Backing Vocals -the finishing touch or a bit too much

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by Jimmy4string, Apr 14, 2016.

  1. How is your experience with the backing vocals? I think they are great touch on a cover song that you are trying to perfect. However it can be tough giving someone an extra side job when they are concentrating on being great on their man instrument. Currently i am lead singer in our band and always wanting the BV's! Guitarist is our main guy so far but he usually is concentrating on something else or late or out of tune on the harmony. We have a Chinese Bass player and still an unknown horse in the race and I suspect our drummer may have some hidden BV talents. I am miching up everybody Saturday and going to see what we have :)
    Mainly started this thread to find out about you and your experiences with backing vocals and how you go about it.
  2. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I love them. They tell me that a band actually went out of the way to nail a song rather than just take a weak swing at it. There are tons of smash hit songs that wouldn't even sound "right" without them.

    Plus, my vocals have gotten me as many gigs as my bass chops. I highly recommend any bassist who want to increase his/her demand should work on singing.

    Yes, mic everybody and take inventory of vocal talent and range of everyone in the band.
  3. tbirdsp


    Sep 18, 2012
    Omaha, NE
    This plus a million!
    I do most of our backing vocals and sing lead on 6 or 7 songs just to give our singer a break. I hate cover bands that blow off the harmonies - they are just as important as any instrumental part of the song, if not more. Most people aren't going to remember if that guitar lick or bass riff was played perfectly - they'll know when the vocals aren't "right" though. I'll also add - playing bass to pop/rock/country songs is the easy part - trying to play AND sing, plus memorize lyrics - that's what takes almost all of my practice time.
    A solid bass player who can pick out and sing harmony parts will always find work.
    Tbone76, nixdad, Jimmy4string and 2 others like this.
  4. Howlin' Hanson

    Howlin' Hanson Lighter cabs, please.

    Sep 3, 2007
    Austin TX
    Forget the vocals. We all need a suit like the photo in the first post.

    And yes, if I'm not singing lead, I'm singing harmonies when the song needs it. Try and stop me.
    nixdad, TheOxRocks and Jimmy4string like this.
  5. HAHA Howlin you had me laughing abruptly at a quiet time at work! :laugh:
    Howlin' Hanson likes this.
  6. Robroy

    Robroy Guest

    Jun 21, 2006
    For me, GOOD BV's put the band in a different league. However, the key is "good". My old band had it. We could a-Capella the songs often. There were, for us, three secrets to good BV on covers.
    1. Assign specific parts to specific people. Our chord sheets used gray highlighting to identify two part and three part harmonies.
    2. Vocal only rehearsals. The instrumentalists need to know their vocal parts as much as their instrument.
    3. Record rehearsals. Everybody can hear what they are doing wrong. I was singing lead on Holiday and noticed that one of the background vocalists was all over the place. I was excited that the recording would show him that. Interestingly, it also showed that MY part was "choppy". I'd have never known.

    Extra credit: Don't try to add too much BV. You don't want to sound like one of those married couple live TV singing acts from the 50's where the husband and wife just sing duet from beginning to end. BV's add softness to some parts and can emphasize others, while also emphasizing the parts where the lead sings alone.
    hrodbert696 and City like this.
  7. 999Brent

    999Brent Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2011
    Auckland, New Zealand
    In our cover band we all sing, we feel it adds a lot to the music.
    Everyone sings a practice, and the best of it is seen live.
    So we make sure backing vocal are at 90% before unveiling them on the public.

    Even if the backing vocals are bad they should be tried at practice as they will get better with time.
    Our singer will stop singing sometimes at practice and listen to us and correct harmonies where required or help us find them!!!
    Tbone76 likes this.
  8. Robroy

    Robroy Guest

    Jun 21, 2006
    That is the role I play. I think playing second, third and bass trombone in high school and college stage band gave me an ear for harmonies. I actually enjoy singing harmony more than lead. However, since I got my Digitech vlfx, that is changing.
  9. We have a really good lead vocalist/frontman (who can be a bit of a diva, but what's new?). From the rest of the band, one of the guitarists can, sort of, sing but can be a bit shouty and intonation can be suspect - he only joins in on backing vox when we cover Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys are Back In Town" at the obvious place. Our drummer says he can sing, but I've never heard him because he's new into the band, has only done five gigs with us, and says he wants to be on autopilot drum-wise before he joins in with vox, which is fair enough. That leaves me. I can sing (in tune when the monitor mix is as it should be) and good enough to have sung lead vocals in previous bands, although I would be the first to admit that I am a second rate lead vocalist; my range is OK but not stellar and the tone of my voice is quite ordinary. Nonetheless, to date, I am the bands only backing vocalist (apart from the 'boys are back' shouty response).

    What I find really helps is that I have a TC Helicon Voicelive Play that I have programmed with appropriate vocal doubling and harmonies for each song. If you're a guitarist it would be great because it works out the song's key and harmonies from the chords you play, as a bassist it's useless unless you double stop the third or minor third because that's how it calculates the harmony to apply, so you have to pre-program the key for each song, then apply the harmony voice or doubling options you want to's got lots of other effects, like loads of reverb options, but I don't use those because our lead vocals use the reverb FX on the mixer (that I also run), so we both use the same reverb send and return so that it doesn't sound like he's in a cathedral and I'm in a small room. Needless to say, like all effects, you have to be very judicious in the harmonies and doubling to use, but once you've nailed it the backing vox can sound very effective...subtlety wins every time.

