Name that vocal quality
November 25, 2019 8:48 PM   Subscribe

What would you call the gentle quality you hear in the voices of Lorenzo Music, David Costabile, and Allison Janney? It's like a purr, but human. Help me name my personal ASMR.
posted by AteYourLembas to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It’s vocal fry!

All three of the people you linked speak softly and slowly with grounded, resonant voices, and the fry is the purring sound you hear when they don’t quite use enough air to keep their vocal folds apart. So their voices get that purr because the sound is actually stopping and starting quickly as the vocal cords kind of sputter in the breeze.

Vocal fry is often discussed as an annoying trait, but that’s just misogyny - people who don’t like young women (and young gay men) will try to silence them by complaining that their voices are “annoying”. But as you’ve heard, it can sound really nice- soothing and intimate. Lots of singers and actors deliberately use vocal fry to create an intimate sexy sound.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:12 PM on November 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

nouvelle-personne: not OP, but is there a pitch difference between the two? I guess I'm just mentally replaying Britney's "oh baby baby" line in "Baby One More Time" and thinking it how it doesn't sound like the gentle quality OP asked after – and wondering what to attribute the difference to.
posted by WCityMike at 12:27 PM on November 26, 2019

Response by poster: Wow! I'd heard of vocal fry but didn't draw the comparison. If this is it, there seems to be a technique to it. I wonder if it can be learned. I'd love to make people spontaneously feel more mellow.
posted by AteYourLembas at 12:44 PM on November 26, 2019

WCityMike- vocal fry is one of many things a singer or speaker can do simultaneously.

Britney is using a harsh edge-of-throat placement + forcibly deepening her voice + intense fry when she sings that line. She’s also playing a character of someone who’s aggressively sexual, extroverted, demanding, and provocative, and that energy comes out in the line.

Allison Janney is using a soft palate / chest placement + using her real chest range + moderate fry. She’s playing a character too, in that clip (as we all are at all times; I mean she doesn’t talk to her puppy, or a guy who cut her off in traffic while giving the finger, in that voice, nor does her voice sound like that in the same video a minute later when they play a clip from the sitcom). In that interview, Janney is being an authentic grounded thoughtful pleasant actor talking pensively and warmly about her craft and the importance of portraying addiction sensitively- and that gentle, grounded energy also infuses her voice.

Fry just means that you’ll hear a purring texture. The pitch and loudness and harshness and placement of the sound’s resonance are all separate techniques which can each be tweaked separately. And intention / character portrayal is another factor that’s not strictly a vocal technique but it hugely influences how we perceive vocals- it’s why many actors who can’t sing at all are still pretty great singers.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:42 AM on December 1, 2019

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