BACK-UP SINGING & VOCAL GROUPS
Get into the mood of group singing before you explore this page.
Get inspired! Check out the phenomenal a cappella group TAKE 6 singing THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER .
ABOUT 'SECTION' SINGING
If you're in a vocal group or are a back-up singer, that means there are other people you have to sing with. It's like being on a team playing a sport and there are others you need to develop a synergy with, in order to achieve success.
When you're singing with others for a common purpose, we can refer to it as section singing. It is the same thing as referring to a horn player in a stage band being called a section player. It's important to understand that your job is not to be a star. There should be no grandstanding or competing to be heard over the others, or in any way that involves one's ego.
On the other hand, you need to have a vocal presence. There has to be a tonal contribution when you sing with others; usually equal to the other singers. If your singing voice sounds shy, timid, breathy, shaky or nervous or in some way uncontrollable quiet way, not only will your voice be hard to hear, but it indicates a general lack of confidence.
DON'T BE A DIVA
I'm just going to come out and give my blunt opinion on this. There are many great singers in the world. If you're singing back-up with other singers or if you're in a choral group, be a pleasure to work with. It's hard sometimes when you're with a group of A-type personalities who all think they're right, everyone wants to strut their stuff, and there are other healthy egos all needing to come together. Who wants to work with somebody who's bossy, overbearing, rude, pushy, dominating everything? It's a COLLABORATION. Even if you know you're right, sometimes it's better not to give your opinion unless asked.
For example, if you're doing a group sing in a studio, there are producers, engineers and clients all watching the group interact through the control room glass and the clock is ticking as money is being spent. If you all work well together as a team, it will help to ensure that they call you back in the future.
I'm not suggesting that you be a pushover either. I recommend leaving people room for their own eccentricities just as they would for you, and make it about the music at all times, not about who's in charge or getting into power struggles. That kind of attitude has lead to the break-up of some of the planet's most talented groups.
One great movie to rent is called That Thing You Do starring Liv Tyler and Tom Hanks as a rock band promoter. It's about a classic fast rise to fame, and then the consequences arising out of egos colliding.
HANDLE REJECTION WELL
Suppose that you've made it as far as getting into a studio to sing with other singers. Then suppose that they need to pick only one voice to sing a featured solo line. That could be a pivotal career moment if they pick you. They might have everyone take a run at singing it to see who has the most suitable voice. If they don't choose you, -and this is important - never take it personally. Never. You have no idea what they're basing their decision on; it could be anything. They might be listening for any of these things: a certain energy, a special inflection or attitude, a voice that reminds them of a certain celebrity, a sexy sound, an ethnic sound, a younger or older sounding quality, and so forth.
Does how you look as a back-up singer really matter?
I know, I know! It's a shallow question! Let me explain.
I learned a lot from that experience. I learned that less is often more. I quickly started to develop taste and be sensitive to who the star is at any given moment.
FOCAL POINT ON STAGE
If, for instance, you're doing an improv comedy sketch, you need to be aware of STATUS. The characters on stage have either a low status or high status. If there's a character who is drunk, laying on the floor asleep and it's a hysterical moment, that sleeping actor can actually have the high status of the scene. Always hand the spotlight to who deserves it on a stage when you're with others; do what's best for the show. If you're grandstanding, it can be a major focal conflict of interest and the audience won't know where to look or listen. Be intuitive as to when to choose your moments to shine.
A back-up singer is there to compliment the music for every player on the stage and make the front person sound better through your enhancement. That's why you were hired. Move as you are instructed to. Basically, do what you are told. If you have a suggestion to improve things, to make it look or sound better, use your intuition, common sense and tact - in that order - to make your point. I was in Las Vegas in the 1990's and I saw one of the longest-running singing headliners who ever performed in that city. I won't say his name but you can guess whom I'm talking about. The show was good and entertaining. The band rocked, there were lasers, and there was a wide variety of music. But I thought the back up singers were horrible, and I couldn't stop listening with a critical ear, to the point of it ruining the show for me. (I mean really bad.) One blonde girl in particular was noticeable; out of tune and just not professional. I could NOT understand how she could get that job being such a bad singer , yet making all that money. I should have been up there! However, she was as beautiful as a supermodel with a Playboy body. That's one reason she had the job: she looked great. Oh, and it turns out from a friend who knows the man himself, that the blonde was the guitar player's girlfriend.
Here's one more story...
I was called to sing in a lounge band in Vegas. The phone conversation lasted about 45 seconds. Here's how it went:
BANDLEADER: Kathy, you've been recommended to us to replace our singer in our band. We have 6 weeks of gigs at the casino in the lobby. Can you start next week?
BANDLEADER: What size dress do you wear?
ME: I wear a size 10.
BANDLEADER: Oh, that's too bad. We need a girl who is a size 6. Goodbye.
Wonderful version of
(composed by Neil Young, 1970)
Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt
and Emmylou Harris
A great version of
(composed by James Taylor, 1976)
sung live in a tribute to James Taylor
by The Dixie Chicks
This is cool! There are 2 vocal games where you can add or remove any harmony line you like to hear the different layers:
Bobby McFerrin is a master singer and teacher of voice. His workshops and camps are fantastic.
Excdellent version of
(composed by Barry Manilow) sung live by Barry.
The 4 background singers ROCKED IT at this
Las Vegas Hilton 100th show. Notice how much dancing is required in the opener of this fantastic concert.
This is a comedic song was written as a follow-up
"I'm Beautiful" as performed live by Bette Midler 1997
for her Diva Las Vegas concert: I Look Good
The background singers/dancers:
Michelle Foreman, Wendy Pasquale,
Karen Russell, and Natalie Webb: all excellent dancers.