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 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 ( 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.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Vocaloid Quick Tip: Don't Accept The Default Phoneme If You Don't Like It!

I've mentioned before that, although Megumi is a native Japanese speaker, her English is pretty good. But, there are several cases where her pronunciation just sounds off.

Remember, don't just accept the default phoneme if it doesn't sound right to you. Take for example the word world. To my ears, it sounds like Gumi is singing word, not world.

The default phoneme for world is:

{w @r l d}

Looking at it, it should be okay. The @r sound is like maker. You would think that this would work, but to me, it sounds too much like word. The d sound at the end is not strong enough. It doesn't sound like it ever closes out.

I've played around with it--separating world into two phonemes:

{w @r l} and then tacking on {dh V} at the end for a pronounce duh sound. But I can't get it to be smooth and seamless.

So I then played around with different vowel sounds:

{w U@ l d} as in poor

{w O@ l d} as in pour

{w O: r l d} as in taught

{w U r l d} as in put

You can here an example of these sounds with Gumi singing My World, beginning with the default phoneme of world.

What do you think sounds the best? Do you think the default sounds the best? None of them sounds perfect to me, but I think {w U@ l d} sounds the closest to how I think the word should be pronounced.

Since I will be using this phoneme is the future, I went to the toolbar, Lyrics | User Word Dictionary | English, and created my own dictionary and added the word world to it with my new custom phoneme. That way, whenever I type in the word world, my new phoneme will be used instead of the default phoneme.

Do you think other words don't work well with the default phoneme? Don't hesitate to make your own and add it to your custom dictionary!

Hope this helps! Keep rocking!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

At The Zoo

This month's song from Megumi was inspired by a trip to the zoo. I keep telling Megumi to write a happy song, but she just looks at me like I'm crazy.

Megumi tuned her guitar to D A D A A D for this. Remember the song, Save It For Later by the English Beat? Yeah, same tuning. She had been playing around with this tuning and came up with the music a while back. She doesn't even know what chords she used--she was just messing around with various fingerings trying to get a sound she liked. Anyway, only now did she write some lyrics for it. We went back to using the Line6 POD to record the guitars.

Yasuko plugged her bass straight into the Grace Design pre-amp. We then used the Guitar Rig plug in. That's basically her go to setup nowadays. She used to use to plug her bass in the POD as well as a compressor pedal.

For the drums, we decided to go with brushes. It just seemed right for this song! Check out the video below!

At the Zoo
by Megumi Matsumae

I was at the zoo today
That’s where they keep the animals caged
They’re nothing more than four legged slaves

They eat what they are given
They pose for the the cameras
We get to watch when they poop too

I will never let anyone control me
I would rather be six feet under ground
I will never live any other way than free

Their whole world is inside four walls
They’re just playthings, just like dolls
Their lives defined by human protocols

Repeat Chorus

Above the clouds spread your wings and soar
No ceiling above, below your feet no floor
Keep going till you can’t see land anymore

I was at the zoo today
I can leave but they’ll still be caged
Sometimes I feel trapped just the same

Repeat Chorus

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Vocaloid Quick Tip: Changing Singer Properties

Hey everyone! Do you have only one Vocaloid voice library, but wish you had different singers in your song? Vocaloids are definitely not cheap, so I don't blame you if you don't have several Vocaloids at your disposal.

Well, there's a way you can get around that--sort of. It won't sound quite like you are using a completely separate Vocaloid voice, but the difference is noticeable.

The trick is to alter the singer properties. If you go to the toolbar in the Vocaloid3 editor, click on Settings / My Singer properties, you will bring up a dialog box showing you your "singers" and the voice parameters that you can alter for your singer: namely, Breathiness, Brightness, Clearness, and Gender Factor.

Now, the original Vocaloid voice is marked with an asterisk. You can click on Add to create another singer (based on the original Vocaloid) and change some of the parameters to get a whole new singer! As you can see, I already went ahead and added a new singer named Low Megpoid_English. For this new singer, I altered the Gender Factor setting to 127 to make the voice deeper, like a male. Going the other way (to -127) will raise the voice higher. Notice that there is another singer already there that came with the Vocaloid--Whispering Megpoid_English, which added some Breathiness and lowered the Clearness. Those parameters make subtle changes whereas the Gender Factor parameter can really make a noticeable change.

Once you've added your new singer, go to the toolbar, and select Active Singer Properties. Click on the Show My Singers button.

