Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vocaloid Quick Tip: Creating Harmonies Using a VST Pitch Shift Plugin

Hey, everybody! I've got a quick tip for you today for creating harmonies in Vocaloid. For maximum control, you should manually create your harmonies as I've gone over in an earlier post and video. This way, you can make adjustments to the individual notes (pitch, length of note, volume, note choice) to make it seem like another singer is singing the harmony rather than it being just a duplicate of the melody track.

However, what if you wanted to make multiple harmony parts and you don't want to do each of them manually, or perhaps you just want to whip up a harmony real quick?

Well, there's a quick and easy way to do this, and this is to use a VST pitch shifting plugin. The one that I like to use is by Aegean Music and it is called PitchProof. It's totally free! Just make sure you download the correct version as it comes in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions. For Vocaloid 3, you need the 32 bit version. I'm not sure about Vocaloid 4, but I believe that is still 32 bits.

For more control, I recommend that you duplicate your track in Vocaloid so that you can have one track that is devoted to the harmony part. In other words, keep the melody track and harmony tracks separate. What you'll need to do for that is to set the blend to 100% wet for the harmony track. That way, it's just the harmony part on that track.

If you do it this way, you can adjust the panning and volume for each track to your liking. You can also then apply different effects to each track.

Check out the video for a demonstration! Hopes this helps, and keep on rocking!


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Yasuko Reminisces #3: Saving Private Ryan's Donuts (on Omaha Beach)

Ever since Satoshi saw Harry Potter, he's been obsessed with John Williams's musical works. He started a campaign to watch everything that John Williams has ever scored. Of course, this included his well known scores for Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Superman, but also his really old stuff like Fitzwilly.

It wasn't too long after that that he began collecting all of John Williams's works, including his television works such as the theme from Lost in Space. If we were in the car together, he would drive me nuts by rolling down the windows and cranking out the soundtrack from The Cowboys or some other movie.

He continued his obsession when we moved to Japan, and it wasn't too long before Megumi became annoyed by having to constantly listen to the music from Jaws or something. If she asked Satoshi if he could listen to it using headphones, he'd launch into this big speech about how she should expand her musical horizons and that it was good for her "to learn something." It was his way of teasing her.

Megumi, of course, was never one to back down, and she figured if he was going to mess with her, she was going to mess with him twice as hard.

Well, Megumi started to sing along anytime Satoshi played anything from John Williams. And I don't mean songs from the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack or anything, but just any piece of music--Megumi would just start making up words to it. Have you ever seen that old Saturday Night Live skit with Bill Murray as Nick the Lounge Singer singing along to the Star Wars theme? It was like that--only worse, because she wasn't trying to be goofy or funny, but she was being ultra serious about it!

Satoshi just laughed it off at first, but Megumi wouldn't stop. Even when Satoshi gave up and stopped playing the soundtracks out loud, Megumi would continue to break out in song at any given time or place when we were all together, and the song that irritated Satoshi the most was when Megumi would sing to the Omaha Beach music from Saving Private RyanSaving Private Ryan is Satoshi's all time favorite work of John Williams. He regards it with such reverence.

Megumi would tell him that these were the long lost lyrics that John Williams actually wrote for it. She would just sing it over and over and over again. Poor Satoshi! He should have never tried to mess with her! She even went so far as to record her song, and if we out in public and Satoshi was talking to someone or asking a question at a store or something, she would hang back a little ways out of sight and start playing it on her phone.

I can't remember when she stopped doing it, but it took a long, long time. I'll say one thing about Megumi for sure, it's not over until she says it's over.

I know it really annoyed Satoshi after a while, but a while back during a family holiday get together, I happened to catch Satoshi listening to that song on his phone. I didn't realize he kept a copy of it. I didn't let him know I saw him listening to it. I figure that's between him and Megumi.

Saving Private Ryan's Donuts (on Omaha Beach)
Lyrics by Megumi Matsumae
Music by John Williams (our apologies to Mr. Williams)

I love donuts
I could eat them all day
I ate a dozen today
They're so light and fluffy
Who could resist
those treats?


Friday, July 15, 2016

Sleep - July's Track!

Hey everybody! For this month's track, we did a short little number--I guess you could call it a lullabye!

