Singing harmony is an opportunity to stretch and grow more than just your voice. It engages trust, listening, and teamwork on a very deep, intimate level; so that when it works best it’s absolutely mesmerizing for the audience and deeply moving for the vocalists.
You are constantly adjusting your voice based on what you hear and feel from others. In the process, you’re always making sure you are in tune with singers alongside you. You want to adjust your volume as necessary so your harmony blends almost as if your small group is really one multi-textured voice. You don’t want your part to overwhelm the others or get overtaken by them.
Listening Like Breathing
You want to make sure you are all on the same page stylistically. Your vowels, phrasing, and vocal quality must be true to the song and complement those with whom you are singing. That’s one of the reasons that listening is as important as breathing when you’re singing harmonies, backing vocals, or even lead vocals when accompanied.
With singing harmony, listening helps you to make adjustments to tuning, timing, tone or phrasing that might suddenly shift during a performance. So, you must keep your ears open to any slight changes that occur; and then, follow accordingly without any obvious disruption. So, now, breathing becomes just as important as listening.
Breathing Like Listening
You might not literally hear or see others breathe while you sing, but you can sense it and feel it and follow. A breath is that first cue to begin singing. It gets everybody in the starting gate ready to race. Breathing can be used for sustained moments of tension or suspension. It serves to punctuate, to isolate, and to unite the voices engaged in harmony.
Harmony + Backing Vocals
Doing backing vocals demands expertise in singing harmonies but is also often used to repeat key phrases or counterpoint what the lead vocalist sings. Sometimes a backing vocalist gets brief solos in a song; and for effect can get stronger than the lead, but that is an exception. Again, it’s done for dramatic impact only. As a backing vocalist, you don’t want to overtake, drown out, or engage in a shout down with the lead singer.
Vocal control is critical for singing harmonies and backing vocals. Plus, a good backing vocalist needs to be able to sing by ear or read sheet music, although both are desired qualities, especially if you’re seeking a career as a session singer or drawn to a career of backing up artists on tour.
Discipline, punctuality, reliability, stamina, and consistent quality are key to your success in doing backing vocals and harmonies. If you throw off the lead singer, the lead singer then throws off the audience or the producer in the studio. Then, the bad word about your will spread like wildfire and abruptly silence your career.
Finding Work as a Backing or Harmony Vocalist
The first to do is to create an EPK. Include your three strongest songs on the demo, making sure to showcase your vocal range. One song must clearly showcase you singing the melody line while the other two are prime samples of your harmony and backing vocal chops. Create a website to showcase your talents and include a link to your site in your EPK.
Make your presence known in your community as you widen your circles of connections. Look for opportunities to sing at charity and community events. Get online and research opportunities for session singers. Read industry publications.
Plan a trip to Nashville, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Chicago, and Austin, Texas, to explore the music scene and make connections with singers, musicians, and any singer-songwriter organizations in those locales.
Showcase With Songwriters
Songwriters are a great resource for vocalists because they look for someone that can best represent their songs. Many songwriters do not sing or aren’t comfortable with singing. They truly revere a solid singer because the singer delivers the message of their song.
They know a singer can breathe life into their songs that exceeds their expectations and takes the song to a higher level that will increase its marketability. In many cases, a singer can get the opportunity to showcase their voice on a new song as they sing both the lead and all backing vocals and harmonies for the songwriter’s work.
Singing harmony and backing vocals is a fun, challenging way to strengthen your voice while you network in the industry. The positive, professional support your voice gives others will open doors of recognition, reward, and opportunities to achieve your singing success.