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Your PC Is An Awesome Singer... If You Let It!

As an amateur songwriter, who struggles with a computer far from powerful enough to run the necessary software to record vocals of good quality, I have looked for good solutions. And I've found a few.

In a short while you will hear songs that are totally computer made ? including the vocals. Yamaha made the technology, and licensed it to various companies. Vocaloid is the name ? remember it if you like music!

I have had the pleasure of testing Leon, the Virtual Soul Vocalist, from www.zero-g.co.uk.

The complexity hid behind the seemingly simplistic interface is astonishing. I hardly had to look at the manual at all while exploring ? quite atypical for music software.

You draw your vocals using the mouse, and then add lyrics on top. Then, add harmonics, vibrato, attack etc. as you want, tweak the phonemes (your words are automatically converted, and you can edit them as you wish using the reference guide in the manual) and go. Record the vocals as WAV and import them into your favourite sequencer to add music, or use the program as a VST plugin.

On their site, Zero-G describes Leon: LEON is a virtual male soul vocalist modelled on a real professional singer, and when he is installed into your PC he will literally allow you to create singing of superb quality and realism. LEON will sing ANY words you ask him to in English - literally anything - be they beautiful lyrics or comical trivialities, Monteverdi madrigals or manic chants. You can create vocal tracks of soulful singing in any lyrics you want. You just type in lyrics, and synthesize. Then add expression to taste. LEON is under your total control, and the really mind-blowing thing is - he can truly sound like a professional singing voice. With very little practice the results you get from LEON will completely fool your friends - they will believe they are listening to a real singer performing. The question you will hear will always be "WHO is that?", and not "What is that?".

I quite agree. Leon is astonishing. You need a powerful PC to run the Vocaloid programs. My 1 Mhz AMD Athlon with 512 Mb RAM had problems. (Windows XP, Pentium 4, 1.7 GHz +, 1 GB of RAM or more is recommended). But still ? I was able to use the program ? and the night I received my copy, I didn't get to bed until 4 am?

You can find a distributor for the Zero-G range at www.zero-g.co.uk. The retail price for both Leon and Lola is $329.95/£199.95/?289. More info on the technology can be found at www.vocaloid.com and a link to raving reviews in various magazines and newspapers (among them one from the New York Times titled Could I Get That Song in Elvis, Please?) are linked to from both sites.

I am now about to enter the vocals for one of my songs using Leon. Gotta go. Drop by www.haakon.nu to listen to the results!

Essential software

Band in a Box is the perfect companion to these plugins. Enter your chords, select the style (from hardrock to soft ballads and classic Mozart) and generate your music. Read more at www.bandinabox.com and buy it for $88 ($249 for the MegaPAK with a multitude of styles). BiaB 2005 also allows you to record vocals and to harmonize them ? in addition to a great variety of other features. If you wish, you can have BiaB 2005 create your whole song.

Haakon Rian Ueland is a former columnist of the Mensa International Journal, where this article was first published. smartsoftware.org is dedicated to various Cellphones and to his column. You can contact him at hueland (at) gmail (dot) com.

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