    A guitarist from another band came to see us and looked down his nose at this little pedal, then told me I was cheating and should be able to sing without artificial aids (which I can)...I told him that was an ironic comment coming from a guy who has nearly as many FX going on as The Edge and that he should be able to do it with his guitar plugged straight into an amp...I think he got the point.
    hrodbert696 and jamro217 like this.
  10. We are a 3 piece where everyone sings lead and backgrounds. It greatly enhances our sound. Some songs, I don't sing BV on if it interferes with my playing.
    Robroy likes this.
  11. BassCliff


    May 17, 2012
    So. Cal.

    Good singing is good. People like good singing.

    I just thought I'd try to share this video. It seems Youtube has lifted the copyright ban that had it blocked.

    Everybody in the band plays and sings. We have vocal rehearsals and learn our instrumental parts at home. It's fun to play and sing together.

    Thank you for your indulgence,

  12. Robroy

    Robroy Guest

    Jun 21, 2006
    That's impressive. Seriously!
    Tbone76 and BassCliff like this.
  13. s0c9

    s0c9 Supporting Member

    Jan 9, 2014
    1964 Audio artist, Fractal Audio Beta Tester
    Absolutely... I see too many cover bands/videos without them..
    but.. there is a fine line.. don't ADD harmonies that aren't there, and generally more than 3-part harmonies don't work - unless the band is hugely talented.. nothing worse than someone searching for a harmony while the others are on it.. Can you say train wreck?.
    BassCliff likes this.
  14. mwbassace


    Jul 26, 2010
    N.W. Ohio
    Yes BV's seperate the great from the good. I have a limited wheelhouse for lead vocals, okay on BV's. Though I can't harmonize for crap. I always gravitate to the lead, but can usually nail the lead. Sometimes my old bands singer would let me take the lead & then she'd sing the harmony part. Then there were times I just doubled the lead vocal. So what say ya'll, is it okay to do that?
    hrodbert696 likes this.
  15. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive Suspended

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    I have a problem singing while concentrating while being great on my man instrument. However, singing and playing bass are second nature. :D

    All kidding aside, if they can sing, they need to practice (on their own) singing and playing at the same time. It's not rocket science, it just takes practice. Great vocals and mediocre instrumental ability will take you much farther than virtuosic instrumental ability and mediocre vocals. However, having great vocals and instrumental ability is best.
    Tbone76, tbirdsp and jamro217 like this.
  16. It doesn't hurt to have an extra trick in your bag, even if the best you can muster is "Ooh", "Ah", and "My Baby" (in tune), that's good enough for about 80% of pop music. Country yes. Jazz? Usually the vocals (if any) are solo. Don't see much call for it in classical circles. I find it much easier to sing while playing rhythm guitar. The important thing is not to lose touch with your instrument while singing. Becoming a sloppy bassist who has a good voice isn't doing the rhythm section any favors, and that is job number one.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016
  17. we have two singers that both have their own distinct sounds. I find that to be enough for shows. In the studio we do all kinds of harmonies, we've even done gang vocals. But live I think the focus on the vocals should be clarity and being able to understand the words over anything else. It's tough to do a ton of vocals and stuff if the PA isn't top notch.
  18. Typical club/bar/private event audiences miss a lot of the details of what we do when we set out to entertain.

    BG/harmony vocals are not one of those details. Without fail, any band I've been in that took the time to arrange and rehearse harmony vocals, especially the all-elusive three-part harmonies, gets loads of compliments from the audience and clients.

    It's not for every band. You have to have people who can get their head around singing harmony parts and playing simultaneously, and who are willing to put in the extra time and effort. But if you can swing it and do a nice job, you automatically have an advantage over the majority of bands (if your area is like mine where this corner routinely gets cut).

    There's nothing more depressing than coming to the end of a Journey song, say "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" or "Don't Stop Believin'" and it's two voices singing the main melody in unison, no harmonies at all. Everyone in the room knows something is very wrong. I've been there, and I just wanted to crawl into my shoes. Sad part is, there were three people in the band who could have done a nice job with those kinds of harmonies, except they just didn't feel like putting in the time and effort.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2016
  19. bluesblaster


    Jan 2, 2008
    I started singing lead and harmony more out of necessity than anything else, someone had to do it. I think it opens up a lot more options for you if you can sing and play. Its always nice when you can have at least 3 people in the group that can blend a nice harmony and also spread the lead vocal stuff around so its not all on one person for the whole gig. Unless of course they're the "big Deal" star of the show :smug:
    BassCliff likes this.
  20. Bullitt5135


    Nov 16, 2010
    SE Michigan
    There's nothing that can give you the chills like the harmonies coming together. My new band has three good vocalists, including one female. There's really no point in me trying to sing as well, since I'm not very good at it. Better to focus on my bass parts and locking in with the drummer.

    It's a weird problem to have at practice when the singers start nitpicking the harmonies. Even though the vocals generally sound great to me, after every song there is a debate that goes something to the effect of... "I pretty sure the 5th harmony goes 'ooohhaaaaheeeehoooooh' instead of 'ooohaaahheeehooaaah'. I guess if they have that much attention to detail, it's a good thing.
    btmpancake and electracoyote like this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    May 16, 2022

Share This Page