How to become a successful backing vocalist

Posted: 16th of January 2018 by Francesca Confortini

Backing singers can be some of the music industry’s unsung heroes.

Lauren Johnson, Izzy Chase and recent Spotlight artist Salena Mastroianniare three of the best in the business. All met while studying vocals at ICMPand honed their skills with us before going on to enjoy increasingly successful careers.

Lauren has worked with the likes of Rag'n'Bone Man, Rita Ora and Jess Glynne while also opening for Motown legend Dionne Warwick and R'n'b diva girl group En Vogue with a quartet set up. Izzy’s talents have seen her sing at numerous high profile events as well as alongside Trevor Horn and Ellie Goulding while Salena has performed with Craig David, Rita Ora and many, many more. 

We recently welcomed all three for a masterclass around their experiences and advice - if you're looking to start a vocal course in London, then check out their from looking after your voice to building your networks... 

Networks are key to supporting you in your career

Salena: Lauren and Izzy were my best friends while studying at ICMP and they still are. Lauren was one of my bridesmaids at my weddings. It’s so amazing to share tonight with these girls as I think your networks are key, particularly when this kind of career is so exposing.

Izzy: As a group at ICMP we were great as were so supportive of each other. It definitely helped set us up for how we were in the outside world.

Personal recommendations can be as important as auditions

Lauren: The majority of jobs I’ve got have come through recommendations rather than auditions. So you should always try and be the best person you can, particularly when meeting people. Previously I met a vocalist with a great career and we got on well. When it came up that she needed someone as a backing vocalist, she got in touch with me as we’d had that conversation and had an attitude she appreciated.

Music education can help you become a better singer

Izzy: It was at ICMP that I found I loved harmonies, blending and backing vocals. I had no idea before this. So coming here gave me the skills to sing and focus on what I wanted to do.

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Salena (pictured): You won’t like everything you do when studying but just remember a lot of it will be good for you in the long run. Studying is a way of investing in yourself which can really help - it definitely allowed me to become more diverse with my singing.  

Live Performance Workshop (LPWs) were a major thing for me - I came in thinking I could sing and could get anything I wanted but I was so wrong. I came into a LPW and it was so different to the bedroom. But these classes helped me come out of my shell and become brave enough to find myself. When I did Robbie Williams, it was so heavily choreographed, I was wearing these ridiculous outfits - If I hadn’t done these LPWs I wouldn’t have been able to do the job.

Don’t put yourself in a box - you never know what people are going to ask you

Izzy: You never know what people are going to ask you or want you to sing. I have a new love for country music, but I’ve also sung with Michael Ball on tour. It was amazing. You get involved in so much different stuff.

Lauren: If we had known it was a reading tour, we might not have taken it on. We turned up to this Michael Ball gig and there were piles of sheet music everywhere. It was terrifying.

Izzy: It just means you should never restrict yourself when studying. This means don’t avoid things you don’t like so much. You have to be broad in style and scope to get work in the session industry.

Being a backing vocalist is a specific skill

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Lauren (pictured): Singing as a backing vocalist is a real skill - which is something a lot of people don’t realise or take seriously.

You can be the best singer in the world but it doesn’t mean you’ll be good at backing vocals. You need to accept your role is as a ‘backing’ singer a lot of the time and think about the blend and the tone. You need to be able to adapt your voices to suit each job which is a real skill.

Look after your voice

Izzy: I woke up this week and my throat felt like I’d swallowed a golf ball.

So I can advise you that steaming is helpful, maybe two or three times a day. Drink tonnes of water. First Defence is horrible but really works for me if I feel like I have a virus coming on. Then lots of honey and ginger. It also helps to give yourself voice rest. It’s awful when you have to sing when you’re ill - but you don’t have a choice, you can’t just not turn up.

Make sure you warm up and warm down

Lauren: There’s nothing worse than being on stage and not having warmed up. So make sure you do this for every performance. It makes all the difference. Being on stage with a sore throat feels horrible and you can really damage yourself if you don’t do both.

As a vocalist, you can’t party like the rest of the band

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Izzy (pictured): Remember that people record gigs all the time on their phones. So it’s even more important now that you’re at the best of your abilities when you perform. You have to be acutely aware of your voice and how it sounds.

Lauren: There’s a culture around music when it comes to partying - but remember as a singer you can’t go as hard as everyone else. You have a different instrument to everyone else in the band. It’s fine for a guitarist to play a gig hungover but as a singer you can’t really do it. Or you can but it’s just not much fun, it’s not nice or professional.

Learn to sing in London

If you're an aspiring vocalist and would like to enhance your career, then why not join us here at ICMP? 

Our Admissions Team are on hand to help find the right course for you, from part-time introduction to vocals courses through to postgraduate courses we've got you covered. Call the team on 020 7328 0222 or email them at enquiries@icmp.ac.uk

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