-san, and Nanou-san. I could go on naming them forever, but in short, I listened to songs by lots of Vocaloid producers.
Pinocchio-P: Agoaniki-san's Double Lariat left a deep impression on me. I had pinned Hatsune Miku as singing idol-like songs, but when I heard unrefined lyrics over crude rock, I thought "I've discovered someone who's doing the sort of thing I like!" That occasion got me interested in Vocaloid.
Shannon: My first upload as Shannon was around the end of 2017, and the community then was a sort of "post-Sand Planet" world. Though actually, "Vocaloid 10th anniversaries" were a whole trend at the time. I remember the rankings back then containing more 2014~16 songs than new songs, though around 2018, new songs steadily started to rise up.
Personally, my impetus for creating Vocaloid music was in fact Hachi-san's Sand Planet. Hearing the lyric "If something comes to mind, then walk, so you don't leave behind any regrets," I thought "Ah! If I keep on like this, I'll probably regret it!", and pulled out Gumi*, who I'd bought but left unused.
Pinocchio-P & Harumaki Gohan: Whoa! Now that's influential!
* Gumi: The character for the Vocaloid software "Megpoid" developed by Internet Co. It was created based on the voice of voice actress/singer Megumi Nakajima-san. Gumi is technically the character name, but here refers to the software.
Harumaki Gohan: Since Sand Planet, it feels like the Vocaloid scene's started to mobilize again.
Shannon: Sure enough, I think that song got everyone to return, or got more people thinking about making Vocaloid. I first posted a video to NicoNico in 2013. I made lots of instrumental Touhou arrangements back then, and left Gumi sleeping. Sand Planet pushed me to start creating vocal songs.
Harumaki Gohan: I also let mine sleep for about 2 years. I started digital music in high school, and had Kasane Teto (an UTAU) and Hatsune Miku during my time at school, but I only ended up appearing onto NicoNico during spring break after graduating high school. Actually, I'd posted to NicoNico with a different name before that, and only ever got around 3 Mylists*.
* Mylist: A function where users can register videos they like as favorites.
— Harumaki Gohan-san, what was it that convinced you to use the Vocaloid you'd been neglecting?
Harumaki Gohan: It was because I made a song that gave me the hope of "if I put Hatsune Miku's vocals on this song, I might get a results unlike anything I've gotten before."
I was making nothing but instrumentals, but when I made this song called WhiteNoise, I thought I definitely wanted to put vocals on it and properly post it. A vocal song felt better for getting people to listen than an instrumental, and that's when I used Miku for the first time.
Pinocchio-P: I started at "I want to do something in public," so to tell the truth, I would've been fine posting anything at all to NicoNico. At first, I wasn't thinking of Vocaloid, but being a Let's Player.
Harumaki Gohan & Shannon: Whaaaaa?!?!
Pinocchio-P: I recorded a game video once, but listening back to it, it was so awful I sealed it away. It got really kind of awkward with me trying too hard to say something funny. (laughs) A while after that, I learned how to make music, and so I chose Vocaloid.
— All of you make not only music but videos as well, yet you do collaborate with other creators at times. What do you find appealing about creating with others?
Pinocchio-P: I suppose it's that you can produce things that you personally just don't have. If it's only me, I can only produce the things I know. Having a new discovery like "this idea sounds good" and developing it from there is the big benefit of doing things with someone else.
For instance, when it's making a video, I sometimes draw the art and leave the video part to someone else. Sometimes I also ask others to do the art. I convey the concept of the song to them, but I also ask their impressions after hearing it, and those often clash with what I'm thinking. Shannon-san, you work with Harumaki Gohan-san as an assistant, right?
Shannon: Right. I'm Harumaki Gohan-san's assistant in Studio Gohan, and I draw inbetweens, the pictures that connect one cut (animation frame) to another cut. The purpose of this is to make movements more smooth, but if you're doing it all alone, it takes a physical and mental toll. It's like "I've already done this much work, can't I be at the goal already?"
But for us assistants, those inbetweens are our entire duty, so we can give 100% of our energy to an area that would otherwise tend to get sloppy, making the final result better. I feel that's what it means to have assistants.
