West Coast News

Hold the Phone

There’s an app for almost everything, but when Sara Leib ’01 wanted an app that could support her students’ vocal training, nothing satisfied. So, Leib, a professional singer, educator, and founder and CEO of Voice Guru, LLC, created her own, called Voxercise.

Launched in February 2018, Voxercise is a supplemental tool for professional vocal training. It offers an extensive array of exercises to help improve singing tone, range, pitch accuracy, and more. It’s designed for a variety of users, from individuals with no vocal training to voice instructors to music education institutions.

The Voxercise app features a play-along option that emulates the student exercises a vocal coach would sing and play on piano. Users who read music can follow the written melodies, or simply listen to a human reference. It also features an instantaneous pitch meter to check if you are singing in tune.

Leib grew up in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles, CA, in a family supportive of her desire to pursue music. A natural improviser, she began singing seriously while attending a performing arts high school. She entered Berklee on a scholarship and as soon as she arrived, she was hooked. “It felt like the most amazing, vibrant community,” Leib says. “It felt like home.” Her college education continued with studies at New England Conservatory of Music and then master’s degree studies at the University of Southern California (USC) where she fell in love with teaching.

Through her in-person and online teaching, she found that many students viewed singing as an innate talent rather than a skill that could be developed. They were disregarding the value of practice and muscle memory. “We’ve American Idol-ized singing to where people believe you’re either born a good singer or you’re not,” she says. “That’s a ridiculous notion, and I created Voxercise to change the way people get better at singing.”

Leib’s road to app creation was long; it took four years. The first year involved lots of thinking, planning, and creating flow charts and handwritten wireframes to sketch out ideas. Leib also conducted her own market research within her professional network and with current and former students. What features did people need and want? What were the priorities? What cost was appropriate for features and the app itself?

The consensus was that people wanted something that is inherently musical. Prioritized features include a tuner, musical staff, and keyboard that plays notes in real time. “I spent months just trying to make sure that the accompaniment sounded good and employing singers who sound smooth through their registral shifts so that users can sing along with good models of vocal technique,” she recalls.

It took another year and a half to find a designer and developer—specifically one who was both a musician and a coder. After a final year of development and then a few months of beta testing, the app entered the world.

Leib makes it clear that Voxercise in no way replaces formal training. “I tell my clients that voice lessons are like personal training sessions,” she says. “You don’t get stronger just because you see a trainer who shows you how to work out. You get stronger because you go to the gym or do your exercises as much as you can in between those training sessions.”

It’s right in line with Leib’s personal work ethic. “If you put your head down and work hard, it’ll come,” she says. “I wanted to create an app that was a useful educational tool and could help people.” Four years later, Leib’s diligence has paid off. “So many times I said, ‘I can’t do this,’” she recalls. “There were a lot of tears, but then I would remember that I was someone who studied jazz and was making a living, and I’d realize that I have the ability to do the things I want to do.”

Long term, Leib hopes to give back by devoting a percentage of the profits from Voxercise to music scholarships. Recently, Oceanside Jazz Festival partnered with Leib to award students scholarships to a local jazz academy.

Voxercise can be downloaded free from the App Store and Google Play. Additional packages of exercises are available for in-app purchase. To learn more or connect with Leib, visit www.voxercise.com.