A virtual band (also called a virtual group or cartoon band), in music, is any group whose members are not corporeal musicians, but animated characters. The music is recorded (and, in the case of concerts, performed) by human musicians and producers, while any media related to the virtual band, including albums, video clips and the visual component of stage performances, feature the animated line-up; in some cases (including all three of the Gorillaz albums, Gorillaz, Demon Days and Plastic Beach), the virtual band members have been listed as the writers and performers of the songs. Live performances can become rather complex, requiring perfect synchronization between the visual and audio components of the show.
The term virtual band was popularised with Gorillaz in 2000; however, the concept of the virtual band was first demonstrated by Alvin and the Chipmunks in 1959, when their creator, Ross Bagdasarian, accelerated recordings of his own voice to achieve the 'chipmunk voice'. There have since been various bands that have recorded material, including, but not restricted to, The Archies, Dethklok, JuJu Eyeballs, Mistula and The Bots. Each group has used different animation and recording techniques to achieve their desired effect, the most common being computer animation, traditional animation, and vocal mixing and manipulation.
In recent years, the term has also come to be used for music groups who collaborate using the Internet, no longer requiring the members to be present in the same place. See Internet band for more information on this phenomenon.
The members of virtual groups are animated characters, and, like any other fictitious character, have their own personality, voice, history, and playing style. For example, Alvin, the 'front-munk' of the Chipmunks, is considered mischievous, while Murdoc of Gorillaz is a demonic fingered bass player.
The style of animation used for depicting the characters varies. Some groups, like The Archies, Gorillaz, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, are hand-drawn characters, and much of their media use traditional animation and cartooning techniques. Others, such as Crazy Frog, JuJu Eyeballs, Genki Rockets, and The Bots, are computer-generated. Mistula is distinct from many of their counterparts by being animated using stop motion.
The recording of the music is done by the human musicians and artists, whom the virtual artists emulate. This is done using the normal in-studio recording process; see Sound recording for a detailed explanation.
In some instances, most notably The Chipmunks, manipulation of voices may be employed, either to achieve a desired vocal effect, or to make it dissimilar to the voice of the actual singer. The manipulation is done by either modifying the playback speed of the vocal track, for example speeding it up or slowing it down, or by putting it through a synthesizer (this process is called Vocoding).
Writing and production credits may be assigned to either the virtual band, or the human writers and artists involved.
One of two methods can be employed for live performances. The first involves animating the entire set, with little or no allowance for audience interaction, then 'performing' it as is. The major pitfall with this method is the lack of audience interaction, which can be vital during concerts. This is best suited to short performances, where audience response can be predicted.
The second, and more complex, method differs from the first in that allowance is made for a variety of responses and interaction. This means having a wide range of animated sequences ready to play, with matching spoken lines, in response to different reactions.
In both cases, extensive rehearsal is required to synchronize spoken lines and instrumentation with animated action. This can be eliminated by using pre-recorded music and speech, however doing so also weakens the actual 'live' experience.
(Some non-virtual artists and groups have employed a similar technique on some concert tours and performances. DJ Shadow, for example, on his In Tune and On Time tour, had pre-animated sequences, which were played on giant screens behind him while he performed the set. Again, a large amount of pre-tour planning and synchronisation rehearsal was required beforehand.)
Perhaps the most complex live performance by a virtual band was Gorillaz' performances at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon and the 2006 Grammy Awards. The group used a combination of computer-generated 3D imagery with 19th-century Pepper's Ghost technology to create life-like holograms of the band members. There were also initial plans for a Gorillaz world tour using this technology.
While the term had not officially been coined at the time, Alvin and the Chipmunks were the first virtual band to appear. Centered around the 'front-munk' Alvin, his two brothers Simon and Theodore, and their manager/father Dave Seville, their voices were created by Ross Bagdasarian, who accelerated the recording of his voice to create the distinctive sound; the process earned him two Grammys in 1959 for engineering.