See those arrows in the middle (<<< and >>>)? Click on the appropriate arrow to move your newly created singer in the My Singers box over to the Active Singers box like I've already done here.

With your new singer now an active singer, you can then assign him/her to a track. To do this, right click on the Part you want to assign a new singer. You will see that your new singer is now available. In this example, I have Gumi singing the main melody and the left harmony. My new singer, Low Megpoid_English, is singing the harmony on the right, which you can hear in this clip.

Now, obviously, this won't give you a completely new and different Vocaloid. And Gumi doesn't now all of a sudden sound like a man. But, it does noticeably changes her register and gives you options for different voices in your songs if you only have one Vocaloid voice library.

I think it's best to do this (using a modified singer with extreme parameter changes) on harmony parts in the background. I wouldn't recommend using this on your main singer. Hope this helps! Keep rocking!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Vocaloid Song: Megumi Writes "Makeinu!" Part 3

Okay, folks, when we last left off, Megumi's song, Makeinu, had the backing guitars and drum tracks done. So what's left is adding the vocals, bass, and any additional guitars as well as mixing all the tracks together.

Entering notes into the Vocaloid editor can be tedious. What you should always do is to create separate parts for your verses and chorus. This way, you can enter your notes for the first verse and chorus and then just copy and paste the verse and chorus parts for any additional parts. You might have to make some slight note changes for the additional verses and choruses, but for the most part, the notes will be the same. So you would only need to put in new lyrics into the existing notes.

Always create separate parts for your verse and chorus!

You can see from the above screenshot, the verses and choruses are separate, and I've renamed the parts to Verse 1 and Verse 2, etc. To create a new part, make sure the track is actually selected (you'll know because the entire track will be tinted aqua) by clicking on the colored vertical bar on the left of the track. Then go to the menu bar and select Part(P) and click on Add Musical Part(A). That will create a new part.

Once you've entered all of your notes/lyrics for a part, go ahead and do your tuning. When you copy that part, all the tuning you've done is copied as well. You don't want to tune the whole thing if you don't have to! Tune the first verse and chorus and make adjustments to the copied verse and chorus parts.

I tend to concentrate on these things when tuning the notes: Velocity, Dynamics, Vibrato, and Portamento, Obviously of course, you'll need to pay attention to the phonemes and adjust them if you need to. Don't rely on the default phoneme. For sections where you have multiple notes that are the same, I will make minor adjustments to vary the pitch ever so slightly for each note.

Once I had everything sounding as good as I can get it to sound (to my ears), I exported the tracks separately. I do not mix down because I do my mixing in a separate program, Sonar X1.

My mixing skills are pretty limited. As such, I try not to overdo it with processing because it all adds up. Things may seem fine for each track, but when you listen to the whole mix together, it's too much, and then I have to back off everything! I guess the only advice I can say about mixing is to keep practicing and keep listening to songs whose mixes you like.

When Megumi likes to lay down two guitar tracks, I will pan those hard left and right. If she only lays down one track, I will duplicate it, pan hard left and right, and put a slight delay on the right track to open up the space. Guitars are routed to a separate buss where a slight reverb is added.

Megumi's vocals always are dead center. I will add a touch of reverb and delay. I never put compression on a Vocaloid voice. I don't like the sound of it on Vocaloids and I don't think it helps.

Yasuko's bass is also dead center. I will usually record it plugged straight into the preamp and later add a Guitar Rig bass effect to the bass track. Other than that bass tracks are always kept dry for me.

For the guitar solo, Megumi always likes to record it last. She wants to be able to hear everything to help guide what she should play. I generally like to put that slightly off center in the mix with a good dose of delay.

For the overall mix I will add EQ where the highs are boosted slightly and the mids are cut just a tad. And the final mix is boosted and compressed a little along with a brick wall limiter.

The thing about mixing is that you can be sure that what you like one day is something you won't the next day. Just give it some time, and you'll eventually hate what you mixed! I attribute this in part to the fact that I'm just not satisfied with my mixing skills at this point, and so I'm constantly doubting myself. I'd say on a scale of 1 to 10 where I want to be in mixing, I'm at a two or three. The only thing I can hope for is with practice, I'll get better in time, even if it's only in very small increments!

Anywhere, here is the fix mix for Makeinu! Keep rocking!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Vocaloid Quick Tip: Entering Multi Syllable Lyrics

Hey, everyone! Satoshi here with another quick Vocaloid tip!

