Hatsune Miku’s creator talks to the UK

TL; DR version:
– Mr Itoh wants to bring the Hatsune Miku concert to the UK, but there are no plans for it as of now due to cost constraints.
– An English version of Hatsune Miku is in development and he hopes to have it completed by the end of this year, but no release date is confirmed yet.

Full version:
Anime UK News was invited to attend two events – one organised by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation at the Foundation’s quarters called “Leadership and Innovation”, and the “International Symposium: Cultural Policy and Creative Industries in Japan and Scotland” at Edinburgh University, organised jointly by the University of Edinburgh’s Japanese Studies department and the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. Both events were attended by Mr Hiroyuki Itoh, CEO of Crypton Future Media, the creators of Hatsune Miku, Megurine Luka, Kagamine Rin & Len and others.

Mr Itoh presentation on both days was about Crypton, Hatsune Miku and Crypton’s vision of something they call Consumer Generated Media, which is known in the West as User Generated Content, although their concept is slightly different as it’s based on the Piapro Character License.

Mr Itoh started by describing that he was born in Hokkaido, and during his childhood, the only way to find new music was through the radio. In his teens he was a fan of British music, especially Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, while in the 80s electronic music as Thomas Dolby and Depeche Mode was what he was mainly listening to. He studied computer music composition on his own, and from this passion of his Crypton Future Media was established as a computer music software company in 1995.

Crypton is the largest distributor of computer music software in Japan now. They support individual content creators, game companies, music producers and many others with their products. These products were developed based on Yamaha’s voice synthesising technology called Vocaloid, putting the consumer generated media at the heart of his company.

He then explained how some characteristics of Japanese culture were favourable to the success of Vocaloids.

He explained that Japanese people worry about others’ perceptions of them, and due to the Shintoist belief that everything has a spirit, they are also affected by the world around them, worrying about non-human things’ perception of them, such as the mountains, the sky, etc. With this belief that things also have a spirit within them, the virtual being ‘alive’ is a big thing in Japan, so Artificial Intelligence and Robotics are well ingrained in their daily culture, which creates a high level of respect for engineers.

Next, Mr Itoh explained how manga and anime are also targeted at an adult audience in Japan and how everyone would like to see more of the series and shows they like, and this is given to the public through the ‘doujin’ culture. Some doujin activities may infringe copyright, but creators rarely act on it as it is understood that the number of doujin is a great “thermometer” of their own work’s popularity.
Doujin is also one way that companies use to find new talent; doujin popularity in Japan is huge (e.g. 600,000 people attend the Comiket events in Tokyo twice a year).

Based on these concepts, Hatsune Miku was developed for Windows using Yamaha’s technology Vocaloid 2, which records the voice of a real person and then synthesises their singing voice. They started auditioning a variety of voice actors in Japan, until they found voice actress Saki Fujita, who was then chosen to become Hatsune Miku’s voice.

A character designed by Kei was added to the box for the software and then the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid software was released in August 2007. Soon, thousands of songs and videos started to appear on the internet.
At the moment, 250,000 Hatsune Miku videos can be found on YouTube while 600,000 original and derivative works can be found on the Piapro website. As the character became more and more popular, and due to the already existing doujin culture of Japan, Miku expanded very quickly with some of the more popular works having thousand of remixes.

All of this popularity and creativity is explained by what Mr Itoh calls “The chain of co-creation”.

The “chain of co-creation” is how everything in the creative process is linked; in the world of Hatsune Miku this includes writing the song, creating a video, etc. This was only possible by changing from an “all rights reserved” to a new “some rights reserved” approach. This lead to the creation of the Piapro Character License (PCL), which allows creators almost complete liberty for any non-commercial use of Hatsune Miku. The PCL bans erotic expressions on the character, which is the main difference from the Creative Commons license, as it would allow ANY derivative work, porn included.

Considering Mr Itoh had cited that 80% of junior high school and high school students in Japan know about Hatsune Miku, this ‘morality’ concern is well justified. While it may be impossible to prevent dodgy pornographic doujin from being made, at least making it clear that the company doesn’t condone with it would put parents at ease.

