Interview Questions for Vocal Coach Cari Cole
I caught her at a hotel in Austin, Texas, where she had been visiting for the South by South West (SXSW) conferences and festivals, she was just about packing up and getting ready to head back to New York. As an artist herself, Cari Cole understands the industry from a practical perspective, at just 16, she left her hometown of Minneapolis to conquer her singing career beginning in coffeehouses and moving her way up to the Big Apple eventually joining a rock band. Her excellence as a celebrity vocal coach and new business mentor stems firstly from her profound education at the New York School for Commercial Music, but mainly from her 27 years of experience teaching. Working with Cari will give you lasting techniques and strategies and help you develop a ‘rock-solid plan’ for becoming the best vocalist you can be. Here’s a sneak peak at some of her greatest vocal health secrets:
TVM: What is your professional background?
I’ve been a musician since I was six, I was trained by my mom who was a classical pianist. I learned to read music when I was six, and then played classical guitar and classical flute, and then I studied music in school. And then I went to music school in New York CIty -The New York School for Commercial Music. During that time I was also training with a very prominent vocal coach, Catherine Agresta, she taught a lot of rock n roll singers and she was a classical singer. I taught for her studio, so she taught us to teach. When she closed the studio I opened my own in 1987.
TVM: What is the most challenging part of your job as a vocal coach and business mentor?
As a vocal coach, the most challenging thing hasn’t really become a challenge anymore because I’ve been teaching for about twenty-seven years or so. But as a vocal coach in the beginning, the most challenging thing was teaching people what they didn’t know they needed to know about their voice. And also how the voice works (which has become my specialty over the years) and a deeper understanding of how the instrument actually works on a physical level. I guess a challenge is dealing with the rumor out there that training will change a person’s voice to sound trained- and a lot of contemporary artists don’t wan’t that. There’s also this mystique of never having taken a lesson. So they don’t realized that if they train they are going to be a better them. It’ not gonna take away anything, as a matter of fact it’s going to add. At the core of what I’m thinking is coming from a right brain perspective, since I am artist myself. My approach to business is more from a creative aspect. It’s challenging because the word artist and business don;t really go together but the word music business is music and business.
TVM: Who has been your greatest musical inspiration?
I like a lot of different kinds of music. I have a classical base, so I was inspired by Bach, and Mozart but I never wen’t into classical singing. I was a folk and pop singer, when I was 14, 15, 16 and then became a rock singer and joined a band in New York when I was 19. And then a couple years later I went to music school for jazz, so I was all over the spectrum. Loving all of those singers from Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Aretha and a lot of rock and pop bands Anne Wilson was one of my idols, loved the Eurythmics, Annie Lenox, Cindy Lauper those were the days following the 70s that I grew up in. So greatest musical inspiration is a tough one, but the first thing that popped into my head was Stevie Wonder so I guess I’ll go with that. I think he’s one of the biggest giants of our time and one of the most profound musicians.
TVM: What are some of the essentials for maintaining vocal health and stamina?
Well this is a big piece, I’m writing a book that’s called Heal-thy Body, Heal-thy Voice, and if you break down the word healthy it’s heal-thy. This really struck me since it’s what I teach. The body is an incredible healing machine, so vocal health has several different components. One of them is technique: having a real strong technique which in it’s foundation is health oriented. Which my technique is, it’s very focused on releasing tensions deep inside the vocal instrument, I do a very deep vocal massage, I recommend acupuncture to people to loosen up those muscles because contractions cause vocal problems. Singers are always slamming their vocal chords with a lot of force, especially if they are singing in a rock band or over a band, or even just on tour singing night after night. For a singer to sing full voice (a 45 minute set) is equivalent to a line backer playing a full game of football in terms of the intensity on the body. In my book I outline this, also in my free gifts on my website such as the Vocal Road Warrior which is a three part series on how to stay healthy on tour. So for vocal technique, we have to strip away the bigger muscles of the tongue and the jaw and get rid of tension in the neck the head needs to go over the spine so almost like your standing against the wall and you vocalize in this way, we do a lot of tongue pulling and jaw pulling to isolate the laryngal muscles more to make them stronger and to get a better breath control. And then there’s the body: what you’re feeding your instrument, the voice is an instrument that’s housed within your body so the state of your body determines the state of your voice. This is a big factor in vocal longevity and endurance. Feeding the body the right nutrition is really important, stay away from white food (white floor, white bread, sugar), too much caffeine- a bit of caffeine is good for people with asthma.
TVM: Well I see why you are so successful, you definitely know a handful of tricks and techniques.
Well thank you, I’ve definitely learned a lot from my students over the 27 years. You have to have a good education in teaching and be taught by the right people, I was lucky enough to stumble upon my mentor. But I couldn’t have found this kind of information in college, it’s more in private studios.
TVM: How does an artist know they are damaging their voice?What are the most common mistakes you see artists make that lead to vocal cord injuries?
The first signs are when your voice is not functioning the way it should, lots of high notes, a breathiness on the top. The passaggio area gets tougher to negotiate between the chest and head-voice, or for men between the chest and falsetto and just overall burning out, or when you go to hit a note and you’re like ‘what the heck is going on’ so your voice is not recovering as fast after a show. And you start to notice a gradual deterioration. Those are the first sign of inflammation and what vocal doctors call edema (the swelling of the vocal folds). You want to go right away and get vocal training with a technique teacher that understands vocal health, it’s really vocal therapy but it needs to be with a singing teacher that understands vocal health as well. Speech pathologists are good as well but they need to teach you how to not glottal (when the chords bang together in a hard attack). Your voice should feel better the minute you start practicing it, it shouldn’t feel worse.
TVM: How important are voice lessons or ongoing vocal training for an artist’s’ career longevity?
It’s really important. All of the great singers, the majority of them do have a vocal coach that they work with. It’s like an Olympic athlete working with their coach. A lot of people believe ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. I don’t think that’s the approach to take with a voice. We saw Adele lose her voice at a critical moment in her career.
TVM: For touring artists on the road, what daily routines do you recommend for their vocal health?
On my website, there is a PDF the ultimate performer full day regimen. I suggest to artists that they wake up and have a fresh juice to get those nutrients, also going for a light run helps.
TVM: You mention on your website that keeping a blog is essential to today’s artists, why do you believe this?
Blogging is an incredible opportunity to speak to your tribe. These days it’s about transparency for an artist not mystery. Since we have this great tool, use it. And you get better at it as you go.
TVM: How can our readers get in contact with you?
Well they can go to my website www.caricole.com, where they will find the Vocal Road Warrior 3-Part Series, 5 Truths About Making it Big in Today’s Music Industry. Also the Step Up to The Spotlight which is a 6 week online kick-start artist development program for aspiring and emerging artists, you can study in the comfort of your own home on your own schedule.There’s also the Ultimate Performer Program which is a one-on-one voice coaching and artist development program which can be done over Skype. They can also listen to my podcasts, and read my blog. And they can always send me an e-mail at email@example.com, we are pretty busy but we will do our best to get back you.