After an initial reaction of “what even is this?” while watching a Youtube video of Hatsune Miku live in concert, a friend and I wondered if a virtual pop star performing as a hologram on stage is actually that different to the real deal. Both experiences include live musicians, a spectacular light show, and competent choreography. Both involve interaction between the singer and the audience, and if your seats are far away enough from the stage, you’d only see your idol on the big screens anyway. Of course there are differences between Crypton Future Media‘s singing synthesiser turned star and the latest graduate from Disney’s High School Musical – but these aren’t necessarily flesh and blood related. What makes Hatsune Miku a unique phenomenon is her tremendous cyber community of creators. All of her songs are written by fans and collaborators using the vocaloid software she was originally designed as. The technology enables music producers to create the vocals for a piece of music by just entering the melody and lyrics, they can also decide on the expression of the voice to match the mood of their song. While the software is purchased, Miku’s image is under a non-commercial creative commons license.
An astounding case study on the power of open source, to date, an estimated over 500,000 songs have been produced using Hatsune Miku software, and over a million fan illustrations created. Not to mention the music videos, remixes and cosplay. Her fans¬†have decided her trajectory: from a character on the side of the box for voice bank software to sold out 3D concerts. As Hatsune Miku tours North America on a mega ten city trip, we check in with jrharbort, head writer of mikufan.com, the #1 ranked Miku fansite in the world, based out of California. jrharbort¬†also works to promote¬†Vocaloid musicians by sharing their music on YouTube through his channel Jrharbort Productions¬†which has over 35 thousand subscribers.
Fans interviewed at concerts have said they like that Hatsune Miku won‚Äôt let them¬†down like a human idol might with scandalous behaviour. What do you understand the¬†appeal of Hatsune Miku to be?
While this is a key point made by many fans, I can’t say I’ve cared for very many musicians in the past, let alone had any idols. So my view of Hatsune Miku’s appeal is different. For me, she is a software, but she’s also more than that. She’s the culmination and centre of a vast community of creators and fans. Many of which might not have been able to break out of being more than just another unknown creator without her.
What makes you a fan?
I like everything about Hatsune Miku. Her character had intrigued me since I first saw her, and the music led to me falling in love with her. I’ve always had an appreciation for electronic style music and technology, so things like vocal synthesis software fascinated me. And mixed with my favourite music styles, it simply makes for an unparalleled experience. Something about her just seems perfect for it. And her character can be freely interpreted as the fans or artists see fit.
Who are her fans? How would you categories or describe them?
Hatsune Miku’s reach has seemingly no limits. Some of the songs on my YouTube channel have been heard in over 160 different countries around the world. Additionally, she doesn’t seem to be restricted to any particular age group. While demographics change depending on the region of the world, she is followed by people of all ages and genders. Everywhere from teenage girls (France has the highest concentration) to middle-aged men (Japan has the highest concentration).
Who are the people writing her songs and bringing her to life? What do you think they¬†gain from contributing to her repertoire?
The people writing her songs are people just like you and me. The great thing about the Vocaloid software is that anyone can use it. They’re not all necessarily professionals, they might be complete amateurs that simply have an idea, and need a proxy to get it out there. They admittedly might not have the vocal talent themselves, nor the ability to hire a professional singer. This can be costly.¬†What do they gain? It might be absolutely nothing, as some lyricists remain anonymous. Some just want to help out. Others may be professional lyricists sharing in the community passion.
Are there reoccurring themes in her music?
There are many reoccurring themes in the music, but the themes still tend to be all over the place. I’ve seen everything from life struggles, friendships, love, loss, digital world to real world connections and more as themes. With over 500,000 songs created, I can assure you that no bases have been left untouched.
“She’s not one character, she is many.”
Is a Hatsune Miku song or her voice recognisable?
I’d say “yes”, as long as you’re familiar with who she is and her various voice bank styles. There’s 7 in total, so it takes some careful observation and listening to be able to recognize her right off the bat. As an example, I was able to recognize all three voice banks in Ginsuke’s song “Negative Thinking”¬†without any official note from the producer himself beforehand. The voices used are the three Hatsune Miku appends: Sweet, Solid and Dark.