I've been trying to work on my keyboard skills at Megumi's insistence, and I was fooling around with an arpeggio based on the E7 major chord. Now, on the guitar for this chord, if you play the F# on the high E string, it doesn't sound like such a big deal to me. But, if you play the F# on the D string (fourth fret), it becomes magic! In fact, this particular F# seems to make magic with a lot of chords. Add it to a G major chord to make it a G major 13th chord and see for yourself (I guess in this case you really should call it a Gb).

So I'm playing this arpeggio, and Megumi hears me and starts humming this melody, but the problem is, it just doesn't fit. Because the arpeggio I came up with has 13 notes, so it's in 13/4 time, which is not common at all. It actually sounds good by itself, but Megumi just couldn't sing along to it.

I ended up adjusting it by add a few more notes so that it became 16/4, which is in essence 4/4 time.



Sleep by Megumi Matsumae

Sleep now
don't you cry
I'll be here
by your side

Dream now
peaceful sleep
when you wake
you'll be at ease

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Vocaloid Song: Making Takonashiyaki With Toyosaki Aki

Hey everybody, Satoshi Sato here with the Vocaloid song for the month of June! It's called Making Takonashiyaki with Toyosaki Aki.

The idea for the song came about because K-On! is Megumi's favorite anime, and in one of the episodes, Nodoka recalls a school assignment when they were in primary school. Yui was tasked to bring octopus because they were going to make takoyaki. But Yui being Yui, she completely forgot. So they ended up making "non-octopus balls," or takonashiyaki.

Check out our YouTube Video!



We have now made the full commitment to Presonus Studio One Artist as our DAW. I tried out their free version, Studio One Prime, and I liked it so much, I convinced Megumi and Yasuko that we should switch from Cakewalk Sonar to Studio One. Megumi didn't care one way or the other, but Yasuko and I have recorded with Cakewalk ever since we picked up our instruments, so it took a little bit of convincing since she felt really invested in Sonar.

Oh, here's a little something extra you can play around with...here are the backing tracks to the song.


To make sure you download the files, just right click on the link and select Save As...(if it's just displaying in your browser).

I wanted to provide the base tracks so you can play around with it, especially if you are just beginning to learn how to create songs in Vocaloid. You can see how I like to tune the Vocaloid file. Note that the tempo (BPM) is 126. You'll need to make sure you set that in your DAW.

You can use this to practice mixing tracks together. Sometimes it's helpful to step away from your own work and work with other people's stuff. Your thinking on how to do things--believe me, it changes when you aren't working with your own stuff. That's why collaborations are a good way to break out of a music rut. Experiment with different effects! Add your own additional tracks! Or, how about this? Try writing a completely different melody/lyrics to the music! It's in the key of C major.

Of course, if you don't have DAW software, I recommend you download the free Presonus Studio One Prime (www.presonus.com). And the backing tracks are mp3 files, so you will need to convert them to wav files. I posted mp3s just because they're a smaller file size. There are many freeware programs out there you can use to convert the mp3 to wav (such as Audacity).

One last thing--the breaks end in 6/4 measures. You will see this in the vsqx file, but you'll have to manually adjust the specific measures yourself in your DAW.

Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have! Keep rocking!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Vocaloid Quick Tip: Lengthening Vowel Sounds in Short Words

Hey everyone, Satoshi here with a quick tip! Have you noticed that words less than a quarter note in length that end in a hard consonant such as D or T will abruptly end the vowel sound sooner than you want it to?

There are a couple of ways to get around that problem. One, you can make sure that the next word is immediately connected to the first word-- with no gap at all. That helps the Vocaloid continue the two sounds. However, there are many cases where you want a slight pause between the two words.

For a word such as and, this is a problem. I keep telling Megumi not to cut off the note, but she just shrugs her shoulders at me and says, "That's the way I am!"

Even if it is longer than a quarter note, if it is standing by itself, the vowel sound is abruptly shortened. And again, in many cases, you want there to be a slight pause before the next word.

So what to do? Break the word into two pieces. Normally, you would enter and as one word, and it will have this phoneme:

{ n d

But, if you break the word into two parts with the first part just being the a vowel sound:

{

followed by

- { n d

In the second part, you can see the word AND is
broken into two separate parts and joined together
you will have a smooth vowel sound for the entire length of the word, even if it is shorter than a quarter note. Don't forget the hyphen in front to tell Vocaloid that you are connecting the two vowel sounds.

Here is what it sounds like. The first part is just the single word and. The second part is the word broken into two pieces, but joined together. Both are the same length. Both have the same gap space before the next word I. Can you hear the difference?