The best way to explain the “chain of co-creation” is actually shown in a Japanese Google Chrome advertisement, which shows how sometimes hundreds of people get themselves involved in the creation of a single piece for Miku. One person provides lyrics, another a guitar line or a keyboard part, then a dancer creates an unique choreography, with the culmination of it all being the performance at one of Miku’s live gigs:

You can check the extended version here

To help their consumers share their creativity, Crypton released the Piapro platform (from ‘Peer Production’), where creators and fans can share and allow anyone to use their creations. This wave of creativity also sparked fan-made software such as Miku Miku Dance, which allows users to animate Miku and other characters and make high quality music videos. It was developed by an independent programmer.

A lot of effort is put into Miku and this effort is not only from well-intentioned fans, but also from professionals and academics as well. In Japan, Hatsune Miku has been the subject of various research projects including uses in Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence.

The more popularity Miku has gained, the greater the demand for merchandise ranging from snacks to games, drinks, CDs and more. As she is recognised by such a large number of Japanese junior high school and high school students, this is where the a lot of Crypton’s money comes from; even though they “give” the rights to use Miku to the individual fans without charge. Their other stream of income is the sales of the software itself. Selling for approximately £100, so far 10 billion yen (approximately £80 million) has been generated by Hatsune Miku alone.

Crypton has also organised concerts in Japan, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore attracting thousands of people. And with the whole Vocaloid movement expanding internationally, they released the Mikubook service to keep fans up to date with news.

Hatsune Miku has an English version in development at the moment to make it easier for English-speaking fans to create their own work. Fans can enjoy the works from other creators as they like, and once a work becomes popular, contributors start to gain visibility from their own creations. Currently, there are 100,000 creators behind Hatsune Miku and Crypton. Recognising that it’s important to understand what the community of fans wants, Crypton keeps an ever-watchful eye on social media discussions, seeing social networks as their way to access creators and fans directly. They use this to further their understanding of the Vocaloid community, creating their leadership of the Consumer Generated Media market.

Q & A at the lecture
Mr Itoh was kind enough to reserve a few minutes in his busy schedule to answer questions from the audience, as well as some questions from Anime UK News:

Audience: How do you make money? Because actually, you’re giving creative powers to people; how does it pay?
Mr. Itoh: The income is made from selling software primarily, but also from licensing the Hatsune Miku character for commercial use. Many companies wants to use Miku to promote their products, to which we license for a variety of products.

Audience: How did you finance your company as a startup when you began?
Mr. Itoh: My company develops software and software doesn’t need too much to invest at first. A few computers and people to program was what I needed for my startup, so I didn’t need much money to start it.

Audience: Itoh-san, the presentation ended on the importance of leadership on social media networks, can you expand that a little?
Mr. Itoh: In the past few years the company has established a relationship with stakeholders, shareholders and then also clients, so the number of people we could have a relationship with was limited, but now we can actually communicate with millions of people using social networks; for instance, we can share our vision as a company through social networks and now we have a different way to approach all these people as well. Before it was impossible to reach all our consumers, but now technology has made it possible to reach them all.

Audience: Why create your own license (PCL) when Creative Commons also existed?
Mr. Itoh: In PCL the IP is for the characters and Creative Commons is for the copyrights themselves, so there’s a difference and that’s why we created PCL (check our explanation on PCL and Creative Commons above).

Audience: How do you feel about people developing the same sort of Vocaloid technologies such as in China and Mexico?
Mr. Itoh: I think we have to be fair in terms of technology development, so we shouldn’t try to block other people from developing the technology. I think this is a very important concept for innovation. We should work on innovation ourselves and we should let it exist and be developed anywhere, and we should also welcome it.

AUKN Interviews Mr Itoh
AUKN: Can you tell me a bit about your company and the Vocaloids?
Mr. Itoh: My company Crypton Future Media is from Sapporo and we developed Hatsune Miku, Kagamine Rin & Len, Megurine Luka, Meiko and Kaito. So we have five products and six Vocaloids – as the Kagamine Rin & Len software includes two Vocaloids.

AUKN: how long does it take to create a Vocaloid? To record the voices, synthesise and then have an actual product to sell? How long does it take to develop a Vocaloid?
Mr. Itoh: Well, it takes a lot of time, but I can say that to only develop its voice database – the voice bank set, for instance – Hatsune Miku has one database, Kagamine Rin & Len includes two voice banks, Luka includes two as well (Japanese and English). The time to develop one database depends on the language. For instance, to develop a database for Japanese it takes around four weeks, but if we develop an English database, English pronunciation has more phonemes than Japanese, so I have to record and edit more voice sets, which takes three to four times longer to make the database alone.

