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 see...no 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!