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Vocaloid is a singing synthesizer application, with its signal processing part developed through a joint research project between the Pompeu Fabra University in Spain and the Yamaha Corporation, who backed the development financially—and later developed the software into the commercial product "Vocaloid". The software enables users to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody. It uses synthesizing technology with specially recorded vocals of voice actors or singers. To create a song, the user must input the melody and lyrics. A piano roll type interface is used to input the melody and the lyrics can be entered on each note. The software can change the stress of the pronunciations, add effects such as vibrato, or change the dynamics and tone of the voice. Each Vocaloid is sold as "a singer in a box" designed to act as a replacement for an actual singer. The software is available in English and Japanese, although a Chinese version was produced for Sonika.
The software is intended for professional musicians as well as light computer music users and has so far sold on the idea that the only limits are the users' own skills. Japanese musical group Supercell (Sony Music Entertainment Japan) have featured Vocaloid as vocals in their songs, and record labels in Japan also have released compilation albums featuring Vocaloids.
The Yamaha Corporation announced the Vocaloid technology for the first time at the German fair Musikmesse on March 5–9, 2003. The first Vocaloids, Leon and Lola, were released by the studio Zero-G on March 3, 2004, both of which were sold as a "Virtual Soul Vocalist". Leon and Lola made their first appearance at the NAMM Show on January 15, 2004. Leon and Lola were also demonstrated at the Zero-G Limited booth during Wired Nextfest and won the 2005 Electronic Musician Editor's Choice Award. Zero-G later released Miriam, with her voice provided by Miriam Stockley, in July 2004. Later that year, Crypton Future Media also released their first Vocaloid Meiko. Kaito was the only one sold using the Vocaloid 1.1 engine; the previous Vocaloids before him were sold as Vocaloid 1.0, which he was also supplied with. However, he needed the additional Vocaloid 1.1.2 patch to work on the Vocaloid 1.0 engine. A patch was later released to update all Vocaloid engines to Vocaloid 1.1.2, adding new features to the software, although there were differences between the output results of the engine. Even though Kaito and Meiko were Japanese and sung using Japanese phonetics, the main interface was in written using English for both English and Japanese Vocaloids.
Due to the success of placing a character on the box art of Meiko, the concept was carried over to her successor Kaito and later Vocaloids to encourage creativity, however neither Vocaloid's box art originally had the intention to represent that Vocaloid. Though Leon, Lola, Miriam and Meiko experienced good sales, Kaito was the only one who initially failed commercially, causing less demand for male voices for a while after Kaito's initial release. However, sales eventually picked up and Kaito later won the Nico Nico Douga second best seller award of 2008. After interest in Vocaloids grew, Zero-G began reselling their Vocaloid products again on their website, and were considering to update their box art to match current Vocaloid trends better. As well as an update for Leon and Lola's box art, Meiko and Kaito are also reported to be in discussion for an update. Several updated vocal expressions have already been recorded for Kaito.
The first release based on the Vocaloid 2 engine came from PowerFX with Sweet Ann on June 29, 2007 whose boxart was based on a Frankenstein's monster. This was closely followed by Crypton two months later with the first of their "Character Vocal Series", Hatsune Miku, on August 31, 2007. Zero-G's first Vocaloid, Prima, came out on January 14, 2008 with voice of a Soprano opera singer. Internet Co., Ltd. also joined the Vocaloid development with their first Vocaloid Gackpoid on July 31, 2008, whose voice was provided by Japanese international singer Gackt. Gackpoid includes a new program, OPUS Express, for mixing vocal parts with accompaniment or phoneme data. AH Software later released their first Vocaloids on December 4, 2009 bringing the total of studios producing Vocaloids to five. As of the introduction of Bplats and Sony Music Entertainment Japan in late 2010, there are seven studios involved with the production and distribution of Vocaloids with two involved solely in English, four solely in Japanese and one in both languages for which the software is developed.
Crypton Future Media released the first dual Vocaloid Kagamine Len and Kagamine Rin, a Japanese male and female. On July 18, 2008, Crypton Future Media released the updated edition of Kagamine Rin and Len, named "act2". For a period of time, users who had bought the old version were allowed to get the new version for free. On June 18, 2008, beta demonstration songs using the new version were released on the company's official blog. The expansion disc is an entirely different software and does not affect the original Kagamine Rin/Len installation in any way, giving the user options to either use the old or new voice sets exclusively or combine their usage. Crypton Future Media have now retired the sale of their old Kagamine Vocaloid and it is now no longer possible to buy the software from them. This was also the very first Vocaloid update to be done for any Vocaloid.
On April 30, 2010, an updated version of Miku called Hatsune Miku Append was released containing a package of six different tones of Miku's voice: Soft (gentle, delicate voice), Sweet (young, chibi voice), Dark (mature, heartbroken-like voice), Vivid (bright, cheerful voice), Solid (loud, clear voice), and Light (innocent, heavenly voice). Crypton Future Media also released Kagamine Rin/Len Append in December 2010.[dated info] Due to the success of the Crypton Appends, Internet Co., Ltd. announced they will be working on a Megpoid Extend in 2011.
Yamaha also began to get involved with the sale and production of Vocaloid's themselves with Lily being the first; Lily was later sold via Internet Co., Ltd's website. Their involvement continued with the VY series, with VY1 being the first, released in deluxe and standard editions on September 1, 2010. The VY series is a series designed to be a high quality product for professional musicians. The series is also designed with the intention to set a new standard for the Vocaloids for having no face, sex or set voice, but are designed to complete any song. VY1 saw a new approach to how the software handled the database of samples and improved the performance of the Vocaloid 2 engine.
Other significant releases include Crypton's Megurine Luka, the first bilingual Vocaloid and Zero-G's Sonika who was developed to being able to speak any language, even though she is primarily an English vocalist. AH Software's Kaai Yuki became the first Vocaloid to use a child's voice. Two studios are known to work on franchise based Vocaloids. Internet Co., Ltd. released a Gachapin Vocaloid, "Gachapoid". AH-Software who published a Hello Kitty-based Vocaloid, "Nekomura Iroha", based on the Kittyler featured in the game Hello Kitty to Issho! Block Crash 123!! in cooperation with Sanrio. All such products are listed with the franchise name and "Vocaloid" on the packaging. Ah Software are also heading the first project led by producers working with the software.
An edition of Sonika was released in Taiwan on August 1, 2010. Users can choose to use the original English or traditional Chinese interface, however it does not have a Chinese language input method or a Chinese singing voice. This is the first edition of Vocaloid software widely released to speakers of Chinese. Later, Internet Co., Ltd. announced Gackpoid, Megpoid and Lily would also be released into Taiwan. According to Crypton, a petition started on Facebook exceeded the needed 39,390 members in November 2010 to join Hatsune Miku's account for an English version to be released; an announcement is due to be released from Crypton.
Yamaha announced a version of the Vocaloid 2 software for the iPhone and iPad, which exhibited at the Y2 Autumn 2010 Digital Content Expo in Japan. Later, this version of the software was released using the VY1 voice.