Do you have a favourite song?
Way too many to name. Although one of my longest standing favourites would be Aerial Flow’s remix of “Electric Angel”. I enjoy Hatsune Miku with trance music, as the slower pace allows the beauty of her voice to be heard more clearly.
During your time running mikufan.com what surprising or memorable interactions have¬†you had with other fans?
My visit to the Snow Miku festival in Sapporo and communicating with friends and fans there has been a very memorable experience for me.¬†Seeing an entire TOWN celebrating the Snow Festival, with Miku pretty much everywhere was certainly a sight. Hatsune Miku was adopted as one of Sapporo’s mascots for their yearly Snow Festival starting in 2010, and also led to the birth of her derivative character, Snow Miku. Since 2012, each new Snow Miku for the year has been designed by fans and picked by fans. One of the exciting activities I attended during the event was the Beat Blizzard DJ event, where many popular Vocaloid producers performed. I also finally met Tilt-Six, a producer who I’d been friends with since 2012, but hadn’t met in person until that moment. He also signed my copies of his albums. I was very happy, as you can imagine. I also met many various friends and producers, whom I’d only communicated with before via text.
“One of the things many fans dream about is Hatsune Miku being real.”
In your opinion what do you find fuels fandom?
The openness of Miku’s character and her software is definitely one of the biggest sources of fan fuel. Without it, many artists wouldn’t have been able to express themselves in the ways they have. One creation creates a chain reaction of more fan creations, which branches off to more new ideas and creations. There is also just so much content out there of various kinds, there’s bound to be something out there about Hatsune Miku that people will find they like. One of my favorite phrases has been, “There is a Miku for everyone”. She’s not one character, she is many.
Have you been to a Hatsune Miku concert?
To date, I’ve attended three live concert events, and one rebroadcast event: Mikunopolis in Los Angeles from 2011, Magical Mirai 2013 rebroadcast, and both concerts in Los Angeles during the 2014 Miku Expo event.
It can be difficult to describe a concert event, since I hadn’t (and still haven’t) attended concerts other than those with Hatsune Miku. So I don’t have something I can compare it to. The experience is one that felt very electric, in a positive realistic sense. One of the things many fans dream about is Hatsune Miku being real. We know this isn’t possible, but the sensation of seeing her there, right in front of you, as if she IS there… It feels real enough, and it’s very exciting. It’s hard to think that such a character and completely synthesized vocals can make you feel so much emotion, but to us she can be very real and very human in this moment. The music selection, outfit changes between (and sometimes during!) songs, and the crowd singing and waving along with her… It all feels so amazing in person. It’s something one must experience to truly understand.
Technically Hatsune Miku could be animated to do just about anything that would be¬†physically impossible but for the most part her performances are in the realm of what a¬†human performer could realistically do. Why do you think this is important for the Hatsune Miku¬†experience?
This is important because the “realism” is what helps make her human to us. And thus, it allows us to form connections with her, the same as we can with any other human being. It simply wouldn’t feel very real to us if she didn’t behave in a realistic way.
How do you see this evolving in the future with the mass adoption of VR and more¬†immersive experiences?
I see talks of virtual reality interactions, as well as virtual reality concert experiences. All of these are viable futures for Hatsune Miku, as least as an option. I don’t see it becoming the dominant marketing direction, just another potential product. Many fans and even game programmers are already experimenting with these ideas.
How does she exist outside of the music world?
Creation with Hatsune Miku isn’t restricted only to music. Many people create video stories, illustrations, cosplays, various goods etc. The music is of course the integral part of what makes Hatsune Miku who she is, but that’s not all there is to her.
How does a side passion like running mikufan.com enrich your life?
For me, running MikuFan.com has allowed me to connect with various fans and creators around the world in a way that I would not have been able to do otherwise. I’ve been able to watch Hatsune Miku and her community grow and change in both predictable and unpredictable ways, and I have been able to help these creators and fans stay up to date and informed with what’s going on in her world. And for some, Hatsune Miku is their world. Google’s Chrome browser commercial featuring Hatsune Miku is a 1 minute video that explains this in one of the most beautiful ways possible: