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Backing Vocals!!


phil.mcglassup
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Hi All,

Even though I am not musically technically minded I have always considered myself to be a fairly competent bass player. However, the songs that the band I have just joined cover songs which require me to sing backing vocals. The lead singer is female and the remainder of the band are tone deaf males so that just leaves me to do it. It is about twenty years since I last played bass and sang BV's fairly successfully.

I would like to know:-

1) Because my voice is fairly weak -it's like comparing a single note to a chord- is there an effects 'pedal' available to add character to my voice, say like a chorus effect. Adjusting the EQ on the mixing desk does not help.

2) When looking at copying the harmonies sung by females who support a female lead vocal (quite high)-where does a guy start?

As I said, I'm not technically minded so I hope this post is understandable!! As usual, any help appreciated.

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I think it's a confidence thing, I was always bad with this but you've just got to sing like you mean it if you'll pardon the cliche. No pedal can replicate confidence successfully IMO. If you've got a decent range as well then you might find if she's a good alto that it might not be as difficult as you might think to harmonise successfully with her! :)

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A compressor should help a bit, making your voice much more level. Also record yourself singing and see what eq flatters you most and get a decent eq unit if you can stretch to it. I wouldn't mess with effects as it just draw attention to flaws.

Good luck mate

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[quote name='risingson' post='967256' date='Sep 24 2010, 11:58 PM']I think it's a confidence thing, I was always bad with this but you've just got to sing like you mean it if you'll pardon the cliche. No pedal can replicate confidence successfully IMO. If you've got a decent range as well then you might find if she's a good alto that it might not be as difficult as you might think to harmonise successfully with her! :)[/quote]


[quote name='charic' post='967433' date='Sep 25 2010, 11:55 AM']A compressor should help a bit, making your voice much more level. Also record yourself singing and see what eq flatters you most and get a decent eq unit if you can stretch to it. I wouldn't mess with effects as it just draw attention to flaws.

Good luck mate[/quote]

+1 to both of those. BVs are a funny thing. I hate my voice solo'd but my BVs can sound great. I also realised I have two ranges, my talking voice is technically baritone, and I have a decent 10-note range from E - B an octave and a half higher, after that it's a bit ropey for a few notes, above which I have a fairly decent falsetto. It really helps if you know which notes in your vocal range sound good and which don't. Also, warming up your voice with the type of exercise actors and professional singers use makes a massive difference, especially if you're singing words and not just humming. Over and above these, a decent mic at the right height, good levels, good EQ, good posture, a simple bass line (!), and confidence all help a lot also.

C

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[quote name='risingson' post='967256' date='Sep 24 2010, 11:58 PM']I think it's a confidence thing, I was always bad with this but you've just got to sing like you mean it if you'll pardon the cliche. No pedal can replicate confidence successfully IMO.[/quote]

Plus the one.

I started out not singing at all, then moved on to doing a bit of BVs. As my confidence grew I took lead on one song in the set. I now sing lead on all but 3 or 4 songs with my current band.

The other thing about backing vocals it that they're just that - backing. It doesn't matter if your voice is a bit iffy (as long as you're not actually out of tune) as your voice is only there to thicken up the sound of the lead singer.

A

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[quote name='charic' post='967433' date='Sep 25 2010, 11:55 AM']A compressor should help a bit, making your voice much more level. Also record yourself singing and see what eq flatters you most and get a decent eq unit if you can stretch to it. I wouldn't mess with effects as it just draw attention to flaws.

Good luck mate[/quote]
+1 to that.Our pa has compression on 4 channels, and whenever we gig a big venue, the bass drum mic gets one of these channels, and its me who goes uncompressed, and the guys are always telling me to quieten down. Compression really helps in keeping the voice level, no matter how much power you put in. Its also nice to know you can let go and not be concerned abt frowning anythone else out.

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[quote name='Alien' post='967453' date='Sep 25 2010, 12:28 PM']Plus the one.

I started out not singing at all, then moved on to doing a bit of BVs. As my confidence grew I took lead on one song in the set. I now sing lead on all but 3 or 4 songs with my current band.

The other thing about backing vocals it that they're just that - backing. It doesn't matter if your voice is a bit iffy (as long as you're not actually out of tune) as your voice is only there to thicken up the sound of the lead singer.

A[/quote]

Thats almost identicle to my story up to the singing lead on 1 song. I sing lead on 2 but thats about it so far.

