how essential are backing vocals in a band?

davor

Senior Member
(this might be in the wrong forum section!)

My band have this long running discussion about needing a backing vocals but its fraught with problems -

1. Guitarist doesn't want to advertise for a guitar/backing vocalist. Insists on being the only guitar in the band
2. Bass player can do a little backing vocal basics, but isn't up for doing any more than that (says he cant play well and sing at the same time - fair enough!)
3. We've advertised for a keyboards/backing vocalist. No takers
4. I'm not that fussed about it, I say just proceed the 4 of us! but everyone else seems to think we need this

We're still in rehearsal room working on what works/ doesn't (all covers) so its not a huge issue, yet. Get the feeling we might not make it out of rehearsals until its resolved though

Anyone have any experience of this type of issue?
 

Gottliver

Senior Member
It’s not necessary, as evidence from many successful singer/songwriters who just strum a guitar and sing. But, in a band context, it makes a big difference. The power of many a song lies in the harmonies.

You say there are 4 members including you? I think a good solution would be for all of you to try and learn to sing some harmony. You don’t have to be a singer or backing vocalist. You would need to learn where your sweet spot is and sing the appropriate interval.

4 members is a sweet spot, remember as you add members you add schedule conflicts and personality conflicts. Less is more.
 

JustJames

Platinum Member
Guitarist sounds like he's nervous of "competition".

I play rhythm guitar in my "other band", and also provide backup vocals, as does the lead guitar. It works well. We play classic blues/rock and originals. Most songs do better with more than one voice, even if all the backing voices are doing is singing in unison, quieter than the lead vocalist, to add some depth at points in the song.

FWIW, I also think that rock bands sound better with more than one guitar. If you have 2 guitarists duking it out to play lead and take solos, that can be a prob, as can having 2 guitarists neither of whom can play solos. But 2 guitarists who can play together to fill out the tone can be an excellent thing.
 

KEEF

Senior Member
(this might be in the wrong forum section!)

My band have this long running discussion about needing a backing vocals but its fraught with problems -

1. Guitarist doesn't want to advertise for a guitar/backing vocalist. Insists on being the only guitar in the band
2. Bass player can do a little backing vocal basics, but isn't up for doing any more than that (says he cant play well and sing at the same time - fair enough!)
3. We've advertised for a keyboards/backing vocalist. No takers
4. I'm not that fussed about it, I say just proceed the 4 of us! but everyone else seems to think we need this

We're still in rehearsal room working on what works/ doesn't (all covers) so its not a huge issue, yet. Get the feeling we might not make it out of rehearsals until its resolved though

Anyone have any experience of this type of issue?
This is my band exactly -we would definitely benefit from having more bv's - i think it makes a world of difference!
Bass player does a little bit but guitarist won't entertain a 2nd guitar or a keys player that could also sing.
I find fitting bv's in and playing at the same time easy enough but i sing like a strangled cat......
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
My thoughts...

1: If you are in a band, an effort should be made to learn to sing. It gives writers/producers more options when creating arrangements.

2: Four pieces are fine. When the band plays out, you might find yourself considering a fifth touring musician or multi instrumentalist to fill in the spaces. Keys/guitars/aux percussion.

3: Having two guitarists.... As a guitarist that specializes in two-guitar bands/compositions, it can be said that it's quite a leap in terms of composition and playing. Unfortunately, you can only learn by actually doing it, and it takes a fair amount of time to get good at. Imagine learning to play with a second drummer.
 

mikyok

Platinum Member
In a nutshell very. Provided you can sing in tune.

I have to do a lot of em usually 2 parters but I did SATB choir at uni so close harmony isn't a problem when I get the opportunity.

3 part harmonies are really rare nowadays, they make a song sound so full. (listen to the backing of a Beatles or Hollies track, there's nothing at all the vox fill everything out)

I can see why your guitarist doesn't want another guitarist, it's very rare that 2 guitarists will sit together and work on their tones so they compliment each other. You usually end up with a volume war!

