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Barking Spiders

Vocal groups..what's the point?

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I've never understood why anyone would want to be a backing singer in a vocal group, occasionally twirling around and singing the chorus, especially when they don't even take lead vocals or contribute towards the writing. Maybe some BCers might've added a few sharp moves and doo-waps  while covering some Four Tops numbers.

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I would imagine, if voice is your instrument, it's just like anything else.... about contributing to the whole, and being among the overall sound, playing your part.

Like a DB player in an orchestra counting 80 bars of rest, or a guitarist in a pop band throwing in simple chords one to the bar, or a bass player banging through Mustang Sally yet again. It's not about you, it's about the piece and the audience.

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^^^^ This.

Most of my gigs have been as a sax player in a section with a soul band or functions band. Admittedly, I have played thousands of solos... but for the most part I've played stuff similar to backing singers... often being quiet for a lot of the song... and sometimes an entire song where I've just shook a piece of percussion.

Even in my brief tenure on a Springsteen tribute band (I was Clarence) I spent an awful lot of time shaking percussion.

I'd quite happily do BVs if my voice was up to it.

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I think for some there is a learning and development element to it as well.You might be good enough to front a band playing in the Dog & Duck, but if someone offers you the chance to work as a backing singer for a band playing arena shows, the opportunities to learn (and earn!) would be much greater.

Case in point, in the days of my old Americana band a couple of the guys met a girl at a party who was desperate to sing with a band but had no live experience and struggled with the concept of standing on a stage in front of an audience. She certainly could sing, no doubt about that. We persuaded her to come to a couple of rehearsals with us, doing backing vocals on a couple of numbers and taking lead on one.

Eventually she was confident to give it a go in a live setting, and despite being extremely nervous, did very well. She did a few more shows with us, growing in confidence all the time, and was then poached by the BMX Bandits...

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... and, of course, there's always the phenomenon of backing singers being much better than the "famous" artist. I remember seeing something on telly a few years ago now where Baby Spice was backed up by Sam Brown... sorry, Baby, you were out-classed there.

Mrs Trueno always points out... if you have a dodgy voice get in some serious-pro backing singers.

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44 minutes ago, Barking Spiders said:

I've never understood why anyone would want to be a backing singer in a vocal group, occasionally twirling around and singing the chorus, especially when they don't even take lead vocals or contribute towards the writing. Maybe some BCers might've added a few sharp moves and doo-waps  while covering some Four Tops numbers.

Like the Four Tops? 😧

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Posted (edited)

Interesting. Conversely, I’ve felt that a couple of bands I’ve been in over the years have been spoiled by some members insisting on playing all the time on every song. Leading to a total loss of dynamics and an overall stodgy sound. There was one particular case of a second guitarist who scrubbed away on chords on all 6 strings all the time in every song. I had a discrete word with the band leader about how I thought we could be even better if we...(trying to be a diplomat). The answer I got was - you can’t expect people to pay all that money on gear, practice etc. and stand around not playing.  😳

Edited by Len_derby
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1 hour ago, Barking Spiders said:

I've never understood why anyone would want to be a backing singer in a vocal group,

Same reason I'm a bass player. Making the song and band work as a musical entertainment.

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Pretty much most of the music I love contains vocals / backing vocals. If you want to see more of what makes hired backing vocalists tick, try and catch '20 feet from stardom', a great documentary. Trailer here -

 

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I think sometimes the backing vocals make the song. A prime example for me is Foreigner’s I want to know what love is. It’s to me a pretty awful song, that gets played hourly on Smooth FM, but the backing vocals are sublime. They’re by the New Jersey Mass choir.

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I'm not talking about session backing vocalists but the backing vocalists in vocal groups from Motown acts like the Supremes, Four Tops etc through to boy/girl bands like Take That, Boyzone etc where there is one principal singer.

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30 minutes ago, Barking Spiders said:

I'm not talking about session backing vocalists but the backing vocalists in vocal groups from Motown acts like the Supremes, Four Tops etc through to boy/girl bands like Take That, Boyzone etc where there is one principal singer.

The backing vocals are an integral part of the song. The guys had moves to enhance the show. What are you going to do, make hit records and travel the world in style or work on the Ford production line?

