The benefits of working as a backing vocalist

Backing Vocalist

Singers can learn a host of valuable skills by working as a backing vocalist, explains top vocal coach David Combes.

Here’s an inside tip for singers trying to break into the music industry: if you ever find yourself in David Combes’ orbit, don’t diss working as a backing vocalist. He’s adamant that it’s well worth getting BV on your CV.

Combes teaches at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance and the London College of Music and has coached top performers including Rami Malek (read more about that HERE). He has also sung BV for Lionel Ritchie, Elton John, Beyoncé, Annie Lennox and Chaka Khan.

Working as a BV is, he says, a great way for singers to develop their ear and their ability to blend. It’s also a chance to gain a foothold into the music industry and make valuable connections. In fact it’s how Mary J Blige, Luther Vandross and John Legend got their big breaks. So don’t go writing it off before your career even gets started.

Have a winning mentality, not a TV show winner mentality

Through his teaching Combes sometimes encounters students who have what he describes as a “TV show winner mentality”. By this, he means a singer believes that they don’t have to work too hard because someone is going to come along any day and “discover” them.

“Some students have the mentality that there’s no middle ground,” he says. “There’s no career path, you just sing, and someone finds you.”

Combes cites an example of this attitude: “Last year a colleague of mine got potentially the three most successful backing singers of their generation in to do a workshop and I was disappointed that more of my students didn’t attend.

“When I asked why they didn’t turn up for the workshop one student said to me: ‘Why would I want to go? I’m not going to be a backing singer, I’m going to be a lead vocalist.’”

The power of being proactive

Combes says that in his experience, the students who go on to do big things are the ones who take every opportunity that comes their way and create opportunities for themselves.

“I often say to students: “The stuff you are putting on YouTube and SoundCloud is amazing but what are you doing in terms of performing live? How are you meeting new musicians?”. Sometimes they tell me they don’t have time for it!

“The singers I know who have been the most successful are those who are proactive about starting bands and doing backing vocals for anyone on the course who asks them.

“They’re the ones carving out careers now and working with people like Ella Eyre and Years and Years.”

Top backing vocalist, session singer and vocal coach David Combes


MAIN IMAGE: Backing vocalists in action with British band Soul ll Soul at Bestival in Dorset.