This is something I recently discovered, and I'm embarrassed to say that I've been doing things the hard way for such a long time. It just goes to show you that you easily can get caught up doing the same routine methods simply because you're comfortable with it even though it's kind of a pain.

I'm talking about entering multi-syllable lyrics in Vocaloid. Let's take a word that I'm all too familiar with: humiliation. I'm sure you all know that you can't just enter in the whole word in one block--it won't work. You get something like this:

Entering in multi-syllable lyrics in one
block won't work. You'll just get the
default phoneme u:

In the past, I have manually broken up each syllable and entered them in separately. For instance, I might put in (along with the corresponding phoneme):

hu [h i: u:]

mil [m I l]

li [l i:]

a [eI]

tion [S U n]

But--a much easier way to do it is to create five separate blank lyrics and then enter in the whole word in the first box. Try it! Did you see what happened? Vocaloid automatically will separate the lyric into the appropriate syllables and enter them into the blank lyrics for you! Vocaloid has a pretty complete dictionary, but if the word isn't in the dictionary, this won't work. However, you can always add your own custom words to it so it will work the next time.

Enter in multi-syllable words by
creating blank lyrics for each syllable
first. Then enter in the entire word
in the first lyric.

Remember, it's always a good idea to review what the Vocaloid Editor entered. You may need to tweak and adjust the phoneme to your liking.

I hope this tip makes things easier for you! Keep on rocking!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Vocaloid Song: Megumi Writes "Makeinu!" Part 2

Now that Megumi has written a new song, she has tasked me to get everything prepped to record it.

What I like to do first is to prepare a chord chart for the song so that everyone can follow along. This is as simple as using any old word processing program to type in the lyrics and the chords. Once I do that, I'll print it out though and write in the measure numbers by hand.

I try to make it fit on one page, but
if it doesn't, no big deal
You can see that it can get pretty sloppy looking, but I've always done it this way and I'll probably always write in the measures with a pen.

I think it's a good idea to prepare a chord chart rather than just wing it from memory. And it certainly pays off if you go through the chord chart several times to make sure it's correct. I don't know how many times I've been lazy and not taken the time to proof it and ended up writing down the measure number wrong, or done something like count the measures incorrectly.

Here are the lyrics and chords:

Makeinu by Megumi Matsumae

A         B            x2

Verse 1

A             B
                    I don't wanna be your girlfriend
A             B
                    I don't wanna be your maid
A             B
                    My life has reached dead end
A             B
                    And you just wanna get laid

A             E
                    I'm more than just a womb
A             E
                    It might as well be a tomb
A             B
                   What's the point of education?
A             B
                   when you're tuned out by a nation
B   Bb  A


C#m                 A                     E
Nihon, you have failed your daughters
Nihon, you have broken all your promises
Are you happy with what you've taught her?
You will pay with all your accomplices

C#m                 A    x3
                         I'd rather be
                         I'd rather be
E                   A ~ B ~ A (slide into it)  x4


Verse 2

A             B
                    I don't wanna make your dinner
A             B
                    I don't wanna clean your home
A             B
                    I won't be holding your slippers
A             B
                    and waiting here while you roam

A             E
                    My job should be more lofty
A             E
                    than bringing you your goddamn coffee
A             B
                   What's the point of education?
A             B
                   when you're tuned out by a nation
B   Bb  A



Verse 3

A             B
                    I'll make a speech in the Diet
A             B
                    You can shower me with jeers
A             B
                    You can try to keep me quiet
A             B
                    I swear you'll be the one in tears

A             E
                    I'm more than just a womb
A             E
                    It might as well be a tomb
A             B
                   What's the point of education?
A             B
                   when you're tuned out by a nation
B   Bb  A


The reason why it's so important to me to make sure there are no mistakes in the chord chart and that all the measures are numbered correctly is because I use that to lay down the drum part. So the actual recording is done in another program, not the Vocaloid 3 editor. I use a program called Sonar X1. I've been using Sonar (by Cakewalk) for a long time. I used to use this program called Digital Orchestrator Pro, which I really loved, but it was a 16 bit program, and when Microsoft moved on to Windows 95, they did not further develop it into a 32 bit program, so I knew it was basically dead. So I migrated to Cakewalk. They upgrade the program every year, but I don't think it's necessary to constantly buy a new version.

There are many multi-track recording software out there. You don't need to spend $300+ if you're just getting into it. Entry level programs are usually around $50 or less, which I think it pretty reasonable. Cakewalk has an entry level program called Music Creator if you want to go with Cakewalk but don't want to spend a lot of money on their Sonar line.

