Monday, 11 February 2013

There is a Season...

Fads and fashions come, and they go. When it comes to the popular music business, the industry knows what sells at any period in time, and what doesn't sell well enough if at all.

It is an industry to which I was very close for some years, sometimes even being what could be classed as within the business.

One fairly constant theme, growing with the passing years and decades, was what could reasonably be termed the 'sniggering schoolboy' aspect of the fiercely-contested chart-topper sector of the market.

With the Swinging Sixties and the ongoing loosening of restrictions on what was permitted and what was not, predictably the ante was upped incrementally at every opportunity, testing the legal limits and stretching them ever further. This has, over time, resulted in the Madonna/Rihanna/Gaga coarseness and vulgarity – and, frankly, ugliness – that we encounter today, especially at live performances.

It was all so predictable, and is a clear-head reminder of what all such moves will end up being incrementally drawn out to, despite what some claim. The recent so-called 'equal marriages' campaign (daft, as they are neither equal nor marriages – but that's another topic entirely) will head the same way, now that the all-important precedent has been established.

In time, though, the weight of public opinion baulks at such things, and the tide starts to turn. When it comes to the popular music business, although this doesn't mean that everyone is foregoing what the top icons of today are turning out and switching to wholesome Carpenters-style material (for example), the general mood is definitely swinging in that general direction.

One can have too much of anything, and eventually it palls. The mainstream stuff of that coarser nature has never appealed to me personally, and now its attraction to many others is definitely falling, and in time will no doubt fail completely.

Currently, the biggest antidote is the Vocaloid phenomenon, which is one of the (several) reasons I have been so keen to showcase them here. This is a strong and powerful part of the next stage in the evolution of this market. For anyone who thinks that this is a fringe or geeky side-show, check out the audience at a live concert. There are plenty of images around, from various such events.

These thousands of people have paid good money to go to a concert of Miku and her friends, with no human performers billed at all (apart from the backing musicians). In case you think this is just 'those strange Japanese', much the same has happened in several other countries including the United States, and the fans are just as dedicated there.

Indeed, it was at SwampCon that I noticed (on videos of the event) the audience even singing along to Miku's Ievan Polkka, no less! These are good signs, because they mean that big audiences are now hugely enthusiastic about clean, genuinely enjoyable songs and stage performances, and it shows.

With songwriters creating tens of thousands of Vocaloid-targeted songs every year (many of which physically can't be performed by anyone else anyway) the trend toward more decent songs is now established. The voices and appearances of the Vocaloids also tend to have a positive and uplifting effect. Imagine yourself writing a song for Miku or Rin or SeeU, for example.

Yes, there are a handful of quite horrific exceptions in the mix (Dark Woods Circus, Bacterial Contamination and about a dozen others, so far), but they form a fraction of a percent of the complete Vocaloid song catalogue.

Moreover, there are so many others around that those few are rarely encountered. Anyone can make a Vocaloid sing or do anything, in theory; but the practice is nearly always to respect the voicebanks and their characters, rather than exploiting them for one's personal gratification in strange and unwarranted directions. The very nature of the facility tends to encourage good practice and discourage the bad, while still facilitating experimentation and stretching the medium.

The Vocaloid-specific aspects are important in themselves, for various technical and musical reasons; but I am convinced that it is the cultural change they are bringing with them that will ultimately be seen as the most significant aspect of this phenomenon, years from now.

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