There’s nothing better than an amazing lead vocal, we all have our favourite vocalists, but often the unsung heroes (forgive the pun) are the backing vocal performances.
If you are yet to attempt backing vocals, or struggling to get them right, then follow these tips to getting better backing vocals.
Create Backing Vocals That Suit The Song
If you have an intimate ballad then the BV may simply need to be a shadow vocal sitting behind the main vocal. This will often be a simple double, or a basic harmony, which can thicken or add an extra weight to the main vocal. If it’s a full blown rock ballad then it might need the full choir effect, but as with any other instruments in a track make sure they fit - sometimes a track may need no BVs at all, sometimes backing vocals make the song. If you listen to someone like Imogen Heap she uses vocals like an instrument creating other worldly sounds.
Decide On The Language
Some backing vocals simply sing same part as the main vocals but adding harmonies, in other cases they highlight certain parts of the vocal.
There’s still a place in music for Ohhs, Ahhs and Doobie, Doobie Doos, not to be confused with the Hanna Barbera talking dog, who might sound cool on a track but costs a fortune to keep fed.
When tracking your own over dubs through headphones, then here are a couple of things that might help keep you in tune and in time. Firstly try panning the original into one ear and have your live monitor in the other, secondly if you don’t like doing that then just feed the original through your headphones and take one of the ears off so you can hear yourself - be careful not to have it too loud to prevent spillage when recording, panning it to the ear you are using can help prevent that too. Check out the handy video below from backing singer John Perry, it has some handy tips for those getting started.
Tuning And Timing Are Relative
If you plan to stack your vocals then take care not to over tune or over time correct them. The main reason stacked vocals sound so big is because of the tiny changes in pitch and time between each take. If you over-do either tuning or timing correction then you defeat the object of the exercise and in turn end up with a very loud, phasey set of backing vocals.
Use Eq And Compression Creatively
You’ll often find that backing vocals, especially large sets of them, benefit from some extensive eq and compression. I sometimes roll a lot of the bottom end out of big stacks and also compress heavily to create a wall of sound. Alternatively you can get some cool effects on a double tracked vocal by rolling off a lot of top end, so it sits behind the backing vocal without being too distracting.
So 5 tips that should help those new to backing vocals - what are yours?