Harumaki Gohan: Besides Shannon-san, there's also Komugiko2000-san, ◯gaki-san, and yamada-san. But actually, my creations have only gotten more intense since I brought on assistants. Though of course, that's because I didn't bring them in to make life easier for me, but rather so I could work for more hours myself. So ultimately, the workload I'm doing has increased over time. However, working together, we can produce a work with a quality that would take me 3 to 4 months on my own in just a month and a half.
From one every 3 months to one every month and a half - that definitely changes the number of works you can create before you die. Being able to create things that wouldn't have otherwise been created is a benefit I can't achieve on my own, which is why I work with others. On the other hand, if someone else has, as Pino-san described, "a good idea I didn't have," I'm happy, but also find it super vexing.
Pinocchio-P: No doubt the world you want to create already exists in your head. So you're just having everyone else help make it reality. This goes for both you and Shannon, but your videos always have a climax in their stories. It's good to get a glance of that motivation, to think "Ah, maybe I wanted to make this."
— Hachi-san tops the list, but it's become less rare for people to expand from the Vocaloid scene to the music industry at large, or change styles to become singer-songwriters.
Pinocchio-P: Regarding Hachi-san, he's had tons of charisma ever since his Vocaloid days. Probably everyone was watching not because it was Vocaloid, but because it was Hachi. I get the impression of that charisma spilling out of the cup of Vocaloid and becoming Kenshi Yonezu.
If the person themselves singing can make something that's good, I believe that's for the best. Of course, I say that even as someone who started out expressing himself through Vocaloid. Meanwhile, I think I'm suited for Vocaloid, so I continue as a Vocaloid producer. Though I have also sung for myself at times.
Harumaki Gohan: I don't think very much about wanting to stand out at concerts or becoming a cool artist. I just want to release works I can think "I like this" about, in the form I like most.
Ultimately, if people who watch my works like my worlds, I'm satisfied, so I think it's fine for there to be different paths of expression to achieve that goal. I like the music of people who have gone to the major scene as well - I suppose I'd say it's just important for people to do what they want at that moment. I'm not saying it to be pessimistic at all, but in fact, I think the worst thing you can do is to concern yourself with the mood of the community and not let yourself do the things you want to do.
— Pinocchio-P-san and Harumaki Gohan-san, you've done concerts of your own. Have you had any troubles standing on stage as Vocaloid producers and performing songs?
Pinocchio-P: I started doing concerts around 2014. I got thinking more and more "What does it even mean to do a concert with Vocaloid?", and I formulated a kind of thesis. For instance, when BUMP OF CHICKEN or Namie Amuro-san, people from outside the scene, collaborate with a Vocaloid, they do it in a way that's strictly "a human and a Vocaloid."
And yet, people in the Vocaloid field weren't doing that. I started thinking "in that case, I'll experiment," and took an approach of putting my voice in Vocaloid songs at concerts, doing a duet with the Vocaloid. That's what I now think of as the fusion of Vocaloids and people.
Harumaki Gohan: There probably aren't many people out there demonstrating a clear answer to that question.
By trying to do concerts, I realized "what I want to do isn't to stand in front of everyone and be showered in attention, but to have people like the worlds of the things I make." Even the songs are only one part of what makes up my worlds, and if I had to say, so are the vocals.
Pinocchio-P: This year, "Project Sekai: Colorful Stage! feat. Hatsune Miku" was released, making the relationship between Vocaloids and humans even more interesting. Though at first there was a feeling of "Huh? There's people singing?"
Harumaki Gohan: Once they actually started, everyone enjoyed it, myself included.
Pinocchio-P: Things sung by humans are always going to have a wider range. I think some new possibilities can be born from Project Sekai. It's a good game that defines a relationship that can now exist between Vocaloids and humans. I'd also like to continue doing that kind of thing through concerts.
— Shannon-san, are you considering doing concerts?
Shannon: I have no plans, but as far as choices I can make as a producer, what I am interested in is how lately, there's been a sudden increase in people making both animations and songs. That used to be something that only happened if you put in a lot of effort, but it's become rather popularized to do both.
Harumaki Gohan: From a length perspective, a music video is the most realistic format for releasing an animated work made by a single person or a small group. But as a result of there being more animated music videos, just having an animated video won't surprise anyone anymore. When really, making animations is maddening work...
Shannon: Though I will say the work cost has gone down. We have iPads now, and CLIP STUDIO's gotten easier to use. Though they're not a Vocaloid producer, Komugiko2000-san can make a music video solo just using an iPad.