The success of the Chipmunks spurred on another group, the Nutty Squirrels, to join the ranks. A scat-singing version of Bagdasarian's creation, they made the American Top 40 with their song Uh-Oh. Their success, however, was short-lived.
The Archies were the first virtual band to appear in worldwide pop charts. In 1969, The Monkees rejected their manager's suggestion that they play the song Sugar Sugar. Displeased about this, he took the song, and created a group who could be easily managed; basing it on the Archie comic that was popular at the time, he created the Archies.
During this time, other television programs, such as Josie and the Pussycats and The Muppet Show, began to include bands as part of the format (in the case of Josie and the Pussycats, the eponymous band were the show's focus). Some of the groups that appeared on these shows released mainstream recordings. Some bands, however, would 'break up' after the end of the show's run.
Virtual bands still appear in television: the Chipmunks appeared in their own television show for much of the 1990s, and the Adult Swim show Metalocalypse features the group Dethklok. The V-Birds, United Kingdom's first animated female group, appeared on Cartoon Network. Said to be inspired by the success of Gorillaz, the V—Birds are backed by real band, UB40.
The 1980's were largely free of virtual groups. It wouldn't be until the early 1990's, when the Chipmunks, updated to fit with the more contemporary setting, and now playing their own instruments, released a CD of covers to accompany the new show, that virtual bands would begin to make a comeback.
In 1990, singing in Spanish, English and French, the first Latin American virtual band, Swave, emerged. Their single "In the Future" written and produced by Juan Carlos Capacho, from the album "From the Eternal Fall" gained international notice.
The first recorded use of the term virtual band, however, came about in 1996. It was used to describe an American group called the Bot Brothers, who also used the internet as a distribution medium.  The group was largely unpopular, due to their limited fanbase and bad attitude.  This resulted in the group's splitting; they reformed a few years later with a larger band to make the Bots.
In 1999, the first Australian virtual band, JuJu Eyeballs, were unearthed. Their tenure as a band was to be brief: they had released two singles through Warner-Chappell Australia, one of which was only available through the site, before going on hiatus in 2001.
The media were the first to bring the term into popularity, with the appearance of Britain's Gorillaz in 2000. Formed by Blur's Damon Albarn and Tank Girl's Jamie Hewlett, and produced by Deltron 3030's Dan the Automator, the group brought the virtual bands to the musical fore again, with their scoring numerous Top 20 positions around the world, and the World Record of being the Most Successful Virtual Band.
Philippine band Mistula, the first virtual band for the country, was formed in 2004, comprising Bella Lugosi, Manx Minuet, Uno and Lobo, four unique dolls. Their mix of graphic imagery, literature and music, which is dubbed as 'rock poetry' by music authorities, earned them many accolades, including one from UK-based music site Overplay for The Last Supper.
In 2005, dance duo Bass Bumpers produced a song featuring the very popular ringtone Crazy Frog, called Axel F. Sampling the ringtone, along with the original 'Axel F' theme from Beverly Hills Cop, the song made Number 1 in both England and Australia, and top 10 in many other countries. This release was followed by two albums and several more singles, including Popcorn, Jingle Bells and We Are the Champions.
A few months after the Crazy Frog release, to coincide with the release of the new line of dolls, Bratz Rock Angelz released their first single, So Good. The group followed in the line of many of their real-life pop counterparts stylistically.
In 2008 the first music videos of the Israeli animated band "Bago Dago" were released. The band features five characters who are portrayed as young Israeli singers-musicians who come from different social and musical backgrounds. Bago Dago's early music videos feature satirical Hebrew versions of the popular hit songs "Smack That", originally sung by Akon, and "American Boy", which was originally sung by Estelle and Kanye West.
^ One such person is cartoonist and animator Peter Viska, who dedicates two pages of his book The Animation Book (ISBN 0-86896-958-3) to this form of animation.
^ This comment about the Bot Brothers' attitude was made on The Bots Online website by Synthia, a member of the newly reformed Bots. It also stated that "she's trying to take the group in a much more positive direction."