Keys/BV is a rarity and gold dust if you find one as it allows you to do so much more in your repotoir, they're rarer than a bassist that changes their strings. A guy rocked up at jam night last week who did choir work and was a keys player. I'm tempted to get him on board.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
I've taught many bands to add vocal harmony to their arrangements, over the years. There's usually a lot of fear to be overcome. It's more important than players think, and it might even be a deal-breaker in certain situations. But it has to do with non-musicians' perceptions of what makes a band "good".

To an audience, vocal harmony makes a larger-than-expected difference. Overall, a band with vocal harmony sounds more polished, professional, and more enjoyable to listen to. Although most non-players can somewhat carry a tune, very few without training and experience can harmonize with their voices. So, the vocal harmony represents something that most people can't do -- and so patrons, club managers, and staff tend to regard bands that can do this as being better than average.

Most well known songs have vocal harmony, if you listen closely enough. Two part harmony is/was more common in classic, alternative, and punk, but three part harmony is common in pop music, and especially country.

Anybody (really, anybody!) can learn to play and sing. It's a matter of slowing down, and dissecting what notes are to be sung, while the notes of the instrument are played. The instrumental part (bass, guitar, keys, etc.) needs to be familiar to the point where it can be done while tapping your foot, eyes closed. Get a concrete idea of what to sing and when, by printing out the lyrics, and have the instrumentalist identify which syllables are to be sung, at the start of a riff or chord change. Having a vocals-only rehearsal, with only a quiet instrument, like an acoustic guitar, can build confidence and comfort.

HOWEVER, if you can get a gig, do that first! It's more important to get gig experience, than to sound super polished. Vocal harmony will be easier to add, after the band has acquired the confidence that comes from regularly performing in front of an audience.
 

PorkPieGuy

Platinum Member
(this might be in the wrong forum section!)

My band have this long running discussion about needing a backing vocals but its fraught with problems -

1. Guitarist doesn't want to advertise for a guitar/backing vocalist. Insists on being the only guitar in the band
2. Bass player can do a little backing vocal basics, but isn't up for doing any more than that (says he cant play well and sing at the same time - fair enough!)
3. We've advertised for a keyboards/backing vocalist. No takers
4. I'm not that fussed about it, I say just proceed the 4 of us! but everyone else seems to think we need this

We're still in rehearsal room working on what works/ doesn't (all covers) so its not a huge issue, yet. Get the feeling we might not make it out of rehearsals until its resolved though

Anyone have any experience of this type of issue?
I've NEVER played in a band where the guitar player insisted that he be the only guitarist. Heck, any band that I've ever played in where there was only one guitarist always talked about how nice it would be to have another guitar player so that one person could play lead and other could play rhythm.

Back to your original question "how essential are backing vocals in a band?" My answer? Depends on the band and the kind of music you are doing. If you are doing screamo, black metal, etc., backing vocals may not be that big of a deal. However, if you are doing covers that the majority of the people out there know, then you need some BGV's.

I say y'all start trying to do BGV's between the 4 of you. Can't play and sing at the same time? Maybe it's time to hit the woodshed and get to work! Yup, it's going to suck for a while. It's going to be embarrassing, and y'all are going to screw up. However, when you come out on the other side of this, it'll be worth it! It took me months of practice before I could play drums and sing at the same time. I'm no lead vocalist, but I can sing BGV's and play without a lot of problems these days.
 

KEEF

Senior Member
[QUOTE=brentcn;1633549

Anybody (really, anybody!) can learn to play and sing.......



Can you be taught to sing? Or do you either have a voice or you don't?

I can 'sing' the words fine whilst I'm playing but as I stated - I sound horrible!
 

Jml

Senior Member
Wow, I must be lucky. Most of my new 5 piece band was from Craigslist and we haven't had any of these issues. Lead guitar player welcomed a rhythm guitar player, and they switch leads on songs. 4 of us take turns singing lead vocals. New keyboardist used to play drums, and gets behind my kit when I sing lead. We all realize how important backing vocals are, and we rehearse that too.
 

