Have you heard of Hatsune Miku? The Japanese pop star had one of her biggest performances yet a few months back, singing before a glow-stick waving crowd of enthusiastic fans. She’s pitch perfect, never gets tired despite constantly dancing and never flakes on her performances. Miku is the ideal musician, but she’ll never be able to meet her fans: She’s a virtual artist, a computer-generated image backed by computer-generated vocals. Still, you better believe she’s got a real-life following.
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Miku, a creation of Crypton Future Media and Yamaha’s Vocaloid technology, is only one of many virtual musicians taking over our concert venues and music stores. While the idea of a completely digitized artist might sound futuristic, virtual artists have existed since the 1950s. Technically, Alvin and the Chipmunks were the first ones, using a sped up version of creator Ross Bagdasarian’s voice as their singing track. Gorillaz, the musical project of Damon Alburn from the British band Blur and Tank Girl illustrator Jamie Hewlett, won a Grammy and were nominated for six others and were the GQ Awards 2010 Band of the Year. Virtual metal band Dethklok not only have gone on tour and released two studio albums, they have their own Adult Swim show called Metalocaplypse based on their exploits.
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Virtual artists may be perfect at their profession, but you can see a problem where they’ll never be able to improvise a solo or display a persona past what their programmer decides. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially with diva-like and egotistical behavior causing more drama than music. While some might argue that digital musicians lack personal inspiration and creativity, the people who create them bring their own experiences to the virtual artist. Hiding behind an avatar or creating a mythical artist that exists in a dystopian future is not that far off from the stage personas of some musicians like Lady Gaga. When our artists today are as autotuned as they are, which is more “real”?: A singer whose performance is mechanically post-perfected from the original recording or a virtual artist whose songs are released just as they were recorded.
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