vocal coach

What do you want from a vocal coach?

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Johnny Dwinell and Brent Baxter interview Salt Lake City-based A-list vocal coach Mindy Pack to discuss vocal health, vocal technique, and various critical topics that relate to improving your vocals. This post is excerpted from The CLIMB — a podcast produced by Dwinell and Baxter dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists create leverage in the music business. This content is sourced from Episode #172, “Interview with Vocal Coach to the Stars, Mindy Pack.”

Johnny Dwinell: I’d like to dive into the shallow end here and ask what are the most common questions or common concerns that professionals down to amateur singers have when it comes to considering a vocal coach.

Mindy Pack: There are a lot of questions that I get a lot. Most of the time it’s a fear artists have that, once they start working with a vocal coach, the coach is going to change their style and impact what makes the artist uniquely them. I think it’s an important question to ask a vocal coach before you go in, because there are some coaches who have a philosophy that there has to be a perfect and solid technique — or they may not prefer the style that the artist is singing — and so they try to change it, not knowing that that’s what got the artist the job in the first place. So, it’s really important for singers, when they go to interview a vocal coach, that they ask questions like, “Are you going to change my style? What is your motivation? How can you make me better?” In that sense, I think you can get a good idea if this is going to be a good fit or not.

For me, personally, I always say, “I’m not going to change your style. That’s your money, that’s what got you the job.” I call it the artistic fingerprint, it’s what makes you stand out. What I want to do is get you vocally balanced so that you can sing low-to-high without having any of the issues of cracking, flipping, tension, pulling — unless you’re choosing to do that as a style choice. When the voice comes into balance, that’s when you get all the extra textures and all these extra colors that you can have in your vocal tool belt. Then you can pick and choose what you want to use so you have the flexibility to really create onstage and communicate what you’re trying to say instead of being worried about whether your voice is going to hold out.

Johnny Dwinell: That’s one part of your job, but it’s not just for teaching vocals. You might get called up in the middle of the night and someone’s like, “Hey, you need to come to Dubai because our boy’s about to go down and we can’t afford to have that happen on this tour, right? So, is there usually a typical issue? Is it different every time? Is it the same every time? Do you know before you get on the plane that there are a couple of knots you’re going to have to untie with an artist?

Mindy Pack: I do my research. Whenever I get called out last-minute and it’s not somebody I’m familiar with, I always ask them to send me raw audio footage or a raw recording. I don’t want to hear the album, because it’s mastered and it’s produced. I want to see live video footage, I want to hear live coverage, even if it’s fan YouTube stuff. So, typically I have an idea of what’s happening going into it. I’ll also talk to the manager to find out if the artist has seen a doctor, what’s happening, what’s changed. I’ll also try to get an idea if maybe it’s a mental thing — are we really having vocal issues or is this artist just in his/her head and freaking out over something they don’t need to freak out about? That changes what I need to do going into it.

Johnny Dwinell: So sometimes it’s vocal coach and sometimes it’s psychologist dressed as a vocal coach.

Mindy Pack: Yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t go to school for a psychology degree. I always say, “What’s said and done in the room of trust stays there,” but yeah, there’s definitely a psychological component that happens, especially when it’s somebody whose identity is built into being an artist. I was injured as a singer, and I remember thinking my life was completely over. All of a sudden, I couldn’t sing anymore, and that’s how I identified myself — I was “Mindy the singer.” When that injury happened, it destroyed me. Now, I look back on it and I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me because it put me on this trajectory of vocal health and making sure I really understood how the voice works, so when I coach, I am really doing it effectively and not, “This is what works for me so it’ll work for everybody.”

So, I really understand vowels and consonants and larynx position and all this stuff that really matters, and I also understand the psyche of it, because a lot of times, when artists get injured, they don’t have anybody they can talk to who understands what’s happening. You look at somebody on a huge scale, Justin Timberlake for instance, he hemorrhaged last year — which is public knowledge, so we can say that — his entire livelihood is riding on these two little vocal cords getting back to being healthy. And not just his livelihood, his entire crew — the singers, the dancers, everyone — so, there’s a ton of emotional stress going into that. If you talk to any artist who’s been injured, there’s the guilt and the stress that they feel of, “I have to get better because all these people rely on me.” So, you’re dealing not only with the vocal health, but also the emotional health, so they believe everything will work out.

Johnny Dwinell: So, what Timberlake had, you called it a hemorrhage. Is that a common injury?

Mindy Pack: Yes… sometimes it’s called a “vocal bruise.” There’s a blood vessel that goes into the vocal cords and it can swell and inflame and it can burst. Adele had it, Sam Smith has had it, Ariana Grande’s had it, there’s a lot of people who have been vocal about it. In the past, everybody was always so afraid to talk about it so it was always this “hush, hush” thing. But now I think people understand that this can happen, there’s an awareness. So, the blood vessel fills and it blows up and then it’s immediate voice rest. You cannot talk, you cannot sing. It can happen by coughing, it can happen when you’re singing, it can happen when you’re screaming… it can happen any time.

Johnny Dwinell: What are some other injuries that you either have to deal with or work to prevent?

Mindy Pack: Nodules are a big one that everybody’s always afraid of. Nodules are bi-lateral bumps that show on each side of the vocal folds. That’s when a ton of compression is going on, when someone is singing way too hard — typically women have it more than men — it’s where high, intense speaking or singing is happening. As a vocal coach, what I listen for is hoarseness or raspiness, if there’s a loss of range, or if all of a sudden you’re missing notes in the middle of your range …

There’s a lot more — listen to the entire podcast!

The CLIMB is a podcast produced by Brent Baxter (award-winning hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, and more) and Johnny Dwinell (owner of Daredevil Production) that’s dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists like you create leverage in the music business because that’s what you’re gonna need. You’re gonna need some leverage, you’re gonna need an audience, and you’re gonna need a reason for people to stand up and salute you. It’s not just about your talent – you’ve got to bring the business, and that’s why we call it The CLIMB, it’s an acronym that stands for “creating leverage in the music business.” Hear this entire podcast and more at on the Disc Makers website.

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One thought on “What do you want from a vocal coach?

  1. Is there a difference between a voice teacher and vocal coach? All my professional career, much as a choral accompanist, I’ve heard of piano teachers, oboe teachers, horn teachers, violin teachers but when it comes to the voice, all I ever hear anyone talk about are vocal coaches. Are there no voice teachers? Or are vocal coaches and voice teachers one in the same. Seems odd that singers would use the term coaches when the rest of the music world says teachers. Confused.

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