I also find that I can sing bv's on some songs at practice with the band that I just cant seem to pull off on my own playing along to the CD. Its fairly wierd I think but if you dont feel comfy on your own practicing a backing vocal, try it in the mix with the band as it may sound much better.

+loads on the easy bassline part. I simplify the line for a bar or so while singing the bv's then beef it back closer to the original while not singing. Makes our life sooooo much easier.

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[quote name='phil.mcglassup' post='967195' date='Sep 24 2010, 10:18 PM']Hi All,

Even though I am not musically technically minded I have always considered myself to be a fairly competent bass player. However, the songs that the band I have just joined cover songs which require me to sing backing vocals. The lead singer is female and the remainder of the band are tone deaf males so that just leaves me to do it. It is about twenty years since I last played bass and sang BV's fairly successfully.

I would like to know:-

1) Because my voice is fairly weak -it's like comparing a single note to a chord- is there an effects 'pedal' available to add character to my voice, say like a chorus effect. Adjusting the EQ on the mixing desk does not help.

2) When looking at copying the harmonies sung by females who support a female lead vocal (quite high)-where does a guy start?

As I said, I'm not technically minded so I hope this post is understandable!! As usual, any help appreciated.[/quote]

1) I'm afraid not. A bit of comp and verb will help your voice sound more natural in the mix, but the only way to get a weak voice to sound like a strong voice is to train it.

2) Either the octave below, or falsetto. For male falsetto to work well you need a strong voice, though, so I'd go for the lower pitch to start with.

With singing, the only thing to do is practice practice practice. I've been a singer for twenty years and I still have to practice for hours every week to keep my voice strong and reliable.

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Nice work the others in the band getting off scot-free and you getting lumbered as a newbie.

When we first got together we picked the band on the basis of the players and then realised that we don't have a really strong backup.
Everyone now chips in and we have had to have backup sessions as this didn't really come naturally to anyone.

In our case, everyone is prepared to give it a go and we made a pact that we would be quite brutal if something didn't work, but that the end result would benefit us live. No one outside the band needs to know who can't sing a part for toffee, but as a unit we sure do as we have had some awful sessions in rehearsal. It is just a case of all being willing and accepting when someone tells you it isn't working and you let someone else do it. Some parts suit some vocals and so don't, so just work out who can do what, in what song.

There will be too much pressure on a weak/unsure/un-committed BV all the time so just get everyone to do something.

You really need to be a strong singer to do all the BV's in a cover band..and it isn't reasonable to expect just the one to do it, IMV.
Of course, some people have that ability..most don't if they are getting beyond the la-las...

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Not posting this to destroy anyone's confiedence here, more as an example of what can be achieved naturally without any effects whatsoever.

BV's are a skill in thier own right. Singing the main line has the problem that it's often on it's own, but it's often the most memorable and therefore easiest to remember on the spot.
BV's require that moment's thought before hitting that note which may not be the obvious one at a glance.

Confident BV's can make a song, or in the case of the Beach Boys and the Tremeloes, help to make a distinctive band sound.

Practice, practice, practice








T

Edited by essexbasscat
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Wow!! Thanks very much for all the help everyone -much appreciated.

Looks like I've got a lot of practicing to do - and it may be a while before we can do anything like the guys in the videos.

I have been honest and open with the rest of the band by insisting that thy tell me if anything I sing sounds naff!!

Finally, I have already simplified the bass lines where I sing BV's, by playing the notes in time to the melody or 4 or 8 beats to a bar.

Cheers

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One other thing...to practice I like to sing the harmony along with the original song on CD or YouTube, however, because we have a female singer a lot of the songs are played a tone higher than the original song.

So how might I get round this? Is there a technique I could use so that I have something to sing along to (preferably with the harmony part) without recording our own version of the song in our chosen key? It's bad enough practising the bass part, so what I do is detune the strings by one tone to play alongside the CD etc so that when we practice the notes are at the correct fret with correct tuning!!

TIA

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There's a range of good software out there that will do this (and a lot else) for you. It will cost you dosh, but you'll never run out of uses for it.

I recommend The Amazing Slow Downer. Truly excellent piece of software, does all sorts of very useful things, fairly cheap. Only drawback IMHO is that it's not good at saving the resultant file as mp3, only as wav.

