Japanese virtual singer gains popularity in western countries


Thousands and thousands of green glow sticks are waving, the crowd is cheering. Then a blue light gleams in the darkness when a sound of spaceship whooshes up. This reveals the opening of Hatsune Miku live concert in Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles, in October 11, 2014.

On stage, Miku is around 20 feet tall and looks like a young girl with long turquoise bigtails, dressed up in a black skirt and gray thigh-high tights. She is 16 years old according to the data sheet released by Crypton Future Media, Sapporo Japan, while the company launched this program.

The phenomenon may look the same to any concerts you have been to, except for the singer is not real. Hatsune Miku is a virtual character voiced by a singing synthesizer application. But she can move and dance like a real pop star on stage by using projected holograms.

Crypton developed this application using Yamaha’s Vocaloid software. It released the first version called Hatsune Miku Vocaloid2, in September 2007.

This application was initially aimed at professional composers. Soon after Crypton released a preview of Miku’s song, the product reservations rapidly increased. Amateur musicians and otaku showed their enormous enthusiasm of Miku and her music. During the first three months, Crypton sold out 20,000 in total and reached the No. 1 in Amazon Japan sales ranking.

In the music software industry in Japan in 2007, when the average annual sales were 200 to 300, Miku’s sales number seemed to require a miracle. If without creative composers, however, Vocaloid is merely a software of no use, and Miku is an animated cartoon with no soul. As Crypton gave Miku her name, appearance and voice, composers, such as Ryo, Doriko, and OSTER Project, gave her music and brought her crazy fans.



Supercell, a music production group, released its first album “Supercell” in 2009. This CD contains tracks that were all produced by Ryo. On the first day of its release, it was reported to have sold about 20,000 copies, and became the No. 2 on Oricon’s weekly album sales.

Now, having gained a large market share in Asia, Hatsune Miku starts her westernization.

The first time when Miku performed in Los Angeles was in 2011. At that time, her shows have completely sold out. June 2014, Miku even performed at the opening of Lady Gaga’s artRAVE in San Diego. That’s the first time Miku tried a Western style song and sang in front of Lady Gaga’s fans. Surprisingly, the fans ended up loving it.

“When I first came to Anime Expo, I started doing research on the U.S. market. I saw the merchandise being sold, much of it being pirated goods,”Kanae Muraki, the director of Crypton’s global marketing team, spoke to Miku fans in Anime Expo 2014. “There was also a lack of ‘cute’ goods, something many fans in the West seemed to like.”

Muraki also said that even thought Crypton had gained a huge success from Hatsune Miku, its CEO never thought of opening a branch in Tokyo, Los Angeles or San Diego. While maintains most of its business in Japan, Crypton also plans to find business partners overseas to create merchandise, campaigns, as well as promotion of the its products.

The concert is one way of achieving the goal. Muraki said that “these concerts cost a lot of money,” even selling out all the tickets can’t cover the cost of hosting it. But Miku’s world tour never stops. Crypton uses these huge events to promote its business and license the rights to business partners to use its characters for their products or promotions.

At the same time, to reach out into a larger audience, the Vocaloid programming team is now developing “Project If” which teaches Miku different languages, such Chinese, Spanish or French.

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