Backing vocalist


Backing vocalist

A backing vocalist or backing singer (or, especially in the U.S., backup singer or sometimes background singer) is a singer who provides vocal harmony with the lead vocalist or other backing vocalists. In some cases, a backing singer may sing alone as a lead-in to the main vocalist's entry.While some bands use backup singers who only sing when they are onstage, it is common for backup singers to have other roles. In many rock and metal bands, the musicans doing backup vocals also play instruments, such as rhythm guitar, electric bass, or drums. In latin or Afro-Cuban groups, backup singers may play percussion instruments or shakers while singing. In some pop and hip-hop groups and in musical theater, the backup singers may be required to perform elaborately-choreographed dance routines while they sing through headset microphones.

Band members who sing backup

Guitarist John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sings all backing vocals (few songs are recorded without backing vocals) often singing some parts without accompaniment from lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis. John usually covers a song by himself during concerts. Another example is No Frontiers by the Corrs,which is sung by Sharon and Caroline. Other examples include Adrian Smith and Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance of Avenged Sevenfold (along with The Reverend Tholomew Plague who occasionally does lead vocals),Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, Mike Dirnt of Green Day, John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park,HIM (band) Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Malcolm Young of AC/DC (along with Cliff Williams, who joined the band in 1977), Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, The Edge of U2, Pete Townshend of The Who, Mick Jones of The Clash, Jason Newsted of Metallica, Benji Madden of Good Charlotte, Michael Anthony of Van Halen, Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, Daron Malakian of System of a Down, and John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater.

Among the pioneers of metal music two producers should be noticed for their work with backing vocals – Jason Newsted, who used b vox (backing vocals) and crushing, heavy riffs (supplied by guitarist James Hetfield) to create a widely known heavy metal sound – and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden who composed some of the most intricate vocal harmonies in metal music. Both producers have influenced the vocal harmony style of many large bands.

Lead singers who record backup vocals

In the recording studio, some lead singers record their own backing vocals, because the sound of their own harmonies will blend well with their main vocal. Ian Gillan of Deep Purple and Brad Delp of Boston recorded lead and backing vocals for their albums. Lemmy of Motörhead recorded his own backup vocals following the departure of Eddie Clarke. Other examples include Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Ronnie James Dio of Dio, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Thom Yorke from Radiohead. Many metalcore and some post-hardcore bands, such as As I Lay Dying and Alexisonfire, feature a main vocalist who does the lead singing/screaming, whilst the backing vocalist sings harmonies during choruses to create a contrast. Some bands, such as My Chemical Romance and Hawthorne Heights have the backup singers do harsh screaming to highlight specific lyrics.

Unusual backing vocal styles

Some bands use backing vocals in order to contrast with the lead singer who may be performing an unusual vocal technique. For example, Brian "Head" Welch, the former lead guitarist of the band KoRn, performed backing vocals on several songs, and notably on the song "Ball Tongue", he screamed the chorus while lead vocalist Jonathan Davis sang incomprehensible scat vocals. Similarly, the Canadian deathcore group Despised Icon uses two vocalists, one performing screams and another performing low, growling death grunts who alternate, and sometimes sing in unison to highlight certain lyrics. In rap music, a background rapper who chants and rhymes to support the main artist is often referred to as "hype man".

Career paths

Working as a backup singer can give a vocalist the onstage experience and vocal training they need to develop into a lead vocalist. A number of lead vocalists such as Mariah Carey, Cher, Gwen Stefani, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, and Elton John learned their craft as backup singers.


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