Whatever program you choose, I strongly recommend that you pick one that can display the time in measures/bars. Songs are structured that way, and it makes it so much easier to be able to go to, say, bar 32 where the chorus starts. There are some programs out there (geared more towards audio recording and not necessarily song recording) that keep track using mm:ss, which to me seems more useful if you were working on a soundtrack for a film or something. Just something to think about.

With my chord chart all done, I'm ready to build some scratch tracks in Sonar. I always start at measure 2. Why? I use measure one for the count off.

For this song, the tempo is 136 bpm. Remember, when it comes time to create the vocals in Vocaloid, you will need to set the tempo in the Vocaloid editor to match this!

To build the drum track, I like to use drum loops--specifically, Acidized drum loops. Acid loops contain extra information to make it easy to do things like change the tempo and repeat the loop. My go to drum loops are by Drums on Demand. When I create the drum track, I like the have a crash cymbal at the start of a new section (like the verse or chorus) and I like to have a drum fill at the end of every section. I will sometimes also do this if the chorus is really made up of multiple sections, like with a pre-chorus or post-chorus. Megumi likes to hear the changes so she knows when a section change is coming up!

Once the drum part is built, Megumi will record a scratch track for the guitar. For this, I pulled out the old Guitar Port to record the guitar. It is not necessary to make this perfect at this point. No audio processing is done at this point, either. I just want a rudimentary backing track to lay down vocals to. Further down the road, Megumi might want to change guitars if she wants a different sound.

Yasuko doesn't like to record her bass yet until after the vocals are done because she likes to play off of the vocals. Of course, Megumi, after hearing the bass, sometimes will want to change her guitar part or her vocals, and then Yasuko will want to re-record her bass, and then I have to put a stop to it, otherwise it never ends! See, that's the thing--the song you first come up with may be really, really different in the end. That's because what you add to it is based on what was added previously. So if you're recording a track to a certain drum and bass part, what you record is specific to what you are hearing. If the drum and bass part changes, I guarantee you, your track will change in response to that. That's what makes creating music so exciting I think. Because it's always fluid, always changing in response to a specific environment.

So, with a basic scratch track done for drums and backing guitars, I can now export the audio so I can import that into the Vocaloid 3 editor and have Megumi lay down her vocals, which I will leave for next time!

Until then, keep rocking!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Vocaloid Song: Megumi Writes "Makeinu!" Part 1

Megumi looked at the crumpled sheet of paper on her lap.

I don't wanna be your girlfriend
I don't wanna be your maid
My life is a dead end
And you just wanna get laid

They were lyrics that she had jotted down over a month ago while she was manning her mother's newsstand. It was something she thought about a lot. She was 24 now, and she didn't see much of a future for herself. Even her schoolmates who went on to college--did they really have a better future than her? Working a simple office job until they got married?

Megumi grabbed a pen and suspended it in her hand over the sheet of paper, half expecting some mystical force would take hold of her hand, and wondrous words would start flowing out as the pen moved about the paper, but there was--nothing. She tightened her grip on the recalcitrant pen.

"Idiot!" she said, snarling at the pen. Megumi tossed the sheet of paper and the pen onto her bed and grabbed her guitar. She didn't even have a melody to this yet--perhaps it would help break her writer's block if she worked on that?

She strapped on her guitar and picked up a guitar pick and started strumming an A chord. She closed her eyes and started to hum, trying to coalesce a melody out of those seemingly random notes coming out of her mouth. No, that's not it. She wanted it to be driving--bam! bam! bam! Like a relentless hammer, beating down on your hopes and dreams...

She started to alternate between the A and B chord. Yes...that was more like it.

I don't wanna be your girlfriend
I don't wanna be your maid
My life is a has reached a dead end
And you just wanna get laid
 No, it's more of an impact if you're moving along and then stopped rather than just be stopped! Megumi grabbed the pen and crossed out those offending words and replaced them. She then began writing furiously.

I'm more than just a womb
It might as well be a tomb
What's the point of education?
when you’re tuned out by a nation
Megumi smiled. She completed the first verse! But then she noticed something--she had changed the rhyme pattern from ABAB to AABB in the second part. She could fix that--but then she would have to rewrite the lyrics. No, she didn't want to change them. The lyrics said exactly what she wanted to say.

Thinking for minute, she decided to alter the chords for the second part--to set it off, showing that something different was coming. Yes, that would work. Megumi played around with some chords before settling with A / E for this part. Yes, that works nicely. The A / B chords provide some tension that resolves nicely going to the E chord. So, this is going to be in the key of E. Megumi liked the key of E as she felt it suited her voice very well.

