Live musical accompaniment is fantastic and provides artistic opportunities to be creative. But how do you interact and engage with each other as performers?
There are a number of things singers should note when performing with backing musicians. If you’re used to tracks you’ll have to consider the other people on stage and how you can all work together to create an electric gig.
Read on for industry tips on working with backup and how to get earn yourself a great reputation in the musical community.
Performing with backing musicians
If this is your first time working with backup musicians, it will be very exciting, but perhaps a little nerve-wracking too. Perhaps you’ve only ever used pre-recorded tracks. If so, you’re in for a treat. While tracks are super convenient, live music adds something really special to your act.
What is backing in music?
The backing is the sounds that support your singing. This includes chords, melody, percussion and more. It can be in the form of vocals, electronic music or instrumental music. The backing can be pre-recorded, live or created using a mixture of the two with a loop pedal.
Singing performances with musicians
If possible, try and work with the same musicians on a regular basis, so you build up a rapport and get to know one another’s style. You’ll also get a sense of camaraderie, which is useful if you go on tour, as tours can be gruelling.
Tips for performing on stage for the first time with musicians
When you first meet your musicians, be really friendly and welcoming, no one will thank you for being a diva. Treat them as you would wish to be treated and that includes offering tea, coffee, biscuits and water. If possible arrange a rehearsal beforehand, and at the very least, a soundcheck at the venue.
Their levels should not overpower your vocals – if you have percussion it’s very important to check this, as it can often be too loud. Many venues will provide booths or screens for drum sets to avoid this.
How do I find musicians to collaborate with?
There are a number of ways you can find good musicians to work with. You could ask fellow singers who they collaborate with, post a shout out on your social media channels, go to jam and open mic nights to network with musicians, ask your vocal coach if they can recommend or hook you up with someone and you can advertise on notice boards, online forums and sites like Gumtree.
How to perform on stage with musicians
Communication in collaborations and especially in live performances is absolutely vital. They should know exactly what’s going to be happening and you must ensure they’re totally on board with it all – otherwise, it could be disastrous and embarrassing.
Interaction and engagement with musicians
Audiences love to see the chemistry on stage between performers. So it’s worth developing your collaborations, so you exude a sense of fun and ease with one another. Here are some tips on performing with different types of instrumentalists.
Performing with a guitarist
As guitarists stand and have some flexibility to move around, you can incorporate some movement with them without leaving the front of the performance area. Although you can’t fully dance together, you can move and groove and as they can be at the front too, there’s room for plenty of eye contact.
Performing with a pianist
The seated position of most pianists gives you the option to sit beside them for a verse, then move around the piano and perhaps lean onto it. Again, this gives you the proximity for some great eye contact. The pianist will likely be following your pacing and timing, rather than the other way round. They’ll be watching you closely, so this adds to the visual bond.
Performing with a Cajon
Percussion adds to your vibe and informs your movement. Walk over to where it’s being played and move/dance to the beat, with some added eye contact. As with a drum kit, watch out that the sound from the Cajon isn’t overpowering you. If you have other musicians, you can have a section that’s you and the Cajon only, for a cool rhythmic breakdown.
Performing with multiple musicians
First you must decide who is going to lead, otherwise, with several musicians, it can be chaotic. Develop hand signals for this. It can’t be obvious, but you might have a subtle signal for going a Cappella, or repeating the chorus. Worship leaders in churches use this technique a lot. More musicians provide the opportunity for you to move around the stage and interact with them one by one. Try to do this in a natural way, like you’re having a really fun jam session.
Cool things to do on stage while performing with musicians
Having a live backup means you can explore new ways of performing. Here are some cool things to do with your musicians (just make sure you fully discuss your plans with your band first).
- Improvise. Going off-piste is fun and gripping for an audience. You could add in some vocal runs or repeat a section.
- Get the musicians to join in, or provide some harmonies.
- Go a cappella (the timing of this must be pre-panned, so they know to stop playing.
- Interact with the musicians, sing with them and to them as you move around the stage.
Where to look when singing with musicians
Sometimes it’s fun to look at the other musician. And you could even do an intimate style love song, in the vein of Lady Gaga and Bradley Walsh at this years’ Oscars.
Once you have musicians on stage with you, be sure not to exclude the audience, or make them feel alienated by what’s going on on stage. The audience should always be your focus.
Once you’ve worked with the same musicians for years and built trust, you can explore more creative and unexpected moments. Legendary bands like The Beatles and Queen got together when they were totally unknown and stuck together. Maybe you’ll do the same with your musicians.
- Are singers considered musicians?
Yes. Anyone who creates and performs music is classed as a musician. It’s an umbrella term and so isn’t exclusively used for those who play instruments. Singers can also be called performers, artists and vocalists.
- What do you call a musical performance?
It depends on the genre/setting, but a more classical style of performance might be called a concert or recital, musical theatre performances will be a show, a small-medium level contemporary performance will be called a gig, while large contemporary performances will be called a concert or show.
- Why do singers use backing tracks?
It’s often cheaper, simpler, easier and more convenient than hiring backup singers and/or musicians to do the job. It means you can gig solo, as a duo or group, without needing an entourage. And you can access tracks at very short notice.
How have you found it when performing with backing musicians? Do you have any stories to share? Tell us about them in the comments below.