Backing vocalist  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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 or a counter-melody. 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 musicians doing backup vocals also play instruments, such as guitar, electric bass, drums, or keyboards. 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.

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Band members who sing backup

The two most notable examples of band members who sang back-up are The Beach Boys and The Beatles. The Beach Boys were well known for their close vocal harmonies, occasionally with all five members singing at once such as "In My Room" and "Surfer Girl". All five members would sing lead, although most often Brian Wilson or Mike Love would sing lead with guitarists Carl Wilson and Al Jardine and drummer Dennis Wilson singing background harmonies. The Beatles were also known for their close style of vocal harmonies - it should also be noted that all Beatles members sang both lead and backup vocals at some point, especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who frequently supported each other with harmonies, often with fellow Beatle George Harrison joining in. Ringo Starr, while not as prominent in the role of backup singer as his three bandmates, can nevertheless be heard in such tracks as "Flying" and "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill". Examples of three-part harmonies by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison include "Nowhere Man", "Because", and "This Boy".

Former guitarist John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang all backing vocals (few songs were recorded without backing vocals) often singing some parts without accompaniment from lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis. Frusciante usually sang a song by himself during concerts. Another example is "No Frontiers" by The Corrs, which is sung by Sharon and Caroline. Other examples include :

Former members of Guns N' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan would always perform backing vocals, with Izzy generally taking the higher part, when there was one.

Lead singers who record backup vocals

In the recording studio, some lead singers record their own backing vocals by overdubbing, 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.

Other examples include Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction, Brett Anderson of Suede, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian, Axl Rose of Guns n Roses, Lemmy of Motorhead, Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, Richard Ashcroft of The Verve, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, Geddy Lee of Rush, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Jaret Reddick of Bowling for Soup Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, Ronnie James Dio of Dio, Freddie Mercury of Queen, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Jeff Lynne of The Electric Light Orchestra, Stuart Adamson of Big Country, Sting of The Police, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Morrissey of The Smiths , Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, David Draiman of Disturbed, Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, and Jay Kay of Jamiroquai.

With the exception of a few songs on each album, David Bowie and Richard Marx sing all of the background vocals for their songs. Robert Smith of The Cure and Daniel Johns of Silverchair, not only sing their own backing vocals in the studio, but also don't perform with backing vocalists when playing live.

Many metalcore and some post-hardcore bands, such as As I Lay Dying, Alexisonfire, Haste the Day and Silverstein 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 Hawthorne Heights and Finch have the backup singers do harsh screaming to highlight specific lyrics.

Pop and R&B vocalists Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Beyonce Knowles, Brandy, Faith Evans, D'Angelo, and Amerie have become known specifically for not only recording their own backing vocals, but for arranging their own multi-tracked vocals and even contriving highly complex harmonies and arrangements.

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 screams the chorus while lead vocalist Jonathan Davis sings 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 Ace Frehley, Richard Marx, Mariah Carey, Cher, Gwen Stefani, Pink, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Sheryl Crow, Dave Grohl, and Elton John, learned their craft as backup singers.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Backing vocalist" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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