It all started coming together for her now. She finished up a first draft of the lyrics and came up with a working melody in about an hour's time. Megumi grabbed her portable recorder. She wanted to make sure she recorded this, or else she would completely forget the song the next day.

She recorded a quick first take and played it back. Yes! That was what she was after. She quickly grabbed her phone and texted Yasuko and Satoshi.

Yasuko, Satoshi! Come over! Let's have a recording session!

Megumi's first draft of her song, Makeinu!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Vocaloid Quick Tip: Stringing Vowel Sounds Together

In a previous tutorial, I talked about how to stretch a single lyric across several notes using pitch bend. The other option is to enter the lyric as separate notes. For instance, let's say I have:

I say

And I want to stretch the lyric say across several notes. I can enter the phonetics like this:

s eI

followed by a bunch of

eI (which is the "ay" sound).

Go ahead and enter that in and see what you get. Sounds horrible, doesn't it? Vocaloid is singing it back as separate notes. Obviously we don't want that. Nobody would sing it as Say ay ay ay ay. We want a smooth blending of the sounds, like Say-a-a-a-ay.

We can accomplish this by putting a hyphen in front of the phonetic, like this:

s eI, followed by - eI.

In the picture above, the first notes have been entered without altering the phonetic. Those notes are sung back as separate sounds. But in the second grouping, I've added that hyphen in front of the phonetic eI. This tells Vocaloid that this is connected to the previous phonetic sound.

You can listen to the difference.

Important: you can only string together the same vowel sounds. If you try doing it with two different vowel sounds, like in Day O, it won't work. Well, actually that's not true. It will change it, but it won't necessarily blend the two different vowel sounds across different notes the way you want it to. Best thing to do is to just try it and see if it works for you.

Anyway, I hope this tip helps! Keep rocking!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Vocaloid Tutorial: Using Velocity and Dynamics to Improve Realism

Hello, everyone! Satoshi here, back with another Vocaloid tutorial. Last time, I talked about using pitch bend and pitch bend sensitivity to stretch out lyrics over several notes. Today, I'm going to talk about using the Velocity (VEL) and Dynamics (DYN) parameters to make your vocals sound more human. Megumi thinks her singing is fine as is, but I always like to tweak her singing after she lays down a track--just don't tell her!

So what does VEL and DYN do? VEL controls the attack of the note. Keyboard players know what I'm talking about. Imagine playing the piano. If you strike the key fast, it makes a very different sound than if you strike the key slowly. Note that this is different from how loud the sound is--that is controlled by DYN. So VEL is basically how fast or how slowly the note is sounded out while DYN is how loud or soft the note actually is--meaning, the volume. VEL and DYN go hand in hand.

You're probably wondering, in terms of vocals, what does this mean? DYN for vocals is pretty easy to understand--it's how loudly or softly you are singing. But for VEL? Imagine if you are singing slowly. You are stretching the sounds of each word as you sing. This is especially pronounced with consonants. Trying singing the word "say" slowly. You'll see that you are slurring that "s" sound in the beginning--sssssay.

Looking at the waveform of a real
singer, you can see how the volume
swells up and down
By default, every note entered in Vocaloid has the same value. VEL and DYN have a range from 0 to 127, and the default is right in the middle--at 64. Obviously people don't sing like that. They might slow down or speed up at some parts, and especially they will sing some parts louder and some parts softer.

A good way to practice using VEL and DYN is to take a real singer and try to duplicate it with Vocaloid. In fact, you're all probably familiar with this since most of you use Vocaloid to do covers of songs. But many of you may be concentrating on the phonetics, trying to get the pronunciation right. Of course, that's the most important thing, but tweaking the parameters like VEL and DYN goes a long way into making the performance sound more human.

Lowering the values for VEL will slow down the sound of
the notes, especially the beginning consonant sounds
Let's take a real world example. This clip is of Emmy Rossum singing That's All I Ask of You from The Phantom of the Opera. What is noticeable is how controlled and slowly she is singing. So right away, we know we can use VEL to adjust the notes. Hear how a lot of the consonants are slurred, like in the beginning of the lyrics "say" and "head"?

We can go to the Menu Bar and select View and choose Control Parameters to display the parameter grid at the bottom. Select DYN (the word will turn aqua) and use the trusty pencil tool to adjust the height of the DYN bars for each lyric. I've lowered the values across the board, but especially for words like "say" and "head" to emphasize the slurring of the beginning consonant sound.

