Voice Coach: Interview with Cari Cole

Voice Coach: Interview with Cari Cole
by Sue Basko, esq.

Today's blog guest is distinguished New York City voice coach, Cari Cole. Cari has graciously agreed to share her expertise and advice with all of us.

You work in New York City, right?
Yes, I am the Founder of Cari Cole Voice & Music Co for the past 20+ years in New York City on 34th St.

Do you have your own studio? Can you tell me about it?
I have a boutique Pro-Tools production studio where I work with aspiring, emerging and famous singers and bands, helping them find their voice, craft their music and create successful careers.

What is your background/ training/ education?
Voice, Songwriting & Composition, Guitar, Piano and Flute. I studied classical guitar and flute from the age of 6. Studied voice in an apprenticeship with a renowned vocal coach from 19 yrs to 27. Studied voice, songwriting, composition and jazz guitar at the New York School for Commercial Music under Stan Persky, Director of Music at New York’s City College. Was a principal Vocal coach at the Katherine Agresta Vocal Studios for several years in the late 80’s and founded my own vocal studio in 1987.

What do you do?
I am a vocal coach, songwriter, producer, arranger and manager.

Who do you work with?
Grammy winners, American Idol finalists, Major and Indie label artists, and aspiring and emerging artists.

What kind of singers?
All commercial styles. Pop, rock, R & B, Gospel, Folk, Country, Hip Hop, etc.

What genre singers do you most work with?
All commercial styles.

Who are your typical clients?
Half of my clientele is under 17, aspiring artists in development. The other half is over 17 and are emerging and professional recording artists.

Who do you think should have a singing coach?
Everyone who aspires to have a professional career.

What are some of your techniques?
Think down for higher notes.
Keep the chest lifted throughout singing (pectorals engaged)
Open your mouth more on your words.
Breathe into your ribs sideways and into your back ribs for higher notes.
Drink the tone.
Move your jaw downward on all vowels.
Lift the soft palate and drop the tongue.

You can find out more about all of these techniques here:

What is the minimum number of lessons that are required to make any difference?

I hear quite a few singers that I think could use some help. Some of these are from rock bands and others are singer songwriters. Some are off pitch, others just have voices that are not very pleasant. Some are just mediocre. Some are so "off" it is funny or pathetic. I wonder, how can they not know? Should someone be telling them? I think there is no one with incentive to tell them. Surely a studio is not going to tell them - it wants their money. And their family and friends won't tell them. I won't tell them unless they specifically ask, and then they either do not believe me or do not like to hear it, of course. What can be done? I mean, I am asking this because it is an actual problem I face. People will tell me they cannot get more bookings or they cannot get airplay, and I feel like I should tell them why. How do YOU let someone know they sound bad or just not very good?
I am very honest with my artists. They depend upon me for that so I don’t have any problem telling them the truth. I always give them a way to fix what isn’t working so they don’t feel hopeless. It really works, they get inspired to make the changes they need. If someone is really off pitch, I tell them what they have to do - but I also may ask them why they want to do music when it may not be what they are going to excel at.

Honestly I think you should give them your professional feedback and tell them they MUST work with a vocal coach before you will work with them. People need to hear the truth - especially from a professional. Don’t be afraid to do that. You have to tell them the reason they are not getting bookings or airplay is because their recordings are not good enough - and then break it down further, like “the voice is not strong enough, or off pitch” etc. I do that all the time.

If someone does not sing on pitch, can you work with them to get them able to do it?
Yes for the most part, but a lot depends on their music background. If someone has no music background and they are off pitch, I am not inclined to work with them because the results are usually not good - they have to study music - an instrument, develop their ear first. I use Hearfones (hearfones.com) to improve and fix pitch along with my specific vocal techniques- they are awesome.

if someone has a voice that is not pleasant, can you somehow make it pleasant?
If it’s a problem with nasality or off pitch and they have a music background, those things can be fixed. If the voice doesn’t sound good and the singer doesn’t work hard enough, and does not have a music background or play an instrument there is nothing that can be done.

Cardio exercise is great for breath control. What other daily activities help build singing skill?
Vocalizing scales and singing with blues and jazz singers to improve phrasing (even if you sing rock).

Have you worked with anyone who has really done you proud? Who?
Diane Birch, Chrisette Michele, and many more but I am most proud of Diane for all the work we did together and for her recent success.

Do you perform as a singer?
Yes. I have performed all over - from CBGB’s to Carnegie Hall & Town Hall as well as the Bluebird CafĂ© in Nashville and many others. I have a record out called The Circle of Fire, that is inspired by the NY Times bestselling book, The Four Agreements, available now on iTunes worldwide or at www.cdbaby.com/caricole. I have a worldwide following and have sold upwards of 20,000 records.

How about changes in voices -- the change in a boy from boy to adult, changes as we get older, etc? How do you work with this?
Vocal technique assists the changes in the voice from pubescent to adolescent. A voice that trains stays in great shape long into the 70’s. Any decline in the voice has not to do with age but with declining health.

How can a person find a voice coach near where they live?
Google. Local to NYC -- nyst.org

What should they look for in a voice coach?
Someone who is patient, knowledgeable, can easily explain how to use the voice and answer any question satisfactorily. It’s also best to work with someone who works with artists in the industry and can help guide you from an industry perspective as well. I.e.: If you are a commercial singer and want to be a recording artist, study with a contemporary coach and not an opera coach.

Do you coach voice for non-singers -- for the speaking voice?
I do work with the speaking voice - but only with my singers.

Can you suggest a few simple at-home practices to help our voices?
Study and train. Find a great coach. There are also a lot of home study courses like my Singers Gift Vocal warm-ups www.caricole.com
Practice technique every day.
Practice breathing into your abdomen, ribs and back to drop your diaphragm.
Record yourself and listen back to make improvements.
Sing with Hearfones to improve your pitch.
Learn an instrument.
Take drum lessons to improve your timing.

-- Cari Cole
C A R I C O L E V O I C E & M U S I C C O M P A N Y
T. 800.330.5250
401 E. 34th St. Ste. #N19K
New York, NY 10016
Email: Cari@CariCole.com

Cari’s CD, The Circle of Fire, inspired by the NY Times bestselling book, The Four Agreements, available now on iTunes worldwide or at www.cdbaby.com/caricole