How To Be a Successful Backing Vocalist

Although backing vocalists aren’t often centre stage, their contribution to a live performance can make all the difference to whether it’s a success or not…  

The role of a backing vocalist can take many forms, from recording in the studio to embarking on lengthy tours with artists as part of their live band. 

Whatever guise it takes, singing as a backing vocalist can be a crucial job and one which is often under-valued even though the reality involves a huge amount of vocal skill and ability. If you watch performances from some of the UK’s biggest stars, from Ed Sheeran to Ellie Goulding, many will employ backing vocalists to help them on stage. As such, it’s a career many ICMP students go on to pursue. Watch ICMP vocals alumna Salena Mastroianni perform with Stormzy at Glastonbury from his Pyramid set in 2019.  

Here we pull together some top tips for success as a backing vocalist…. 

1. Networking can be key to success  

Here we pull together some top tips for success as a backing vocalist…. 

Meeting the right people can be very important for aspiring vocalists. In some instances, leveraging relationships can be just as, if not more, crucial than an audition when it comes to finding work. 

This means you always need to be the best version of yourself, particularly when you’re at a gig or music industry event. If you spot a singer or artist you like, go and speak to them and introduce yourself. You never know when they might need a backing vocalist with your skills for a new project. If you make the right impression, then hopefully they will remember you.  

2. Studying music can enhance your vocal skills

Studying music can be a great way to really develop as a vocalist. Whether it be learning more about harmonies, blends or just how to work as a backing singer, music education can open up plenty of new opportunities for you through exposing you to different styles and genres. At the same time, being at a music college also means you’re surrounded by like-minded music lovers and performers, something that can be key to helping you expand your network.

3. Sell yourself through social media

From Facebook to Instagram, there are myriad different social media platforms for you to use to push your career forward. Use this as your shop front to sell yourself and your skills. Think about the kind of presence you want to have online and use your profiles to connect and communicate with artist managers and musical directors. Again, this can be a great way of finding opportunities.

4. Embrace the new

Sometimes, you might end up in a situation at college where you’re doing something you might not feel familiar with. Whether it’s choreographed routines or just genres you’re not au fait with, always try and embrace different styles and sounds. It will be good for you in the long run and potentially create more opportunities.

5. Singing backing vocals is a specific skill

Remember that the skills needed to sing backing vocals should never be downplayed. It takes real ability to succeed in this area. Just because you are a brilliant singer, doesn’t mean you will be a great backing vocalist. This is about blend and tone and knowing where your voice fits in the bigger picture of the band’s sound or recording. You’ll also often be asked to work across different styles and genres – which takes some getting used to if you haven’t done so before.

6. Don’t restrict yourself to specific genres

The more styles you can adapt to, the more work you will likely get. It means you should never restrict yourself to a specific sound. Doing so could potentially deprive you from making the most of any potential roles that come your way. Working in the session industry often requires you to be flexible – if you can offer a broad range of experience and expertise, then you will go far. 

7. Do vocal exercises

Before any vocal performance, whether it be on stage or in the studio, always remember to exercise your voice. Treat it like a muscle and be kind to it. This can make all the difference when singing. Plus if you don’t exercise and are singing every night, then you could potentially put your voice (and your job) at risk of being damaged. 

8. Take off your voice after your gigs  

Remember as a singer, partying after a gig should only be minimal. If you’re on tour with a band, then you want to be able to go the distance. Guitarists can often play hungover but as a singer you can’t really get away with it. Plus, everyone has phones now and performances are often filmed. If you have an off night with a big band, then chances are it could end up online and have a negative impact on your career in the long run… 


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