[url="http://www.ronimusic.com/"]http://www.ronimusic.com/[/url]

Reverting to your original post, plenty of vocal processors offer something called (confusingly) "detuning". It deliberately spreads your vocal signal over a very slight tonal range, both lower and higher, to produce a thicker, richer sound.

Finally, whatever else you do to sing & play simultaneously, ultimately it comes down to practising until you can do it in your sleep. Songs I started performing on stage, more or less ropily, 18 months ago I can now sing with confidence and even with ... wow! ... vocal styling. Songs I started six months ago remain works in progress.

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You don't need any pedals, just a bit of confidence and a lot of practice. Get yourself a monitor so you can hear what you're doing. Learn how to back off the mic when you need to (so you are background vocals, rather than louder than the lead singer) and lean in, when you need to be louder for the song. You'll soon feel how to be part of the sound, rather than the sound itself.

Good luck with it, it takes time to get it right but it's a very rewarding part of playing.

Edited by stingrayfan
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Backing vocals can be the difference from an average band & a great band. My voice isn't very strong & I can do a passable vocal at best. I prefer not to sing these days as there are better singers in my current band thankfully. I do agree simplify the bassline whilst singing & tape some rehearsals. If your voice adds something, great but if not I wouldn't be afraid to have no backing vocals. I think a band with poor backing vocals can sound worse than one with no backing vocals (& I would assess song by song as certain keys will suit you better)

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That all makes sense - thanks.

I know I need to practice but with one song in particular I can sing BV's fine when singing along to a CD, although an octave lower than the female backing singers who I believe are singing separate harmonies, but at yesterday's practice after several attempts I still couldn't get it right. I'd even practised my harmony part at home by playing an acoustic six string in the correct chords for the harmony part if that makes sense. As has been already said, I need to practice it more so that the notes are engraved on my brain!!

I agree that backing vocals make so much difference to a band that's why I thought I'd give it a go.

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Beedster made a very good point re mic height. I sing 90% lead vox in a rock band and it's very important. It can make all the difference between great confident projection and sounding like your next door and mumbling.

Also, with a female singer (I'm in a covers band with one of those) we find that she prefers keys higher than the originals in many cases. It's best to practice along with the original so I import the original MP3 into Audacity, change the key without affecting BPM and then sing along.

BVs an octave below can work really well if it's more comfortable for you. I think it's Starship with Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas?? (Might be wrong) but I seem to remember she has the low voice and he has the really high parts. Sounds great.

Best of luck. Practice is king. (Preferabley whilst you're playing the bass)

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I sing lead in my main bands and backing when I'm depping and half the songs in my duo. Other than what's been mentioned above, an earplug in one ear (nearest the cymbals for me!!) helps me to pitch massively. Takes three of four gigs to get used to but I won't gig without it now. Also prevents deafness in your 'drum' ear!

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I really do not have a good voice but fill in with BV where they are absolutely necessary on the grounds that nobody else would. Confidence is key and if I screw it up (my BV on 'Ruby' does sometimes sound like a lemur with his nuts caught in the cutlery drawer) then I just laugh - I may as well, everyone else is!

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Maybe not what you want to hear, but I usually don't attempt to replicate any B.Vs or even listen to them at home. Instead I'll wait until rehearsal then just go for it and it just works. I seem to have really developed a knack for finding harmonies on the spot & being able to "blend" my voice with the lead vocal.... As has already been stated B.V.s are a skill of their own, but one that can be acquired with lots of practice- I'm always singing along in the car BUT not usually lead vocals, instead trying to find harmonies! Enjoy......

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The most common harmony line for one added voice is to sing a line on certain sections of a melody on the third above the melody. If you are a male voice singing with a high female you might find it useful to attempt to sing that as a sixth (which is what the third ends up as when dropped an octave) below the melody rather than a third above.
There are some scale tones with which the third does not work so at that point you would either not sing, sing in unison (same note) or octave unison (same note an octave lower) or a fifth. Other scale tones are rarer and more difficult to pitch unless you are really good with your ears and voice (they can however be really beautiful so there's always something to aim for)
I'm aware that this sounds quite technical but if you take time to understand each element of what I'm saying you'll find that it's basically a verbal explanation of what comes naturally anyway. It's just that understanding what you are doing properly will give you more success more of the time.
I'm open to expanding any explanations with which you have trouble.
As for pedals etc, I have no clue :)
Good luck with it
Jake

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