Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, February 11, 2008

How to get work as a background singer

I still love doing bgvs... for over 40 yrs now!
I get asked this question a lot... How does one go about getting started if they are interested in singing bgv's (background vocals)?"

My answer: To sing background vocals you need-
  1. vocal training to be able to perform the feats of what I call a "stunt singer". It takes more stamina and control to be a great background singer than to be a lead singer, because you will have to trace and blend with another voice perfectly, taking on the lead voice's tone, personality, rhythm, phrasing and accent, or adding whatever different texture of voice the producer wants to offset the lead singer's voice. I have a specialized training program just for studio singing you might want to study!
  2. to be able to change your voice at the producer's request.
  3. to be able to hear and create harmony parts.
  4. experience singing background parts with live performers and/or backing vocals in a recording studio. No matter what kind of training you have, there's no substitute for actual experience. It's a catch-22; you need experience to get experience, so take whatever opportunity you can possibly find or afford to get in front of a stage or recording studio mic.
  5. a demonstration (demo) recording of your voice. This can be a simple guitar or piano/vocal, a karaoke track with your voice recorded over it, or can be full instrumental tracks created just for you. Just make sure that your vocal performance is the most important thing you record. Don't spend money on tracks without budgeting enough time for great vocals. duh.
  6. referrals from people you've sung with and sung for.
  7. networking, networking, networking. This takes time and persistance; people skills are very necessary. Go to writers nights and to concerts, hang out with musicians and songwriters you know. If you know any session singers, you might ask them to sing with you and assess how well they think you do.
  8. to realize that you may need to keep your day job. Background work is very competitive and usually has a great deal to do with being at the right place at the right time. Sometimes when someone else can't make a session, an untried singer will get a chance. However, it is important to be generous of spirit, to support and recommend other singers trying to get work as well. Undercutting your fellow session singer will come back to bite you. It usually takes years to break in to regular session work. Make sure you build the right reputation.
Background singers tend to be hired for the following qualities:
  1. They sound great with the lead singer.
  2. They learn their parts fast.
  3. They can do "head charts" (just come up with the parts in their heads), read the Nashville number system (if in Nashville), and they can read written music (traditional notes). You can get hired without being able to do all three, but you are considered a much more versitile singer if you can work whatever way the producer, artist or group leader wants.
  4. They have positive, professional attitudes and work well with others.
  5. They can be depended upon to show up on time, every time.
  6. They are nice people. The music business is a small world, and it gets to be community where where you like to work with friends and good hearted people.
Some of my best friends in the world are background singers. Good luck... and don't forget to check out the ultimate vocal training course for singing in the studio!

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  • At February 15, 2008 at 2:41 PM , Blogger LA said...

    Wow! I had no idea so much went into background singing--and getting work in the field. Thanks for the insight.

  • At February 17, 2008 at 12:17 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Ha... yes, people really don't realize. One cannot become a good bgv singer overnight. I may be prejudiced, but I think it's high time they gave music awards out to not only musicians, but background singers who add so much to the arrangement and sound of a hit record.

  • At March 6, 2008 at 2:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I was thinking about this post again today, and I'd love it if you'd write something similar in the future sometime about becoming a jingles singer. Is that hard to get into? I'd imagine it would be.

    I asked an acting agent once about getting work singing local jingles. She said it's pretty much impossible, at least in my market. Many of the DJs actually do the singing for those commercials!

  • At March 11, 2008 at 10:58 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Will do... thanks for the suggestion, Leigh Ann! Look for "jingle work" in an upcoming post...


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