Special Feature

Whats the difference between a Backing Vocalist and a Harmony Singer

Backing Singers provide harmonies and vocals that complement the melody line performed by a Lead Singer. Used in many forms of music including Rock, Pop, Afro Pop, High life, the backing singer has played an integral role in song production.

There are many types of back line vocalists ranging from the band member who sings a bit to dedicated Session Singers who are employed by major touring artists and recording studios.  A good backing singer should be experienced in harmonizing and keeping in time with both the lead vocalist and fellow backing vocalists, sight reading is preferable but not essential whilst the ability to ‘hear’ yourself, identify and sing the correct notes plus learn songs quickly is!

The term ‘Backing’ denotes that the singer remains in the background, both in live performance and when mixing a recording. The backing vocals on a song can consist of anything from repeating a word, passage or chorus of the song to providing a continuing harmony in time with the lead vocalist.

Whats the difference between a Backing Vocalist and a Harmony Singer

Both provide backing for a lead singer, or vocals for effect on instrumentals. However, a harmony singer is naturally adept at ‘hearing’ harmony lines over and around the music. They can vocally reproduce what they hear to create a harmony vocal line without requiing written sheet music, or direction from the songwriter or producer although they may be requested to produce a harmony or backing line that has been specifically written rather than one they may naturally hear.

There are people who are unable to ‘hear’ the harmony and find it difficult to pitch their notes when another vocalist is accompanying, this is a problem that can be solved by most through ear training and pitching exercises, practice and experience.

In many cases a backing singer is supplied with sheet music which they ‘sight read’ and sing the notes as directed. Both types of singer are commonly referred to as ‘Backing Singers’ or ‘Backing Vocalists’.

A singer who is versatile and vocally competent at both ‘singing by ear’ and ‘sight reading’ can be employed for many projects including music beds, advertising jingles, backing major artists etc., – studio time costs money and an artist who can go in and do the job quickly is prized!

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