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Hatsune Miku: The Not-So-Living Proof of AI’s Creative Potential

Dylan de Koning

Dylan de Koning

6 June 2024

Hatsune Miku: The Not-So-Living Proof of AI’s Creative Potential - Voquent

There’s one big difference between Hatsune Miku and your average synthetic voiceover: She requires human creativity… just not from voice actors.

Hatsune Miku stands out as more than just another AI-like voice.

With multiple songs alongside high-profile artists and her own anime series, her success has not only been exceptionally lucrative, but the commonly unethical traits of AI voiceover generally can’t be applied to her.

So, let’s discover why Hatsune Miku is redefining the boundaries of creativity and ethics in the world of virtual voices.

 

Who is Hatsune Miku?

Hatsune Miku is a pop star known for her collaborations with Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga, and Zedd, as well as having her own series and other ventures in the entertainment industry. But there’s one thing that’s a little different about her… she isn’t real.

Created in 2007 and popularised by Vocaloid, Hatsune Miku was simply intended to be a virtual pop star that anyone could buy a licence for, allowing producers to create music with her voice as a tool.

However, the virtual idol has achieved greater success than anyone could have imagined, earning an estimated $120 million throughout her “career”. She even performed as a hologram at Coachella in 2018 & 2024!

While Hatsune Miku is an interesting character, especially in the real world, it’s worth remembering that her voice was provided by a very real person.

But first, what exactly is a Vocaloid…

 

What is a Vocaloid?

Vocaloid is a music-making tool, originally released by Yamaha in 2003, that allows producers to create songs with synthesised instruments and voices.

However, people often use the word “Vocaloid” when referring to one of the virtual popstars that the program allows you to license, such as Hatsune Miku. There are also more Vocaloid characters, such as Kagamine Rin, Megurine Luca, and KAITO, which producers can create songs with, too.

Hatsune Miku and more Vocaloid options

Hatsune Miku is actually a third-party voice option, as she Is still officially owned by the company that created her, Crypton Future Media, INC.

Creating Vocaloids is not the same as creating an AI voice. While AI requires more data to train the voice on how to speak, Vocaloids are simply a voicebank of recorded audio and sounds.

So, who provided the voice for Hatsune Miku?

 

Who is the Voice Actor for Hatsune Miku?

The voice of Hatsune Miku is actually Saki Fujita, a Japanese voice actor known for roles such as Ymir in Attack on Titan, Khana in Pokemon Horizons, and Remon Yoimura in Boruto: Naruto Next Generations.

Saki Fujita, voice actor for Hatsune Miku.

Saki has stated that she admires Hatsune Miku and the variety of projects she has been part of, praising people’s creativity with the character. She even said that Hatsune Miku’s success was pivotal to her career as a voice actor after becoming a household name in Japan.

Saki also voices Hatsune’s official advertisements, including project and collaboration announcements, which is interesting because they could just use Hatsune’s voice to do this.

Unlike many of the AI voiceover stories we have heard in the industry lately, Saki’s voice was not stolen to create Hatsune Miku. Saki was, in fact, compensated for her work in creating the Vocaloid as well as working on later updates, such as the English version of Hatsune Miku.

While it is not known how much Saki was paid for the project, Hatsune Miku is expected to have earned $120 million to date, and this isn’t just via music.

 

Hatsune Miku Beyond Pop Stardom

Beyond the music industry, Hatsune has collaborated on a mix of creative and marketing endeavours.

She has been featured as the artwork of racing teams, appearing on motorbikes and cars after being licenced by Good Smile Racing.

Miku is the star of her very own anime called Maker Hikōshiki Hatsune Mix, in which there is no consistent storyline, showing Miku on adventures and in more casual settings. As well as her own anime, Miku has also cameoed in Zoku Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei, Baka and Test, Maria Holic and many more. She even provides the voice of theme songs in anime such as Akikan!, and Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories.

Hatsune Miku in the menu of her own game.

In video games, Miku has been a central character in multiple titles, including Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA, Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai, and Project SEKAI: Colorful Stage! She has also been featured in video games more minorly, such as her appearances in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, #COMPASS, and PriPara.