Lee-Bro

Senior Member
"Cover band" is very broad as there are various genres and artists in each.

If your band is covering music that had only 1 singer and very limited or non-existent BVs, then it's not an issue.

The OP's original question brings up a bigger issue though: What is the vision of this band?

Was this something "just thrown together?" Are you guys just figuring it out as you go along or does someone have a plan for the group? Do you have a band leader/manager designated to do the heavy lifting on scheduling & such? Is this more of a "jamming and we'll do gigs when we can" than a "we intend to gig 3-5 times a month" type band?

If you're having discussions and non-agreement on BVs, then it sounds as though you guys should sit down and layout exactly what each of you are expecting and what you're looking to do in this band and to what degree of commitment because I'm sure there are several other disconnect points.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
brentcn;1633549 Anybody (really said:
Consider all the hours and days and years you've spent practicing the drums. Now imagine you took voice lessons, and practiced the right things, every day, for many years.

You'd be a far better singer than you are now. Maybe you wouldn't make it to The Voice, but you'd be good enough to sing harmony in a club with a band.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Wow, I must be lucky. Most of my new 5 piece band was from Craigslist and we haven't had any of these issues. Lead guitar player welcomed a rhythm guitar player, and they switch leads on songs. 4 of us take turns singing lead vocals. New keyboardist used to play drums, and gets behind my kit when I sing lead. We all realize how important backing vocals are, and we rehearse that too.
You mean, you're in a band with mature, talented musicians who share responsibly? You are indeed very, very lucky. In fact, this may be the one and only time this ever happens, from Craigslist!
 

KEEF

Senior Member
Consider all the hours and days and years you've spent practicing the drums. Now imagine you took voice lessons, and practiced the right things, every day, for many years.

You'd be a far better singer than you are now. Maybe you wouldn't make it to The Voice, but you'd be good enough to sing harmony in a club with a band.

Good point well made - and encouraging. Cheers brentcn.
Actually there's a singer near me that advertises as a vocal coach, perhaps I'll give them a call.........
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
Depends on the sound you want. Back ground gives a fuller sound than just one voice and I can't remember the last group I saw with a lead singer being the only one singing.
 

Jml

Senior Member
You mean, you're in a band with mature, talented musicians who share responsibly? You are indeed very, very lucky. In fact, this may be the one and only time this ever happens, from Craigslist!
Yeah, it's hard to believe. We actually get along too and have fun rehearsing. The true test will be when we start gigging later this year, and seeing if the dynamics change then. Hopefully they don't.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Good point well made - and encouraging. Cheers brentcn.
Actually there's a singer near me that advertises as a vocal coach, perhaps I'll give them a call.........
Right on! The great thing about practicing voice, as a drummer, is that your sense of rhythm is already developed. So, you'll quickly transfer all that rhythm skill to your voice.

The physical, vocal warm-up exercises are indeed important, but make sure you're also learning to hear and sing intervals, to fill in missing notes of triads, to sing duets with your teacher, etc. Singing harmony doesn't just "happen" -- it must be worked on specifically. There are plenty of lead vocalists that struggle to harmonize, because they didn't practice the particular skills that enable harmonizing. On the other hand, the singers who have choir training and experience, usually harmonize quite well.
 

CommanderRoss

Silver Member
As a drummer, I'll do "gang vocals" like accents, spoken words & the occasional harmony when needed.
I'm no Fred LeBlanc from Cowboy Mouth being able to sing and play, but I feel what I do adds a good element overall.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
There's another option. Harmonizer pedals. My former longtime band leader used the harmonizer pedal and it actually worked well.

The guitar plugs into the harmonizer pedal so it knows to structure the harmonies in a major or minor feel.

You stomp on it when you want your vocals harmonized with, and stomp it again to turn it off.

This could solve some problems and save getting other members.
 
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