How can I sound like Wilson Pickett?
July 30, 2007 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to develop that smoky quality in one's voice (Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Janis Joplin, etc.) without damaging one's vocal chords? Or is that something that just occurs naturally, or else would be too dangerous to try?
posted by psmealey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Smoke. For years...

I wouldn't recommend it :)
posted by at 6:33 AM on July 30, 2007

It's doable. If you can make the sound of Marge Simpson's grunt of disapproval on command, then you can add gravel to your voice by using that same technique while you're speaking or singing. Phlegm can help a little bit, but don't overdo it.
posted by plinth at 6:39 AM on July 30, 2007

Study a Germanic language and learn how to speak from your diaphragm. And chain smoke.
posted by banannafish at 6:41 AM on July 30, 2007

I knew a guy who had laryngitis once and ever after had a raspy voice. So I guess you could try your luck with that.
posted by thelongcon at 6:42 AM on July 30, 2007

Frank Zappa's voice changed after his windpipe was damaged from being pushed into an orchestra pit by a pissed off fan. Probably not the ideal way to lower ones' voice. My uneducated guess is that there would have to be some surgical procedure performed; some physical alteration to accomplish this. I've smoked for almost 25 years and my voice is still wimpy so I'm not sold on that idea.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:46 AM on July 30, 2007

I should have qualified, that I'm a reasonably accomplished rock singer, but have heard there are techniques that one can use to get there. But, I don't know, however, if this is dangerous or what.

I'm not sure if the answers re: smoking are meant to be serious or not. It's been my experience that cigarette smoke doesn't do much of anything to add that quality to your singing voice, though for sure, it will make your speaking voice sound raspier.
posted by psmealey at 6:49 AM on July 30, 2007

I've developed a raspy voice by taking a combination of advair and allegra-d. It annoys my speech pathologist wife to no end. So in short, develop asthma.
posted by drezdn at 6:54 AM on July 30, 2007

It is possible to temporarily or permanently damage your cords by using them improperly (see: vocal fold nodule). This will give you a smoky jazz voice, but it can also impair your range.

My voice teacher told me that a safe way to add gravel to your voice is a vocal fry. For an extreme example, think of Lurch from the Addams family -- that creaky, gravelly sound is a vocal fry. Here are some instructions.

If you're really serious about this project, it might be worth your time and money to take a few lessons with a voice instructor. If you come in with a clear goal (like the one you've described) they may be able to get you on the right track within a session or two. A voice teacher will be able to hear and see you, and adjust your technique so that you're not hurting yourself.
posted by ourobouros at 6:56 AM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

And, in case it needed to be said: smoking is not the answer. It may or may not change your vocal quality, but it will definitely decrease your lung capacity. Not good for singing.
posted by ourobouros at 7:12 AM on July 30, 2007

Nigroids put a coating on your throat.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:28 PM on July 30, 2007

At least in Janis Joplin's case it was rumored that heroin was the cause of her voice being the way it was.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:40 AM on July 31, 2007

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