When music has a real person's voice, doesn't it unavoidably rely on the artist, reminding you of the "human" behind it? My objective is to create a universe with my works, so I look forward to the appearance of Vocaloid producers who won't be kept within the bounds of music.
Harumaki Gohan: In the past, cross-media productions have gone like "we'll ask this manga artist to do the manga, we'll ask this studio to do the anime," relying on the skills of various external people. But the way tools have advanced now, I wonder if you can realize that with yourself at the center, working within a range you can reach with your own hands. That's the kind of cross-media work I want to do in the near future.
As tools evolve, the works will change too, so I think things that have fallen into a format will steadily break apart. Even music might combine with other artforms and evolve into an even greater ball of chaos. I hope that's a choice Vocaloid producers to come will have.
— I've asked about your beginnings and current trends, but what do you all think are the good aspects of NicoNico Douga?
Pinocchio-P: I think number one is the existence of the rankings. When I started, it really did have a fun "battlefield" feeling. There were all kinds of turnabouts like "A new person's arrived!" "That one's been defeated!" However, the addition of video advertising let you indirectly control the rankings, so it did lose some of its game-like elements.
Harumaki Gohan: I felt it was good when a new song was pushed to the top and had a chance to leave an impression. But to the "players" involved, the rankings are a holy place, sort of like medals at the Olympics. I do think it's questionable for sponsored players to take the gold medal like that. But as far as the practical issue, I don't have a conclusive answer to whether it's good or bad. I'm sure my songs have also risen thanks to advertising, and people learned of them as a result.
Shannon: Also, I have to admit it's good how comments scroll within the video. YouTube comments are something you write after watching, but NicoNico's have a real-time aspect.
Pinocchio-P: The comments make it easier to perceive there being people on the other side of the screen. It's apparent at a glance which points in the song are most exciting to people, and even with negative comments, the clarity of what part made them feel that way makes it easier to take it constructively and improve.
Harumaki Gohan: I think NicoNico is super good as a place to find new people. I really like the aura about things when new people appearing on NicoNico start to get attention. I can't really sense that kind of aura from YouTube.
I'm saying this all the time, but if YouTube is "a place for everyone to gather their attention around their favorite Vocaloid producers," NicoNico should specialize as "the place you first discover people who are in the preceding stage."
Shannon: That went for me as well - before the community started talking about me, there was a pattern of me being found by singers who were good at digging up new music.
Pinocchio-P: True, lately it might be singers moreso than Vocaloid producers who dig for new talent.
Shannon: Indeed, Yuu Miyashita-san who sang my song said "I'm looking for new people on NicoNico." I actually saw him in the act of digging around for new music. He brought up Vocaloid songs posted that day, listened to them in order from the top, and Mylisted any songs he thought were good.
Pinocchio-P: Whoa, how modern!
— Lastly, I'd like you to give a message to new or future Vocaloid producers thinking of participating in The VOCALOID Collection.
Pinocchio-P: I'm anticipating some wild newcomer to show up in the Rookie Ranking* and crush everyone, or something along those lines. (laughs) I hope for everyone to be aware of each other and diligently better themselves to have a good battle.
Harumaki Gohan: Eligibility is based on debuting as a Vocaloid producer within the last 2 years, so wouldn't it be something if someone reincarnated (remade their account) to post to it?
Pinocchio-P: If they discarded all their past achievements to start again from zero, now that could be pretty interesting!
Harumaki Gohan: Huh? So then is Shannon-san also eligible?
Shannon: I'm already on my third year, so.
Harumaki Gohan: Then it's possible we'll really get to know some producers none of us three know about. I'll be glad if people can discover new Vocaloid producers they never knew about before thanks to this event. Rather than the producers who are already widely known, I'm looking forward to new people - who for instance make use of the stem data those kinds of producers have distributed - getting the spotlight.
Shannon: This is another good thing about NicoNico: viewers will look at the rankings from top to bottom. So I want people to know that even if you aren't at the top, there are people who will see you. In fact, being seen by people like that might be the biggest reason to take part.
* Rookie Ranking: A special ranking for The VOCALOID Collection. People who debuted as Vocaloid producers within the last two years are eligible. The effect of video advertising mentioned in this interview does not apply to it.