Fry voice, growls and a singing with a raspy tone are so common in today's contemporary styles that one might think it's normal to sound this way. So often we love the sound of a scratchy voice. It adds character, emotion and makes the singer sound approachable. So many artists come to mind whose voices aren't clear-toned and who sing with tons of expression and feeling: Adele. Amy Winehouse. Steven Tyler. James Brown. Fill-in-the-blank-with-any-name rock singer. Fill-in-the-blank-with-any-name soul singer. The list of artists would take pages and pages to complete.
So, how do you get that sound, in a healthy way? The anatomical truth is, a healthy voice is rarely raspy. This is why the question is even raised at all. Is your voice naturally raspy, like Melissa Etheridge's or Bryan Adams's? If yes, then just sing naturally while continuing to work on maintaining your instrument. If not, to sound raspy you have to tighten your throat and push, right? Then your voice gets tired out quickly, correct? Ugh.
That's because most commonly, a raspy sound comes from vocal misuse or even abuse. When a singer strains, air is pushed up from below to force the delicate vocal folds together abruptly, causing irritation or swelling. Then the singer pushes more to get out sound, and more abuse occurs to the folds. Voila! A gruffer-sounding voice is born. But this voice won't last. It can't. By definition it's going to continue to get harder to sing by continuing in this way. A raspy voice will also be caused by smoking and lots of alcohol, both of which over time will also permanently damage your voice.
Sometimes a skilled singer can create a scratchy or raspy sound as-needed without permanent injury to the voice, such as using an occasional growl, or using slight compression in the throat to getthe desired quality. But doing this all the time: Vocal damage. Guaranteed.
Getting back to the artists you love: Many of them have had vocal surgery to fix problems from straining or simply singing constantly. Even sweet-toned Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music) had vocal surgery following a stint on Broadway.
What you can learn to do instead is to sing with really well supported breathing, so you don't "sing from your throat." You learn to make your vocal folds respond in a more passive way, while letting your air do the work. Then, if you compress the area of your pharynx some (that's the back of your throat, from your sinuses down to the top of your larynx, where your vocal folds are located), your folds aren't going to abrade against each other so harshly. This takes time to get skilled at.
Fry voice is another topic unto itself. This occurs when the vocal folds are flaccid, the tone is dropped and there's very little breath support. A classic example of fry voice is listening to Kim Kardashian speak, such as in this edited clip on YouTube. Fry voice is a very common speaking quality today, and many if not most people aren't even aware they're doing it. Why does it matter? While it's okay to bring a little fry voice into your singing for effect, speaking continuously with fry is fatiguing to the voice, and often causes people to push through it to be heard, resulting in further strain.
What about "screaming" in heavy rock styles? That's the effect that sounds a little scary and is very deep-toned. This is a super-specific skill that I can't teach you, though there are some teachers who can themselves do it and show you how in a healthy way, such as "The Queen of Scream" Melissa Cross.
So is this blog bumming you out? The good news is you can learn to add some rasp to your sound without ill effects, if you're doing it safely. Some vocal coaches know how to teach it. You get into the most vocal trouble when you push and strain, then push through even harder when you're not satisfied with your sound. As I continue to add more and more content to this Series we'll address singing with a raspy voice in more depth, too.
In the meantime, keep practicing your baseline skills and warmups, which will give you the most options and skill for a healthy, versatile singing voice to last a lifetime.