We can also hear how the volume changes with slight swells, especially when she sings "summertime." That's a long note, and we can hear it get a little softer in the middle and then louder again towards the end when she sings "time" before she trails off. So we know we can use DYN to adjust for that.
Again, using the pencil tool and making sure that DYN is
selected, we can add in some subtle volume swells to make
the vocals more realistic

You can see from the picture that I've drawn in some volume swells. For some lyrics, I've made it louder in the beginning, and for other lyrics, I've made it louder towards the end, especially if it's a long, drawn out lyric. I probably overdid it in the beginning because when Emmy sings, "Say you'll love me," she is pretty steady with the volume across the board here, so that part really only needed some very minor adjustments.

Here is a clip of Gumi singing this part. So what do you think? Does Gumi do a good job of emulating Emmy?

Give it a try! Download the Emmy Rossum part and try to duplicate it in Vocaloid and let me know how you did! Oh, one other thing--I also adjusted the vibrato in several spots. Emmy uses a lot of vibrato, and you can really hear it in the words "head" and "talk."

Until next time, keep rocking!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Vocaloid Quick Tip: Set Your BPM!

Hey guys! I'm guessing most of you use Vocaloid in conjunction with other software--namely Digital Audio Workstation software (DAW), to create songs. Working in a DAW gives you much more control with multiple tracks, effects, and mixing.

Because you will be importing files back and forth, don't forget to set your Beats Per Minute (BPM) for your song. I think just about every software sets the BPM by default to 120 beats per minute, so you may not have ever set this and it won't cause any problems for you. But unless every song you create is going to be a mid tempo song, you will want to change this.

This setting is called the Tempo in Vocaloid3. When I first tried changing this, I couldn't find it. I was clicking everywhere! If you look at the picture below, you will see that you can change the tempo value by clicking at the numbers (120) where I've circled it in yellow. Don't try clicking where I've marked it with a red X--it won't work!

If you click on those numbers, it will bring up a dialog box where you can set the tempo to whatever you want. The reason why you want to make sure your bpm matches with whatever other software you use to create you song is because when you import your tracks back and forth, your measures won't line up anymore.

For instance, if you recorded a guitar part in your DAW software with a tempo set at 126 bpm, and you have your verse from measures 2 to 9 and the chorus at measures 10 to 17, you will find your chorus beginning earlier than measure 10 if you do not set the tempo in Vocaloid to 126 as well before importing your guitar track.

Again, if you're always working in 120 bpm, you don't have to worry about this. But most likely, you will be creating some fast songs, some slow songs--you'll end up needing to adjust the tempo. Hope this helps! Keep rocking!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Yasuko Reminisces #1: A Valentine's Day Dinner

Satoshi always had a thing for Megumi. Both my father and my uncle (Satoshi's father) set us up with an apartment in Tokyo, and once we got settled in, Megumi came by to welcome us and to check out our new place.

When Megumi walked through the door, Satoshi's jaw just dropped. He had this blank, dumbstruck look on his face--you know, how guys always look when they see a really pretty girl?

I had known Megumi since we were little kids. We were really close, so we immediately fell back into our old, familiar ways, even though I hadn't seen her in over five years. At the time, Megumi's English was very limited, and my Japanese was fairly rusty, but we both went on and on as if I had never left Japan at all, even though a lot of our conversation was in the form of nods, giggles, and facial expressions.

Satoshi, however, pretty much didn't speak Japanese at all. We didn't mean to exclude him, but there he was, hanging on our every word, smiling and nodding as if he understood everything. I could see him out of the corner of my eye just staring at Megumi. If she felt his glare, she didn't show it. That was Megumi--always super cool. She always showed complete indifference to the guys fawning over her--and there were a lot of guys fawning over her. I was a bit envious of her. She was older than me, and she had this cool vibe about her. I think part of that was because she was pretty tall--about 5' 9". She was a striking figure walking down the streets of Tokyo.

On my last visit back to Japan when I was sixteen, I became acutely aware of how often men would turn their heads when we walked by. One, two, three...I started to count them all. Soon it became an unconscious habit every time we went out, as natural as taking a breath.

So it was no surprise to me how quickly Satoshi had fallen for Megumi's charms. Satoshi and I grew up together. We were more like brother and sister than cousins. In all my life, I don't believe I have ever seen Satoshi angry. He was the most easy going person I have ever known. You would think that we would have gone through that phase of teasing and hair pulling that every little boy and girl goes through--but no, not Satoshi. He would do things like find bugs to give me--not to scare me or anything, but to give to me as a gift.

