Learning how to sing backup is not easy. In fact, it can be harder than singing as a solo artist. As a backup singer, you have to pay attention. You need to follow the lead of someone else. You have to blend your voice with theirs. You even have to cover for someone else’s mistakes, sometimes.
When you sing backup, think of being part of a group. Not in any circumstances should one voice stand out. Backup singers should blend properly and beautifully.
You should be aware that a big difference exists between singing backup and lead singing. If you want to perform a backup role, blend into the group gracefully. A great backup group produces a kind of sound which is bigger and better than the parts.
Professional Backup Singing Skills You Must Learn
1) Song Listening Skills
You can’t learn how to sing backup without learning how to listen. Listening is vital for a backup singer. Remember, As a backup singer, you are not the center of the performance. In fact, a good backup singer is practically invisible. You should be there to accent the main performance, not take it over.
2) Blending with Main Vocal
Blending in with the main vocal is very important. To do that, watch the main singer constantly. Be sure that you can see their face. That way, you can tell when they are going to sing. You can tell other things, too. For instance, if the main singer accidentally sings the wrong verse, you can keep up. If you watch your own sheet music, you might sing a different verse and, even if it’s the right verse, you might be blamed. Learn to recognize gestures and small movements of the lead singers. Sometimes a singer may want to repeat a certain section of a song. If you miss that indication, it can lead to trouble.
3) Phrasing with the Lead Singer
It’s very crucial to line up your phrasing with the lead singer. The best way to do that is to watch their face and start singing your line quietly, when they start. As the phrase progresses, you can get a bit louder and blend in easier. Also, when you end a phrase, do the same thing, only reverse it. Sing quieter toward the end. Jumping in at the wrong time is a major problem that a lot of backup singers have. If you want to be a successful backup singer, avoid falling into that trap.
4) Sing in Harmony
Next important concern about backup singing is the ability to hold your voice, while other members of the team sing different parts. If you’re a professional backup singer, you should be able to show your strength in singing by performing in a group harmony. You’ll find this very different compared to choral singing, where other singers surround you as they sing with the same harmony. In the case of backup singing, you usually sing your own part by yourself alone together with the group of other backup singers who sing complimentary parts. Learn more about singing in harmony.
5) Know When to Stop
The ending is especially important. You should be sure that you don’t sing longer than the lead singer does. To do that, try dropping the first consonant of each word that you sing. That will do two things. First, it will make sure the lead singer gets the lead in the phrase. Second, it will help to keep you in sync with them, so you aren’t singing beyond the point at which they stop. Of course, it is also important to keep your eyes open. Be prepared for what is coming up. Watch for subtle cues.
Remember, your job is to blend in. Making it a memorable performance is important, even if the audience won’t remember you specifically. Follow these simple steps and you can be a professional back up singer in no time.
6) Singing Consonants
In singing consonants, you should sing the beginning in a silent mode to avoid creating multiple sounds of strong consonants if you have to sing a song that starts with consonants.
When there are several people singing a song that begins with a consonant, it can result to multiple sounds that are unpleasant to the ear. For example, when you sing the letter “p“, it may sound like two or more heavy “puhs” to the listeners.
Just leave the 1st consonant of words, or you can sing the beginning of a word silently, and become louder as you go on.
7) Match Your Vowels With The Singer
Study and familiarize yourself with the modulation of the singer you are going to backing up with. This includes understanding the vowels, and diction of the singer. As a backup singer, you have to match your modulation details with the singer in order to prevent tone & sound deviations. Singers from different countries and regions might have their own unique vowels, diction, and pronunciation that they use for singing due to their accent differences.
8) Control Your Volume
Proper voice volume and loudness synchronization are also important factors. And you also need to know when should you increase your voice and even when should you sing in lower or softer volume. The whole singing performance would be more vibrant, dramatic and emotional if the backup singers were able to blend their voice volume perfectly. The vibrato and nasality voice volumes are the additional things you should learn to master well. You can sing with the flat tone to lower your volume or increase your vibrato speed if you need to increase the volume.
9) Eliminate The Popping Sounds
Just like what we have discussed in the “Singing Consonants” section above. The major purpose of backup singers is to help to create a rounded and fuller vocal environment to the lead singer. Therefore, there are several vocal sounds that you need to eliminate altogether. The ending words that can easily create “popping” sounds such as “P” and “T.” These are the sounds that you need to eliminate or implement vowel replacement to these words if necessary.
Additional Tips & Warning for Backup Vocalists
When you’re performing with a backup group, consider these tips and warnings:
- Sing along with other voices nicely, so that no one stands out from the rest.
- Make sure that you sing in a way that you make your tone or timbre similar to the tones of other singers.
- Watching your vibrato can help. Try to smoothen it out so that you won’t stand out.
- Make it precise when you’re trying to match your dynamics and volume with other singers.
- When performing with the group of singers, watch your style in singing the ends of some vocal phrases, especially the ones that end in “s”. Lastly, you should see to it that all of you are synchronized.