 

Working With Hatsune Miku

With over 100,000 official features in songs, it seems like Hatsune Miku is everywhere! But is it as simple as it sounds to work with her?

It only costs around $200 to start working With Miku’s voice, and there are a few differences between her and a regular syntesised voiceover. While most virtual voices allow you to turn text into speech instantly, the user must string each of the sounds that Miku makes together to create words when composing a song. Breaking it up like this allows the musician to have more control over her nuance, pitch and style – just like an instrument!

However, to officially release the song featuring Hatune’s name and visuals, the user also needs to obtain a licence from Crypton Future Media, INC. So, it costs extra for the very clear marketing benefits of working with Miku. Or, at least, there are extra hoops to jump through.

 

Is Hatsune Miku AI? And is She Ethical?

Hatsune Miku is not AI.

In the voiceover industry, the mainstream adoption of AI services has been controversial, to say the least. This is primarily due to many actors having their voices stolen without compensation or permission to create AI voice clones. But there is also a larger picture to consider surrounding how voice actors will hold on to their careers when AI is offering the work cheaper and faster, regardless of the low quality.

Hatsune Miku waving to the camera in a video game.

So, where does Hatsune Miku come into this?

Hatsune’s voice was created ethically, with the voice actor being paid for their recording sessions. And, to a certain degree, her voice works differently from your average AI voice. A considerable amount of creative work is necessary to make Miku sound good, and the work required here places the voice in a different category from AI voiceover – It’s not quite as “intelligent”, but it’s still synthetic.

While Hatsune Miku technically isn’t AI because she doesn’t string the words together for the user automatically, she still proves AI’s creative potential. While it might not be required, Audio editors can apply the same creativity they do with her voice to AI, adapting tone and pitch to create a better sound while cutting human voiceover out of the equation entirely.

If it’s considered creative with Hatsune’s voice, why would this not be considered creative with an AI voice?

Does Hatsune Miku Take Opportunities from Singers?

So, are singers missing out on work due to Miku? Kind of…

The argument surrounding how voices lose out on work is partially nullified here, as the appeal in Hatsune Miku comes from her icon status and marketability, not from convenience. Musicians seek out her voice so they can use her popularity, and therefore, not just any voice will do – Hatsune Miku generally doesn’t take high-profile projects from voice actors or musicians; these projects are made for her.

However, when her voice is not credited, and therefore not licenced, this choice was made regardless of marketability and is therefore just as controversial as any other AI voice. Why not hire a human instead?

What About Voice Actors?

For voice actors, Miku’s voice is only really used to voice her own character, so she doesn’t take work from voice actors. If her voice was used for other characters, that could be controversial in a similar way to that of celebrity casting. Miku’s voice is often used just for her popularity and status over her sound or ability. Liken this with examples such as Megan Fox’s (ill-received) role in Mortal Kombat. Many fans of the franchise were unimpressed by the choice to cast her over someone with more voice acting experience, whose voice would have been a better fit for the characterbut hey, she’s famous!

Using Hatsune’s voice requires a 1:1 creative swap. Rather than voice actors or singers working on the vocals in a creative way, producers and audio editors are working on the vocals in a creative way. You could argue that it’s no less artistic than the real thing. However, audio editors could also do this with AI voiceover, so it’s not good news for those humans who make a living from their voice.

 

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Hatsune Miku is the not-so-living proof that an AI-like product can be popular.

After over a decade since she was created, her success has been monumental, appearing in TV shows, songs alongside high-profile artists, and as the face of multiple brands.

So, what does Hatsune Miku teach us about the possible future of voice acting?

More virtual idols are likely to become household names. If this trend catches on, we could see more personalities, brands and voices on offer, with businesses cashing in on their popularity similar to that of influencers. In fact, AI influencers are expected to be a big hit by 2030!

Ultimately, the lines between influencing and voiceover might begin to blur.

Dylan de Koning

By Dylan de Koning

Dylan de Koning is a narrative writer, script reader and film buff from Scotland.

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