SO YOU WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL BACKING SINGER
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
What Does A Background Singer Do?
Background Singers provide backing vocals for another artist as part of a studio recording session or a live performance. Professional Background Singer Marc Andrew says that “As a Session S
inger, the job duty is pretty straightforward: Deliver the song as closely to the Producer and Composer’s vision as possible.” They must be able to harmonize and sight-read so that they can provide essential musical elements to a live or studio performance. “Depending on the project, you may work with a variety of people: the Composer, the Producer, Engineer, Vocal Arranger and/or Vocal Contractor. And of course, you also get to work with other Session Singers.” Sometimes Background Singers are also called in to record vocals for tracks written by Jingle Writers and Film Composers.
Marc says, “Session Singers can advance into many different areas within the music field. Lots of times, they “fall into” a job position that they never expected to do! Many times, a Singer will be asked to arrange backing vocals and harmony parts right there on the spot and that can evolve into an Arranger gig in the future. “Some Singers get repeatedly called to refer other Singers and/or groups of Singers for studio sessions; this can turn into a vocal contracting position. A Contractor hires a variety of Singers for a variety of jobs, depending on what is needed and they get paid a percentage to do that. These are only a couple of ways to advance further, but the options are endless.”
Education & Training
”A music degree is always helpful, although not always necessary,” she says. “Private voice training is a must. Some sessions require sight-singing skills and others don’t. An education in music will always be to one’s advantage, in case you show up to a job and surprise…there’s a score in front of you! I personally did not get a degree in music but I have spent many years post-college in honing my sight-reading skills. It has definitely been beneficial.” (Learn the best way to prepare for voice lessons on our blog.) Do You *Really Have What it Takes? LET'S SEE
What Skills Do You Need?
”Prior studio experience is necessary. You can get this by volunteering to do favors for friends who have studio projects. Mic technique can only be learned on the job. Learning to blend with another voice is an important skill. Being able to double your own voice is a necessary skill, too. You often need to re-create the same take over and over again, so it is important to be consistent with your performance,” Marc Andrew advises.
She says, “Session Singers are always professional in their manner. Important traits of a successful Session Singer are punctuality, the ability to take direction, the desire to please the Producer/Composer, a keen ear for harmony and the ability to make quick changes on the spot.”
”The lifestyle of a Session Singer is very unpredictable,” Marc says, “The jobs will pop up at any given time. I have been emailed at 11 pm, asking if I have a specific “soundalike” demo to submit for a job the next day. I always jump right on it and provide whatever they need as soon as I can. Most jobs are time-sensitive and need to be “done yesterday.” “A home studio is a must for any serious Session Singer. It allows you to deliver the product quickly if need be. There are plenty of times where you will drive to a specific studio to do the work. In that scenario, you usually have a day or two to put it on your calendar. But nothing in this career is steady or predictable. When the work comes, you make yourself available!”
So, how does an aspiring Background Singer get a job? “This question is always the toughest to answer!” Marc says. “Like most music jobs, you need to know people who are in the studio world. I have landed jobs from other Singers, from other working musicians, and even from Google searches and SoundCloud. In large cities, there are a handful of Vocal Contractors who hire Singers for union jobs. They generally hire for film and TV scores, as well as on-camera singing spots. Basically, the more people you know and make a good impression with, the better your chances are for getting work.” For more advice on how to find gigs, check out our blog.
How Much Does A Background Singer Make?
The average annual salary for Background Singers is approximately £40,300. The salary range for Background Singers runs from $18,000 to £100,000. Earnings are made on a project-by-project basis. “You sing, they cut you a check!” says Marc. “When the sessions are union, they go through a payroll service and you get paid a few weeks later. Union scale varies depending on hours worked, whether you are singing lead or background, how many Singers are on the session, etc. Residual checks show up later when your TV show, film or commercial re-airs. Those are always nice. You can also get additional pay when your film or TV show goes to DVD format. Surprise “mailbox money” is pretty awesome.”