Hope this tip helps. Keep rocking!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Musical Cues and Bumpers

Lately, Megumi has been fascinated with all kinds of music cues, bumpers, incidental music, etc. This all started when a family friend of hers asked her to compose something for his photography website, and of course, she dragged Yasuko and me into it.

My father had a record of this really cheesy music--he called it elevator music. It's the kind of music that was played on easy listening format stations in the old days--before my time! When he was a kid, there was this American boy he knew in the neighborhood, and he got it from him. This was in the 1970's. My father told me that the family was returning to America, and the boy was giving away a bunch of his possessions, things that he had taken to Japan to make it feel more like home. He guesses the boy didn't need it anymore.

It's all instrumental stuff, soft versions of popular songs. It's funny, when you first listen to it, it drives you bonkers, but after a while, it made me feel really peaceful.

When Megumi asked us to help her write some theme music, I started thinking, should it be happy? Sad? Wistful? And then I realized, it's really hard to write music that is a specific mood. A lot of times, it just turns out that way. But to do it on purpose...

Oh, there are some things you can do--like for sad music, make it slow and use minor chords. I had a guitarist friend a while back who said that anything in the key of F# major will always sound happy. But a lot of times, using tricks makes it sound gimmicky. I guess the more you do it, the more natural it will sound.

We've been experimenting with various ideas. Here's our first set of stuff. All I can say is, it sounds clunky.

Megumi wasn't satisfied at all. Normally, I'm a "eh, it's good enough" kind of guy, but she's right. I think we need to practice listening and breaking down compositions. In any case, it will have to be put on the back burner, because Megumi is finishing up a new song and she wants to record it!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Yasuko Reminisces #2: Band Practice!

During our time in Tokyo, Satoshi and I spent many evenings with Megumi for band practice--although when I say practice, I say that in the loosest of terms. It really was a cliché out of an anime where all we did was hang out, talk, and eat snacks. The number of times when we actually took our instruments out of their cases...

I didn't mind. Being in a band was just a fun diversion. Our year in Japan after we graduated was an accord with our parents to reconnect with our Japanese heritage, but Satoshi and I--well, we just wanted to chill out for a year before entering the real world, along with all of its adult responsibilities.

Most of the time we would hang out at our apartment for practice. When we actually did break out our instruments, we would never plug them in of course, and Satoshi just banged his sticks on a couple of books. When we were actually serious about practicing--usually once a month or so, we'd rent a practice room. Our favorite place was Yawetag Studio in Shibuya. It was pretty cheap--you could rent it for about 2000 yen for a couple of hours.

It was during one of those sessions when Megumi issued one of her many band directives.

"You need to play the piano!" she declared upon arrival.

I was just finishing up restringing my bass. I looked over at Satoshi, and we both had an expression on our faces that basically said, "Is she talking to you?"

"We need to expand our sound!" said Megumi. "I don't care which one of you plays."

Again, Satoshi and I looked at each other when Satoshi blurted out, "I'll do it!"

"How long do you think it will take for you to learn?" asked Megumi.

Satoshi kind of just shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I don't know. I mean, I have that 32 key midi controller that I use to mess around with sounds, but I never actually played the thing. How long could it take?" He looked at me as if I had the answer. I didn't.

"Two weeks," said Megumi. "I want you to be able play something in two weeks!"

"Uh, Megumi," I said, "is there a reason for this?"

Megumi broke out in a huge smile. "We have a paid job!"

Satoshi's face turned ashen. It suddenly hit him that somebody was expecting him to be able to play the piano and he didn't know how to play.

"What's wrong?" said Megumi, looking at both of us. "Isn't this great?"

As it turned out, Megumi's mother had a friend who did photography as a side business, and now her friend wanted to pursue it more seriously, so he wanted to create a website and a promotional video--and he needed some theme music. And of course, Megumi's mother enlisted Megumi, and Megumi in turn enlisted us.

For the next two weeks, we met every night, bouncing musical ideas off of each other. And Satoshi did manage to learn (kind of) how to play rudimentary piano in that time--just banging out chords. I can't even remember what we came up with, but it wasn't very good. Megumi's mother's friend seem to be pleased with it though, although it's hard to tell if he was just being polite. In any case, I do remember us getting the 5000 yen for it! We celebrated by going out for yakitori!

I remember Megumi was so happy. I think she knew that her being able to make a living by playing in a band would be a rough path--but this, composing music--it was a viable path out of manning that newspaper kiosk for the rest of her life. That yakitori we had that night was the best we ever had.