In defense of Vocaloids: What is artificial?

On Friday, December 2, 2011 4 comments

“Why do you listen to artificial singers? Why not just listen to real singers?” I get asked this question every time I explain to people exactly what my bizarre, hipster, fruit-for-loops music is. I listen to Vocaloids. Vocaloids are computer programs that sing (for more info, check this out). People are usually confused about why I would listen to a song sung by a computer program instead of a human. I’ve been told that artificial music can never be as good as “real” music. There’s just one problem with this analysis.

Most pop songs are every bit as artificial as Vocaloids. Time Magazine wrote an excellent article (found here) on how the industry isn’t ashamed to use auto-tune to correct sour notes. Practically every commercially released song uses auto-tune to enhance the vocals. However, even disregarding the debate about lazy singers correcting their voices, music recordings are still artificial. All of them. Your CDs and mp3s, the music you hear over the radio, everything except live performances rely on sampling and compression. 

T-pain isn't afraid to flaunt his auto-tuned vocals. In fact, he uses them to create a signature sound.

“Sampling” is the process of translating notes and sounds into code that a computer can read. “Compression” is when your computer gets rid of unnecessary info by taking a string of tiny pieces of data that are very similar and replacing them with a bigger chunk of data. That way, there are less individual pieces for the computer to remember, so the file takes up less space. What this means is that mp3s are not a “true” reflection of a song, because the computer has replaced some tiny, imperceptible fluctuations in order to make the file smaller. You can read more by clicking here.

This is a image that has been (purposely) compressed beyond recognition. The computer took large chunks of grey that were almost-but-not-quite the same shade, and replaced it with one shade. The same thing can be done with music.

What this means is that, with the exception of live performances, all music is artificial. Actually, the definition of artificial is something “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally," so even live music could be considered synthetic. That means judging music by whether it is artificial or not is an ignorant stance to take.

Of course, there are other reasons why people like or dislike Vocaloids. I’ll tackle those questions in future posts. For now, get out there and tell your grandma to stop hatin’ on all this new-age music.

What do you think? What is your definition of artificial music, and is artificial music inferior to natural performances? Let me know!
Part 2: 


  1. What I like about Vocaloid is that, somewhat like auto-tune, it lets people express themselves musically even if they can't sing. You do still need some musical talent, of course, but with Vocaloid you could write a song out of your range, or more technically advanced than you could perform.
    I also like the community beyond the music--the remixes, fan versions, music videos, and artwork. Vocaloid always feels more fan-friendly. There's just something fun to seeing lyrical storylines develop, or seeing videos that interpret lyrics in different ways.

  2. I totally agree with Anonymous (?) ...
    "more technically advanced than you could perform"
    "community beyond the music--the remixes, fan versions, music videos, and artwork"
    "lyrical storylines develop[ment]"

    he/she pretty much summed up why Vocaloid has die-hard cans and will still do in the future.

    Vocaloid is what I call it "computer tools to create music beyond human ability to freely express art with complete personalities"

    i know it's an awkward long sentence, but it does the job. i especially find it hard to explain "what the heck vocaloid is" to the non anime fans, they simply dont understand, or if u will, dont accept the art of imaginary world.

    I have written an entire article introducing the Vocaloid culture, if you will check it out

  3. hey actually you know what, I think you might be interested in joining our website?? >_< I'd really love to thoughtful writers like you to write about vocaloid :D
    contact me if you are interested

  4. argh... sorry for my loads of typos, it should be "fans' not "cans"
    and it's "love to have thoughtful" not "love to thoughtful"...