Satoshi got along with everybody. He always had a lot of friends, even though some of them were just jerks. I remember asking him, "Why are you friends with him? He's being a jerk to you!" And he would just shrug his shoulders. Nothing ever bothered him. The one thing I could tell though--even if he never really showed it--that got under his skin, was being teased about his height. He's only about 5' 5". I'm really short as well, about 5' 3", but it's different for girls.

So maybe I knew where this was heading with him and Megumi. Maybe I should have warned him. Not that Megumi was a bad person or anything, but Megumi and guys...they always ended up walking away with a broken heart.

I remember one time--Satoshi wanted to do something nice for Megumi. It was Valentine's Day, and of course Satoshi didn't want her to think that he was just inviting her, so he insisted that I had to come along with them...

Valentine's Day Dinner

Megumi, Yasuko, and Satoshi are finishing dinner at a restaurant.

Thanks for treating us to dinner, Satoshi!
Yes, thank you.
Well, it's Valentine's Day! I figure you two deserve a nice dinner!
Satoshi suddenly feels pain in his stomach.

Uh, before we go, I just want to use the restroom.
Satoshi hurries into the bathroom and into the stall. He is annoyed at having an upset stomach. He pulls down his pants, sits down and...feels immense relief. He reaches over to the toilet paper dispenser only to toilet paper.   
Oh, come on! You've got to be kidding me!!
Satoshi begins to panic when he realizes he has his cellphone. He pulls it out and calls Yasuko. Yasuko goes to answer but expresses confusion when she sees it's from Satoshi.

Why are you...

Yasuko! Do you have any tissues?

Um...yeah, but--
(Yasuko takes some tissues from her purse and holds them in her hand.)

I need you to bring some to me!
You want me to bring you some tissues?
Shhhhhh! Don't let Gumi know! Yeah, hurry!
But...I can't go into the men's room! Maybe I can get the waiter...?
No, no! Come on, Yasuko, nobody's here right now! Just bring them! Please!!
Mattaku, give them to me!
(She takes the packet of tissues from Yasuko)

Megumi, pack of tissues in hand, storms off to the men's bathroom. She opens the door and flings the pack of tissues under the stall where it lands next to Satoshi's feet.

Hurry up! You clean your butt now, okay?

(Satoshi cringes in embarrassment.)

Oh God, it's Gumi!
Five minutes later, Satoshi sheepishly meets the girls at their table. Megumi and Yasuko get up. Satoshi avoids looking at Megumi.

Uh, okay, let's go now!
Yasuko represses a smile as Satoshi shoots her a "don't you dare laugh!" look. They leave.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Vocaloid Tutorial: Using Pitch Bend and Pitch Bend Sensitivity

Hello, Vocaloid lovers! Satoshi Sato here with a little tutorial on using Pitch Bend and Pitch Bend Sensitivity in Vocaloid.

First, what is pitch bend? What would you use it for? Let me try to answer that for you! There are two ways that immediately come to my mind as to how to use pitch bend. When a real live human singer sings, no matter how perfect they are, there will be very subtle variations in their pitch. A computer, however, will be perfect. This is one of the reasons why a synthesized computer voice will sound "fake" or robotic. So, how can we make it sound more human? By introducing subtle variations in the pitch. It's important though not to do it too much, because if you do, then you will run into the same problem of it sounding fake and robotic again.

So that's the first way you could use pitch bend. But I'm not going to talk about that today. Instead, I'll be talking about using pitch bend to change the actual note. Why would I do that? If I am creating a song in Vocaloid (by the way, I'll always be referring to Vocaloid 3 here), and I have my singer sing these notes (oh, also, when you see the number at the end of the note, I'm referring to the octave):




I would just enter those individual notes, right? Why would I enter only Eb4, then use pitch bend to bend it up to G#4 and then bend it down to Bb3?

Well, let me give you a real world example. This is a clip from Miley Cyrus's Party in the USA where she is singing the "yeah" part. It's one word, "yeah" stretched over seven different notes. You can enter this separately in Vocaloid like below:

As you can see, it starts out at Eb4, goes down to C#4, then goes further down to Bb3, then all the way down to G#3 (which is the bottom of the range for this example), then back up to Bb3, then up to C#4, and then finishes back down at Bb3.

