A lot of singers have started out their solo career as backup singers, although the journey from a backup singer to a solo singer can be fairly long. The main goal of backup singers is to help out the lead singer, they are usually giving the background sound, although they are not limited to that. Most successful singers do hire backup singers, and if you manage to get a job as a backup singer for somebody who is already an established singer than you will have your foot in the doorstep of the music industry.
You can become a backup singer by going to auditions, knowing how to harmonize, being a team player, listening closely, using proper modulation, know how to do vocal improvisation, having education in the music field, having an easy-going personality, and by joining your local SAGAFTRA.
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However becoming a backup singer is not that easy, a lot of singers who go to auditions for backup singers tend to find that the competition is extremely high. The more famous the lead singer is the higher the completion for the backup singer positions will be. With that being said it doesn’t mean that it is impossible, but you will need a combination of talent and luck to get hired. The main problem with new singers is that they far too often try to get hired by the top 100 singers as backup dancers.
The only way a famous singer will ever hire you is if you have already established yourself with previous experience as a backup singer. Sorry to say but if you are a beginner singer you have very low chances of being higher by someone like Taylor Swift. On the other hand, there are plenty of smaller bands or lead singers who are looking for backup singers, these tend to be less picky and willing to give anybody with a good voice a chance.
The process of becoming a backup singer isn’t that long, although you will need to know a couple of things before you jump into it. Backup singers do not even have to be hired by one singer or a band, there are plenty of freelance backup singers who make a decent living. The problem is that the schedule will be extremely chaotic, especially if you have a second 9-5 job. My personal recommendation is to ask around to see what kind of offers fro beginner singers are there in your area. Another good option for you would be to be a wedding singer, for more information check out my recent article How to become a wedding singer? ( In 11 Steps ).
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Go to auditions
Generally speaking, most backup singers get hired through an audition, although this is not always the case. If you have ever been to an audition then you know that it can be a big waste of time, but you have to take your chances and who knows you might even get lucky. Do note, that there are some auditions which will require you to pay a fee to enter, sometimes these are just a scam, so always check how reputable the recruiting agency or company is.
The more auditions you go to the higher your chances are of being hired but don’t get your hopes up. Usually, you will have to wait a couple of hours at these auditions, so make sure you bring plenty of water with you. I have seen a lot of singers who waited 5+ hours for an audition only to have a raspy and hoarse voice, so remember to hydrate yourself. Sometimes backup singers also get a type of record deal, for more information check out my recent article Types of record deals ( Top 11 Record Label Deals ).
The one and the most important thing which you need to know as a backup singer is how to harmonize. Your goal as a backup singer is to enhance the voice of the lead singer, if your voices are not compatible than odds are you won’t be hired. On the other hand, if you outshine the lead singer than that is also bad news for you. Remember that the main star of the show is the lead singer, and you are only there to back her up with your voice.
Oftentimes lead singers will make mistakes on stage, at that point you will have to jump in and help the lead singer out with your voice. Some backup singers get so good at rescuing the lead singer from embarrassing themselves that the lead singer will outright refuse to perform without the backup singer.
Be a team player
A lot of singers tend to forget that being a backup singer is mainly about being a good team player. Singing with a backup singer is a team effort and the only one who is allowed to shine is the lead singer, as people have paid to listen to her voice and not yours. This is not your moment to shine, just be steam player and let the lead singer shine, and most importantly help him or her out if they make some small mistake while they are singing. If you are wondering how much money do singers make per concert then check out my recent article How much do singers make per concert? ( Thousands or Millions? ).
Your ability of how you can listen will determine how good of a backup singer you are or will be. Most auditions do have some kind of test for this and you might not even notice it and then you wonder why you have failed yet another audition. Make sure to listen closely both at an auction and even after you get hired. Every singer will give out certain cues without even noticing when they struggle, the sooner you pick these up the faster you can help the lead singer out.
Use the proper modulation
Modulation is extremely important for backup singers, simply put you have to match their vowels. Every singer is unique when it comes to their singing style and their pronunciation so you will have to adapt to them. If you have finished your education in music or some other music-related field than you will most likely notice that even the best singers make a lot of mistakes. What is considered the correct way of singing in a classroom has nothing to do with reality.
The reality is that people like a good sounding singer, this goes both for the lead and the backup singers as well. You will simply have to follow the lead singer modulation at all costs, any abbreviation from that will be noticeable and that is the last thing you want as a backup singer.
Your ability to improvise with your singing will be extremely important, sometimes things do not go as planned. Not only you but the lead singer also has to improvise sooner or later. Don’t worry if you are a beginner singer nobody will expect you to rescue a performance by yourself, but with time, you will master the technique of vocal improvisation and it might just end up saving an entire performance.
A lot of people will tell you that in order to become a backup singer you will need a degree in the field of music. This is completely false, I have worked for a recruiting agency in the past and honestly speaking nobody cares if you have a degree or not. Usually, they are looking for two things at backup singing auditions, compatibility with the lead singer’s voice, good voice, and ease of work. Believe it or not, but a lot of singers with good voice fail at auditions because of their attitude, the managers don’t want to have another “star” on their staff, they already have one which makes them plenty of money.
Have an easy-going personality
The singing industry is heavily relying on personality traits and it is the same for backup singers. What kind of personality you have plays a big role if you are getting the backup singing job or not. Believe me, there are plenty of divas with zero talent, and you don’t want to be categorized as one. Be always punctual, and someone on who the staff can rely upon, sometimes you might get a call in the middle of the night to go to perform in the morning.
As I have said earlier your working hours can be chaotic, sometimes you will have to singe during the day sometimes during the night. This depends mostly on the demand for the lead artist, if the lead artist performs at private events you will work longer hours but you will earn significantly more. Having an easy-going and reliable personality will get you far in the music industry.
One of the easiest ways to become a background singer is trough associations and unions. Although how successful you will be with them will depend on the region where you are living. California for example has a couple of excellent associations like SAGAFTRA which help out even beginner singers get a job or a paying gig. The downside is that the competition trough these unions and associations is extremely high and the payment can be fairly low.
Becoming a backup singer is not an easy task, most singers quit going to go to auditions after the first couple of months without success. My personal recommendation is to keep going to audition, for as long as it takes. Sooner or later you will be hired, and on some occasions when you are not the first choice as a backup singer you can still get hired as one if you have what it takes to become a backup singer.