To be a good back-up singer, you need to be able to create harmony parts and hold firm no matter which other vocal parts surround you.
Make sure you know the melody well before you attempt to find harmony parts. Practice singing along with recordings with complex harmonies like Queen, Dan Fogelberg, or the Beatles. Listen carefully to the existing harmonies then sing along. If you have trouble maintaining your pitch in the midst of various harmony parts, plug one of your ears nearest to the closest singer. Start practising harmonies from a distance, then scooch in gradually. Don’t stand in the middle of a threesome; position yourself on the outside.
Monitors are key. Whether you use floor monitors or in-ears, this is an important ingredient in your back-up singing ability. If any one of the singers can’t hear themselves, what results is a sonic blood bath. Control the reverb in the monitor mix—you don’t want to be swimming in reverb.
Now that you can hear what the other singers are doing, try to match their vowel sounds. If they sing the “oo” vowel with fishy lips, do the same. Or if the lead singer is pronouncing the vowel in the word “love” like “ah” instead of “uh”, match their vowel. Add or reduce nasality to match and support the group sound. Control your loudness when singing back-up, not too loud OR too soft. Watch that your vibrato isn’t too wobbly (slow and big) or jittery (fast and shallow). Neither type of vibrato blends well with others. If you can’t control your vibrato speed, I recommend that you aim to sing with straight tone.
Never let your voice stick out. Begin and end each phrase exactly with the other back-up singers. Don’t come in early or leave late! Minimize the clarity of your consonants. Soften your final T’s or P’s or leave them off altogether. S’s are the most dangerous and can be almost eliminated. Final S’s can easily sound like a bunch of snakes hissing. Watch your breathing sounds. Audible gasping can mar a good group sound, particularly during a quiet ballad.
Performing singers, especially touring singers should know the basic mechanics of their voices to achieve endurance and to minimize vocal abuse. When preparing for the road, find harmony parts you can sing comfortably when exhausted, sick, or when just not in the mood to sing that night.
Back-up singing is a team effort-so put your best attitude forward and keep your ego in check. This kind of singing is not easy- not everyone can do it well. But it’s really fun, so keep practicing to become the best group singer you can be! And finally, background singers are finally getting their time in the limelight.
The feature film 25 Feet From Stardom was a big hit the Sundance Film festival this past January, and it’s all about back ground singing.. Here’s a clip with some of the stars lead by Tata Vega.
Lisa Popeil is an LA voice coach with over 35 professional teaching experience. Creator of the Voiceworks® Method, the Total Singer DVD, and co-author of the book Sing Anything-Mastering Vocal Styles, Lisa trains singers in vocal technique, stage performance and vocal health for touring professionals. www.popeil.com
Originally posted 2013-04-29 15:46:31.