Top Vocal Coach Cari Cole Works With Grammy- Winning Hit Artists, and Develops Young Talent
Veteran vocal coach and artist development expert Cari Cole grew up in a musical household in Minneapolis, MN, learning to play guitar and flute at age six and enjoying the process as her mother wrote out charts for her and encouraged her creative endeavors. When she started playing coffeehouses at 16 and moved to New York to join a rock band and attend classes at the NY School of Commercial Music, the multi-talented Cole could hardly imagine that she would one day become one of the industry’s most in-demand behind-the-scenes forces. Beyond her renown as a vocal coach, technique teacher and technician, she is also a producer and songwriter that has helped artists find their voice, craft their style and develop successful careers.
During her career, Cole has coached newcomers Diane Birch, Burnham and Grammy winner Chrisette Michele, as well as four-time Grammy winner Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, rocker Courtney Love and the legendary band of Journey, among many notables. Noted by FOX TV as a coach who helps pro singers find their voice (Fox News called her “one of NYC's best pop/contemporary vocal coaches”), she has also coached several American Idol finalists, among them Kimberley Locke.
Cole’s clientele list includes artists who have been signed to nearly every major label: Universal, Sony, Warner Bros., Atlantic, BMG, Virgin, Island, Reprise, Columbia, S Curve, Elektra Ent., Arista, Geffen, DreamWorks and Concord. Expanding her reach beyond the U.S. and Canada, she is also a vocal consultant to industry professionals in Australia, Asia and Europe. And notably, Cole is a guest celebrity vocal coach for FOX 5 TV/NY.
“Labels and producers come to me, to help them develop talented young artists they are working with.” she says. “I’ve been privileged to become something of an artist development expert after working with thousands of singers and songwriters over the years. I work with a lot of professionals trying to up their vocal game, but half my clientele is under 17. My goal in working with young artists is helping them grow as songwriters, developing the message they want to convey to the world, and teach them how to find who they are, to find their voice both literally and figuratively and to help them craft their music. Helping singers find their style is something I’m particularly passionate about. As a singer myself, it took me many years to find my sound. It’s all about coaching artists to go in the direction of what is naturally theirs and showing them what to feature.”
While Cole’s early studies of flute, guitar and voice inspired a great appreciation and knowledge of classical music, her love for contemporary music led her on a search to what would ultimately become her comprehensive and powerful vocal technique and training for the modern singer. Her desire to master the art of contemporary singing brought her to an apprenticeship with the world-renowned teacher of rock & roll stars, Katherine “Katie” Agresta, with whom she studied voice intensively for over ten years. Cole majored in Commercial Singing and Music in college—studying voice, jingle singing, composition, theory and jazz guitar—and could have gone in many directions. But Agresta’s influence is what led her to become a teacher herself and ultimately develop her own methodology. Cole became one of Agresta’s premier students and designated respected teachers.
Cari Cole with Steve Augeri of Journey.
“I started voice lessons with her at 19 upon the suggestion of a producer I knew,” says Cole. “When I found her, I found true vocal training. I went to her because I was singing in a rock band and started to lose my voice. From my first lesson, I was blown away that there was actually help for these issues. I was amazed at the physicality of the problem and the fact that there was a quantifiable science to it, very much like the physical training it takes to be an Olympic athlete. I’m so into learning and I knew the best way to learn more about vocal training was to actually teach it myself. In 1985, she invited six or seven of her students into an intensive program where she trained us to teach. I also learned a lot from top opera teacher Edward Dwyer.”
Cole founded Cari Cole Voice Studios in 1987 out of a desire to provide a place of study for the contemporary popular singer. Currently, she brings her vast experience as a teacher and a singer of 30 years to her Manhattan based vocal studio and increasingly to students around the world through her online Artist Development Programs (Step Up to the Spotlight & Rockstar Bootcamp Program & Blueprint) and Singer’s Gift Vocal Exercise series. Her teaching methods are derived from the Bel Canto system combined with a mix of methodologies from Alexander to Linklater - presented to the contemporary vocalist. Her methodology is highly regarded as a groundbreaking system for developing and advancing professional and aspiring vocalists.
Her lifelong practice of yoga helped her develop a unique holistic approach to vocal training and voice preservation. She uses natural methodologies such as homeopathy and herbal remedies along with bodywork, yoga and massage to release deeper tensions associated with vocal problems. “I had been reading health and alternative medicine books from the time I was 15,” Cole says, “so it was natural that I would put this unique spin on my training as I developed what I once called the ‘Cole Technique.’ If you release the muscles of your vocal instrument, it’s amazing what can happen. It’s all about getting to the actual physiology of the mind and body that control the voice—the science of singing at its purest level. I often get referrals from voice doctors who send me patients who have nodules, and I help get them back on track. They follow the doctor’s traditional medication and then get them on the natural stuff.”
Expounding further upon her analogy of her role in singer’s careers to that of an Olympic coach and an athlete, Cole adds, “Singers are athletes of the small muscles of the voice. They need to learn to master the coordination of air and muscles. I always say that an artist is one part singer, one part actor, and one part cartoon character. Sometimes they have great communication through their lyrics, or their voices, but ultimately it’s about the message and the emotion they communicate that catches us. Some singers like to do athletic gymnastic movements, but being a successful artist is not just about the gymnastic ability of the voice. I help artists recognize their unique assets and strengths and how to best accentuate them. What makes me unique as a coach is my ability to recognize and nurture their talent without stepping on it. The best possibility artists have to be great is to become something beyond anything they ever thought they could be. I’m there to take a stand for budding artists and help them along as they come out of their shell and flourish.”
Cole is a currently a voting member of NARAS, an award-winning songwriter and publisher with ASCAP, a past board member and consultant for the NY Singing Teachers Association, a member of Women in Music, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, CDBaby.com, Amnesty International, Oxfam and the Songwriters Guild of America. She is also a recording artist now in her own right. Her independent debut CD The Circle of Fire, inspired by the New York Times bestseller “The Four Agreements” by don Miguel Ruiz, has been a popular seller which has attracted listeners worldwide.
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at Few522@aol.com.