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Tutorial Basic Vocaloid Software Overview

When someone new to digital music creation decides to start working with a vocal synth, it can be confusing to know what software they need and what that software does. This guide is intended to help.

This guide probably has somewhat broader applicability to other kinds of vocal synths, but since this is the Vocaloid section of our Resources, I'll be writing it from the perspective of a Vocaloid user.

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
If you were a carpenter or woodworker, you would probably have some kind of table in your garage or basement. You would put your pieces of wood on this table, measure them, cut them, drill holes in them, and otherwise change them until they were as you wanted. This table is often referred to as a workbench.

A digital audio workstation is very similar. It's the master piece of software that supports your music creation efforts. You'll import bits of audio into it, or else build them inside it. You'll then arrange those bits of audio as you create your song. That's the essence of what a DAW is.

Plugin/VST/VSTi
A workbench is useful, but it's just a table. A woodworker might decide to add things to it to make it more useful. Maybe he/she could clip on a lamp for some extra light, or attach a ruler at the bottom so that things can be measured just by putting them along the edge of the workbench.

Plugins are much like that--they're specialized tools that you can attach to your DAW to give it abilities that it didn't have before.

For work with Vocaloids, the three major plugins are Piapro Studio, the Vocaloid 4.5 Editor for Cubase (which is exclusively for the Cubase DAW), and the Vocaloid 5 editor's VST mode. These plugins let you work with your Vocaloid--you use them to choose the notes your Vocaloid will sing, add lyrics to the notes, and make other adjustments to the Vocaloid's sound/pronunciation.

Voice Bank
If a person gets inspired to create music after hearing the voice of their favorite Vocaloid, this is probably where they end up going first. This contributes to their confusion, since they probably aren't aware at first that they need the DAW and one plugin or the other also.

The voice bank is basically the voice of your chosen Vocaloid.

Non-Plugin-Based Setup
The above setup is based on having a plugin (which can only be used with a DAW) to work with your Vocaloid. Not every Vocaloid user chooses to use a setup like this, however. Some users choose to work with their Vocaloid in another piece of software that can be used on its own.

Vocaloid 3 Editor/Vocaloid 3 Tiny Editor/Vocaloid 4 Editor
These pieces of software basically take the place of the plugin. Users work with their Vocaloid inside of this software. When their Vocaloid has produced the vocal part of the song, they export a sound file (such as a .wav file), which they can then import into their DAW to be played alongside their instrumental track(s), etc.

All of these pieces of software are old, and they aren't being supported by Yamaha anymore. But I include them here since people will probably continue using them for awhile.

Standalone Piapro editor
I haven't used this, but a standalone (meaning, not used with a DAW) version of Piapro was also created by Crypton Future Media. From what I understand, this is basically similar to the Vocaloid 3-4 editors, but it is a currently-supported product. It's also more similar to the Piapro plugin, so users who prefer Piapro's interface may prefer this over the Vocaloid 3-4 editors.

As far as I know, this editor is also not sold on its own; you can only get it as part of a bundle with Hatsune Miku's Chinese voice bank. Possibly it will be more widely available at some future point.

Vocaloid 5 Editor
This is Yamaha's current standalone editor software. I broke it out from the various Vocaloid 3-4 editors because it is different in a few ways.
  • It has a VST mode, which means that it can be used with a DAW, just like a plugin.
  • Unlike the Vocaloid 3-4 editors, you can put instrumental parts into it (like .wav files). So, theoretically, you could use it in place of both the plugin and your DAW. However, a DAW still has many more features, and you can't actually create an instrumental track within Vocaloid 5 the way you can in a DAW, so Vocaloid 5 isn't really a substitute for an actual DAW.
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