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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, chris_b said:

The backing vocals are an integral part of the song. The guys had moves to enhance the show. What are you going to do, make hit records and travel the world in style or work on the Ford production line?

If i was a young man in 1960s Detroit and faced with this choice, I'd go with the car assembly line, mainly because I can't abide the 60s Motown sound. Besides, I'd learn useful engineering skills😊

Edited by Barking Spiders

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1 hour ago, Trueno said:

^^^^ This.

Most of my gigs have been as a sax player in a section with a soul band or functions band. Admittedly, I have played thousands of solos... but for the most part I've played stuff similar to backing singers... often being quiet for a lot of the song... and sometimes an entire song where I've just shook a piece of percussion.

Even in my brief tenure on a Springsteen tribute band (I was Clarence) I spent an awful lot of time shaking percussion.

I'd quite happily do BVs if my voice was up to it.

This was you? The lion sleeps tonight?

image.png.c675a8a8addc7110ba1fffad245e3a84.png

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1 hour ago, Len_derby said:

Interesting. Conversely, I’ve felt that a couple of bands I’ve been in over the years have been spoiled by some members insisting on playing all the time on every song. Leading to a total loss of dynamics and an overall stodgy sound. There was one particular case of a second guitarist who scrubbed away on chords on all 6 strings all the time in every song. I had a discrete word with the band leader about how I thought we could be even better if we...(trying to be a diplomat). The answer I got was - you can’t expect people to pay all that money on gear, practice etc. and stand around not playing.  😳

Also describes a keyboard player we once had. Painful memories...

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2 hours ago, Barking Spiders said:

I've never understood why anyone would want to be a backing singer in a vocal group, occasionally twirling around and singing the chorus, especially when they don't even take lead vocals or contribute towards the writing. Maybe some BCers might've added a few sharp moves and doo-waps  while covering some Four Tops numbers.

 

29 minutes ago, Barking Spiders said:

If i was a young man in 1960s Detroit and faced with this choice, I'd go with the car assembly line, mainly because I can't abide the 60s Motown sound. Besides, I'd learn useful engineering skills😊

You could have been a producer. You wouldn't have to sing, and you could have changed the Detroit sound to something 'better' ... 😄

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My voice is bass, my instrument is bass. I am never in the front. It does not matter, as I know my place and meaning in a band, smaller or bigger.

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Yep, backing singers...often under-rated and don't get the respect they deserve.

Quick name-drop: When Dave Swift got me back stage at a Jools Holland gig for autographs on some raffle prizes I got chatting to the two female backing vocalists. Each could bang out a tune in their own right and I got to wondering why they hadn't made it in their own right.

Answer - too many other skilled vocalists with little chance of getting the recognition they deserve. Safer (and more lucrative) to be a backing vocalist to a more established artist.

The Music Industry doesn't seem to be the way forward any more. You have to sell your soul to Simon Cowell and go through weekly humiliation on National TV to have the 15 minutes of fame that you craved for years.

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3 hours ago, Barking Spiders said:

If i was a young man in 1960s Detroit and faced with this choice, I'd go with the car assembly line, mainly because I can't abide the 60s Motown sound. Besides, I'd learn useful engineering skills😊

Being involved in 60's Motown... I'd be happy to clean out the bogs... a 1,000 lifetimes of Christmasses and birthdays all at once.

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Weeeellll......most of the music I love (and write) has a lot of vocal harmonies. There aren’t many bands I love where there is just a singer. Ok, most of the bands I like with harmony vocals, the other vocalists also play an instrument, but I can tell you now, if I had the budget for it, one of the first things I’d do at every recording session and gig is get a bunch of backing singers who can really sing. Because then you’ve got almost limitless scope for vocal composition. Why limit yourself?

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Why stop at backing singers. I believe a certain Mr. Pratt has made a good career playing in other peoples bands as a sideman, or doing the odd track here and there for an established artist or two. i don't think he's bothered. Neither, I suspect, are folks like Waddy Wachtel or the guys who were Frank Zappa's touring musicians. Backing singer, session guitarist/bass player/drummer, touring musician for a solo artist -  what's the difference? It's making a living (and for some a very good one) that I'd be only too pleased to be able to do if I had the talent, which is a slight problem.

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