And this is how Megumi sings this. It's kind of clunky. Keep in mind though, that this is just the raw notes. I haven't done anything to them to smooth it out. So keep in mind, you do have the option of doing it this way--you just have to tweak a bunch of parameters to make it sound better.

To do this, you could use this Phonetic for the first lyric: j{ 

That will give you Yeah

Then that would be followed by six separate lyrics, all connected using this Phonetic: e, which gives you the -eh sound.

You can see that Megumi does a pretty good job at connecting those last six vowel sounds together by default.

But what happens if you just enter a single lyric, Yeah, and then use pitch bend to bend that Eb4 to hit the other six notes? Here's how it sounds with Megumi using pitch bend. It sounds better, right? There's more of a natural slurring between the notes. The downside, however, of using this method is that you pretty much have no idea what note you are playing when you are looking at the Vocaloid grid. It just appears as Eb4. So it's really up to you how you want to do this.

Let's say you've decided to use the pitch bend method to do this. So how would we go about doing it? First, we need to see the Control Parameters grid. If you go to the menu bar at the top and select View(V), you will see the option to display it.

You can view the Control Parameters
on the bottom by clicking on
View(V) at the menu bar on top
At the bottom left, you will see all the different Control Parameters you can adjust. What we want to concentrate on is PIT (pitch bend) and PBS (pitch bend sensitivity). You just need to simply click on the parameter you want to work on. The parameter name will then be in blue, as you can see in the picture on the right.

You can also see that I've already altered the pitch bend for that note. See how those curves line up below the Eb4 note on the grid? I drew those using the pencil tool at the top left below the menu bar.

The trick is, how the heck do I know where to draw those curves? There is nothing on that grid that tells me what the note is. Simple trial and error would take forever. We don't want to do that. Here's where some simple math comes in.

First, see those number values on the bottom left? On the top above the parameter VEL, we have 8191. At the very bottom below PBS, we have -8192. That's how we can control the pitch. The note will correspond to a numerical value ranging from -8192 to 8191. Zero is in the middle. Vocaloid allows us to bend a pitch 24 semi-tones. That's two whole octaves! But for this, we don't need two octaves.

The range of notes that we want to pitch bend starts at Eb4 and goes all the way down to G#3. We know that we will never bend the pitch above Eb4 nor will we ever go down below G#3. That means we have a range of 7 semi-tones, so we need to set our pitch bend sensitivity, the PBS, to 7.
You can see that the Pitch Bend
Sensitivity (PBS) has been set to 7,
which is our range

For this, I used the line tool rather than the pencil tool so we have a uniform range throughout the note that we want to pitch bend. You can see in the picture on the left that PBS is now set to 7.

Why is it important that we set the PBS? Well, first, the default value is 1, so unless we change it, we would be unable to bend the pitch beyond one semi-tone. Second, having a range of notes--an upper limit and a bottom limit, helps us to better control the pitch. Why use other values if we will never use them? So set the PBS so that it matches the max range of notes you will be using.

Luckily for us, the very first note, the Eb4, is also our highest note. This note will have the numerical value of 0 as this is our default pitch. All the other notes that follow will be notes that will have the pitch bend downward. So our notes will have values from 0 to -8192. Our range of notes is 7 (semi-tones), so all we have to do is divide 8192 by 7 which equals to about 1170. We don't have to worry about being exact because there is no way you can draw the PBS curve exactly. Now we know that each note will have a value of about 1170 apart from each other, so we know the approximate values of the notes we will use, like this:

Eb4 : 0

D4  :  -1170

C#4 :  -2341

C4   :  -3511

B3   :  -4681

Bb3 :  -5851

A3   :  -7021

G#3 :  -8192

I've bolded the notes that we will be using for this. When Miley Cyrus sings the "Yeah" part, she sings Eb4, C#4, Bb3, G#3, Bb3, C#4, Bb3.

So, to duplicate this, we need a steady hand. You will have to play back her singing and then note the spot where the note changes and then draw the appropriate curve with the pencil tool to match it. When you hold the cursor over the grid, you will see the numerical value change depending on where your cursor is. Again, don't worry about getting the value exact when drawing the curve. Your ear won't be able to tell the difference between -2341 and-2350. In fact, it will probably be more realistic having your notes wobble a bit back and forth. It might take you a few attempts to get the hang of it, but after a while, you'll get use to drawing those curves to match what you want.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll try to answer it as best I can. I'm a lazy dude, but I'll try to remember to check in for comments. In the meantime, rock on!