I recently wrote a song where the vocals are supposed to sound rough, but not quite growling/screaming. What's the best way to get that sort of sound from my voice without any long-term or short-term adverse effects?
[Insert obligatory 'ruining your voice for eternity' lecture here]
Now that's over with... Here is what I've found from my experiences with trying to make my voice sound rough.
Quick Background: I've been experimenting with this style for 3 or 4 years, just on a casual level while practising, not a professional or even performance basis. Also, most of the time I Don't sing this way, but I'll usually work on it a couple hours over the course of a week. Over the course of this time I haven't caused damage to my voice, and have actually improved my vocal range, control, and skill level (with this style and overall).
I'm not a vocal scientist, so I'm not even going to venture into the realm of 'What is actually going on in this throat-thing'. But here are some things I've observed that hopefully may help you:
Tips on Getting the 'Rough' Sound:
Like slim posted, it's all about tightening the throat. It's difficult to explain how to actually do this, but it's basically like trying to imitate a smoker voice. Try this just speaking at first, without singing. Just focus on feeling what muscles you need to use to get that rough sound, and once you get a feel for that, STOP. In my experience, it's actually easier to go overboard and damage your voice doing this while speaking, than while singing.
Now try doing the same thing while singing. I've found that the higher in your range that you sing, the easier it is to get this rough sound. It's important to realize that its actually easy to get a very rough sound (which will end up damaging your voice). The trick is to get just a little roughness, so that the pitch isn't completely choked. Don't expect to be able to consistently produce the sound you want right away, as you practice you will develop more control.
For singing in your lower range (which doesn't work as well with the previous technique you might find), you can use a different trick that seems like a combination of singing and 'coughing'. [Insert more voice safety ranting here... ] Like anything, as long as you don't abuse this technique, your voice should be fine (but don't sue me). Cough a couple times and notice how there's a 'grinding' deep in your throat that produces the cough. On a smaller scale, you can reproduce this grinding while singing to give your voice a low growl. Not only that, but I've used this to clear my throat and sing at the same time!
Another trick to give your voice an 'edginess', especially if you're trying to reproduce something like Marianas Trench, is to use what's called a 'glottal stop' also referred to by some as a 'glottal attack' when done in an extreme sense. [Insert the now violent, foaming-at-the-mouth vocalist opposition here]. This technique doesn't have to do with roughness per say, but it helps to bring out the intensity of your voice. The non-scientific explanation is: you cut off the flow of air in your throat, build up pressure, and let it all out at once.
All to Myself by Marianas Trench is a good example of this technique in action (as well as throat-tightening). Though as an aside: there are definitely some parts in this song where it sounds like Josh Ramsay is damaging his voice.
Many red flags pop up for vocalists at the mention of glottal stops, for good reason, in a sense you're playing with fire. I've successfully been able to use this technique and so far haven't had any adverse effects on my voice. I still think there's merit in the argument that you can seriously damage your voice through glottal abuse though. Here's the best discussion I could find on what a glottal stop is and whether it can damage your voice. Don't necessarily draw conclusions from this article (to me it seems biased pro-glottal), but use it to understand the issues and what you're getting into.
Tips for Keeping your Voice Safe while using these techniques:
The major point for voice safety that I recommend, no matter what style you're singing, is: If your throat shows ANY sign of soreness, dryness, or fatigue, then STOP.
Don't use roughness to hide the fact that a note is above your range. I'm often tempted to do this, since if you choke the pitch so much that its not really even there, you can get away with singing 'higher'. I have no evidence to back up that its harmful, but all my instincts scream Don't do this!
- Other things you should do are warm up properly before-hand, stay hydrated, and don't over-exert your voice.
I suppose the most obvious way to protect your voice is to sing normally and distort the signal. Run the signal through tube-style distortion and/or flange. Record it through taught shreds of wax paper ("kazoo"-it) or use a harmonica-mic. 8-bit mastering would mess-up some vocals nicely. Find some assembly code and play it back on the PC-speaker (not Audio Speakers, but the part that BEEPs!) and record that underwater. The possibilities are endless.
You can get acoustic "distortion" effects with suitably-tuned snare-drums, bottles, jugs, tile-bathroom-stalls.
Answering machines, really-old audio tape. Lo-fi lowers the nyquist limit, cutting-off upper frequencies, same as distortion cuts higher amplitudes.
I wonder why nobody brought it up yet, but The Zen of Screaming by Melissa Cross is probably THE resource on alternate vocal techniques (fry, death, heat and fire anyone?). With proper training it's not just on/off screams or singing - you can get exactly the rough tone that you want; even transitioning between clean and distorted sounds is not that hard if you know how to do it properly. I'm not a natural and it took a while to get to the point where I can adjust the grain in the singing voice consciously - but the DVDs are full of insight, not just for screaming but singing in general. I highly recommend them - they helped me a lot, I have a couple of other books on the topic but they just didn't click with me :-).
Hope that helps, happy screaming!
P.S.: as for the side effects, the way the techniques are tought take the whole topic of avoiding hurting your voice into full consideration; Melissa is very aware of the things that can happen to your voice if you're using it wrong
One trick is to summon up some phlegm/saliva in the back of your throat.
Then to approach a growl, tighten your throat enough that the airflow is affected by the phlegm, but not so tight as to cause pain.
Even with that technique, I wouldn't like to keep going for an hour-long performance. I don't know how the rock professionals do it.