I was thrilled to reunite with a friend from my Broadway theatre days when we were “younger than springtime,” “just starting to rise up,” and dared to “dream the impossible dream.” No, we were not performing on-stage, but the junior publicists behind the stage promoting shows like Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Cats. Now, years later, Larry is a successful TV-writer, and, as always, hilarious and very observant. I told him about my mission to not let the sound of our own voices get in the way of success and he had a lot to offer.
According to Larry, many young actors who come in to read for parts are riddled with the “like, ya know” syndrome, and speak with “uptalk” – that upward glide that turns statements into questions? But what really rattles his ears is their use of vocal fry – the low-pitch creaky sound that is studied by pop singers but has found its way into our own speech patterns. He said that the use of vocal fry can make actors – particularly young women – sound disinterested and insincere. Take two!
But, how you react to vocal fry may depend on your generation (the younger millennial set doesn’t seem to mind it as much) – and how it’s used.
According to a new study by John Nix, a professor of voice at the University of Texas, San Antonio, with popular music, vocal fry was found to enhance expressiveness. The research found that people tend to rate female singers using the lower vocal fry register, like Britney Spears and Ke$ha, as more expressive. Professor Nix studies this lowest vocal register to better understand the emotional properties of music, and presented his work at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to Nix, “Fry may be one way to communicate…honest, raw emotion.”
This research comes after a controversial and massively covered study on vocal fry that found that adopting this pop-culture infested “creaky voice” may affect your chances of getting and keeping a job. The study, published online in the open-access journal PLOS ONE (The Public Library of Science ONE), indicates that “women who speak in vocal fry are perceived as less attractive, less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, and ultimately less hirable.”
The study’s author, Casey A. Klofstad, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, said, “Our findings suggest that perceptions of speakers based on their voices can influence hiring preferences for female job candidates.”
The final note? The growing popularity of vocal fry, particularly among young women, is both a hot new pop music trend and can be the bane of cultured communication. The trick is to be aware of your speech patterns. If you are a singer, vocal fry is a tool in your toolbox to use for vocal expression; to show emotion. But if you are a young professional, don’t let vocal fry take the sizzle out of your next interview.