AUKN: During the lecture, you mentioned that there is an English version of Hatsune Miku in development, is there any estimate for a release date?
Mr. Itoh: We have been developing the English version of Hatsune Miku for more than one year, but I hope we finish it by the end of this year.

AUKN: So we can expect to have a release coming up next year?
Mr. Itoh: Yes, maybe.

AUKN: And are there any plans to bring the Hatsune Miku concert to Europe or even better, to the UK?
Mr. Itoh: I hope to have a concert in Europe. But we are not planning it. I don’t have a plan yet. It’s just an idea.

AUKN: To bring Hatsune Miku to Europe, what attendance numbers would you be looking for?
Mr. Itoh: I’m not sure how many people are interested in Hatsune Miku in Europe. Sorry, I’m not sure…

AUKN: It’s difficult to come up with actual number of fans as its fan base is mostly online.
Mr. Itoh: Can you calculate an estimate of fans, for example, in the UK? If I brought Hatsune Miku to the UK, how many people do you think would come?
AUKN: That is a very good question. I dare say at least a couple of thousand people. One thing that happens in Europe in general is that because the countries are so close to each other, if an artist comes to London, or to Paris or to Germany, fans would actually travel just to see them. It happened when Utada Hikaru and X Japan were here and they were all sold out for several nights. It was originally one night, and they opened more nights as it sold out.
Mr. Itoh: What was the capacity of the venue?
AUKN: I think it was ten thousand people on all nights in total* and I know of a lot of people who travelled from other places in Europe to see them here.
(* Correction: I looked up the venues’ capacities later and Utada Hikaru had about 2 thousand people on all London dates with the same attendance for X Japan).
Mr. Itoh: Sorry, I have no idea, but I hope that we have a concert of Hatsune Miku in Europe.

AUKN: Crypton Future Media is all about the creation, by individuals and the fans of Hatsune Miku, Luka and the other Vocaloids who contribute with their creations: the songs, the videos and everything else. So have Crypton considered sourcing this talent from the crowds?
Mr. Itoh: No, because it means doing it top-down. But the Vocaloid fans are the ones who are proactive and create their own ‘committees’ and these committees includes creators and fans. Creators are individuals and are not outsourced by Crypton, they individually create whatever they want.

AUKN: Any chance for Piapro to come out in an English version?
Mr. Itoh: It’s possible. Piapro is the website where the creators work. We have a license in Japanese, so I’d have to translate all these description in English. It takes a lot of time, but it’s possible.

AUKN: Are there any other languages on the plans?
Mr. Itoh: Any language is possible, for example Chinese, French. Any language is possible but I have no experience with them yet.

AUKN: Ok, so basically you’d have to find out how interested the fans are in it…
Mr. Itoh: I have experience with English database development, because I’ve developed Megurine Luka which has an English database, so with this experience I can create the English version of Hatsune Miku, but other languages I have no experience.

AUKN: How many people work at Crypton now?
Mr. Itoh: Crypton has 60 people, but Crypton is a software company. We develop and distribute several music production softwares in the Japanese market, so not all the people work for Hatsune Miku but in other projects as well.

AUKN: In your lecture, the host of the talk mentioned Simon Cowell. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him, but he runs a TV show where people go and sing, and they chose one of the singers and ‘fabricate’ their careers. Do you believe that Vocaloid could be the end of these fabricated artists, including idols in Japan?
Mr. Itoh: No. I don’t think so. Because Vocaloid was developed more at grassroots level, it was a ‘national’ development rather than the X-Factor type of singer. That was already ‘fabricated’ by the media, therefore it was a top-down mechanism. Vocaloid was grassroots as it was gradually becoming very very popular over time, which is a completely different ‘career’ development style, so I don’t think so.

AUKN: Other than the English Hatsune Miku, any other projects in the pipeline?
Mr. Itoh: We are planning to develop an English version of Kaito, which is almost done. Maybe other Vocaloids, Meiko and Luka, could be repackaged with Vocaloid 3 and the English database.

AUKN: That’s it from me now. Once again, thank you very much for talking to Anime UK News.

Anime UK News would also like to thank Professor Urs Matthias Zachmann from University of Edinburgh for their support in organising AUKN attendance at the Symposium and Q&A and a special thanks to Shihoko Ogawa from Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, for arranging the interview with Mr. Itoh as well as acting as an interpreter during the interview.