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What is Vocal Fry and What Are Some Vocal Fry Examples?

Al Black

Al Black

19 January 2021

What is Vocal Fry and What Are Some Vocal Fry Examples? - Voquent

‘What is vocal fry?’ is a question that sits on the minds of singers and professional voice actors all across the globe.

Whether you are a seasoned VO professional or a relative beginner tentatively exploring the industry, it is crucial to understand what it is, the social history behind it, and how it can impact your career. 

Voice fry, also known as the vocal fry register, pulse register, laryngealization, and glottal fry, among other names, is defined as the lowest vocal register a human voice can naturally produce. 

It is characterized by a popping or rattling sound of a very low frequency and is caused by a loose glottal closure in a human’s vocal organs (Wikipedia, 2021). 

For a more detailed look at the biology behind what produces this sound, you can listen to speech-language pathologist Laura Purcell Verdun describe what it is:

 

 

As we like to dive deep into a subject here on Voquent, we have sourced some Vocal Fry examples for you to further your understanding of what it sounds like for the human voice. Here we can see Justin Stoney of the New York Vocal Coaching YouTube channel describe voice fry as well as provide an example for a male voice:

 

 

However, from a social point of view vocal fry has garnered more attention over the past decade for its use in female conversation. A CBC news feature, while tailored more towards the social implications of female vocal fry, provides some good vocal fry examples of what voice fry in a woman sounds like:

 

 

While these vocal fry examples are ideal for examples, our last clip there from CBC news raises a cultural and social dimension to the voice registry that one may not always consider. To truly delve into what social dimensions accompany vocal fry, and how this can be viewed in the social and professional world, we decided to reach out to industry professionals and do our homework on the social history of the vocal registry.

 

The Social History of Vocal Fry

John Firth We gathered some thoughts and feedback from our community to accumulate a better idea of how voice artists, voice coaches, and linguists view vocal fry in both professional and social situations.

Respected linguist Carrie Gillion explores in her blog post the historic background for the cultural and social implications of the voice fry in that the voice fry was usually associated with British men in the past, citing the work of one John Firth in 1937.

It was identified by Firth that voice fry has historically been associated with not just men, but men with certain social types and attitudes. This idea was furthered in 1964 when male vocal fry in British men became associated as a marker of a superior social class. It is this historic precedent that Carrie believes has led to a certain type of linguistic sexism in the modern age.

So, what do industry professionals think?

Well, when asked about if historic gender stereotypes played a role in how we view vocal fry use in today’s modern world, esteemed voice coach Gary Terzza also agreed with this take, stating that ‘young women are often unfairly cited as the main adopters of vocal fry’ and that ‘negative attitudes towards [vocal fry] can be viewed as an unhealthy mix of generational misunderstanding and casual misogyny.’ In a sense, vocal fry can be seen in a negative light, not because of its use, but due to the social history it has and its links with the patriarchy. For the longest time, the pressure applied to women for so long to speak or act in certain ways was to appease the gender expectations of pleasantry and support the traditional gender roles forced onto women.

 

ALSO READ: How to Choose the Best Voice Coach for Voice Acting Work

 

The use of vocal fry, in a way, contradicts this idea and women’s speech has been criticized for this due to vocal fry’s historic normalization of use in men’s voices. The idea that the voice register has never been truly criticized in men other than being considered annoying fuels this sexist perspective. Perhaps, in part, the drastic variation in a women’s intended or perceived vocal registry plays a part in how vocal fry’s use is seen in women.

 

Hijab wearing woman practicing vocal fry into her phone

 

So, why exactly should I care?

As Voquent voice actor Sherry Lee Chi Yin eloquently states in relation to the concept, ‘when people say vocal fry, names like Britney Spears and the Kardashians immediately pop up. Those people have a specific reputation and this then [affects] anyone that uses vocal fry’.

A unique combination of historic social constructs and celebrity reputation has then led us to this point. Understanding the negative aspects of its history can lead us to projecting the voice register as a more positive thing.

Voice Actor Sherry Lee Chi Yin talks about vocal fry

Voice Actor Sherry Lee Chi Yin

 

We also reached out to a voice actor Zee Andrews, who identifies as non-binary to query them about the subject. Zee Andrews commented, ‘there was a day when it was common for women to typically speak with higher-pitched voices’ but now in today’s world ‘there are men who have higher-pitched voices [and] there are women who have lower-pitched voices’ rejoicing that ‘how diverse it all is a wonderful thing’.

An example of what Zee means could be Elizabeth Holmes’ deep voice but whatever the case, we couldn’t agree more with the progressive forward momentum the industry has developed!

 

So, what is the takeaway?

As we have seen from the Vocal Fry examples and the different industry professionals we have asked, voice fry has historically been a subject of debate; particularly when it comes to women’s voices.

We think this debate around female voices is, intrinsically, a symptom of the changing winds when it comes to dismantling the patriarchy. As Zee reminds us ‘as with any [voice] register… harness it and put it in your toolbox’ as ‘different people [and] different vocal qualities’ generally stands as a reason to give vocal fry a place in the professional industry. From the individuals we asked, both Sherry and Gary agree in the sentiment that in Gary’s words ‘[voice fry] can be a real asset’ or in Sherry’s words it can be, ‘strategically used’ to convey certain emotions or physical states via the voice.

Jacob’s vocal academy has a wonderful breakdown of vocal fry usage here:

 

 

In short, whilst vocal fry has for the longest time been a subject of hot debate, we believe that moving past this debate is beneficial not only to the industry but for society in general. Appreciating different vocal registers without judgement is a means of supporting the values of diversity and inclusion that Voquent proudly stands behind. Much like we’ve enjoyed exploring the science of voice art, we’re also sensitive to the social theories that surround vocal fry and the subtleties of its perceived influences.

 

Explore Voice Types & Tones

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Al Black

By Al Black

Al has over twenty years of experience in audiovisual translations. A Voquent co-founder, he has produced tens of thousands of voice-overs and translations for education, advertising and entertainment projects.

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