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Drumming Backing Vocal Advice

posted on #1
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Hi all,

I've [stupidly] agreed to help sing backing vocals in my band! I play in a 60s-style band - there's a heavy emphasis on vocals harmonies. We're not a traditional '60s band: we try to play what is known as 'Powerpop'; the classic 'three-minute' pop song with the emphasis on the short-and-sweet songs of the era, not just churning out Beatles covers! Our aim is to make the audience (of a certain age!) go, 'oh, I remember that song'!

Anyway, I've agreed to do backing vocals. To be fair, having three-part harmonies in our songs makes a big difference. Any tips from drummers already out there for how they go about it? From mic poisitioning to actually singing properly.

I have have a good ear for pitch and harmony - I just need to teach my voice to make the right noises! The last time I sang was when I was a kid in shows!

I did my first rehearsal with the band this week with me singing harmony and I learned two things: co-ordination is harder than I thought when it comes to drumming and singing! And second is that it's hard when you can't hear yourself properly.

The band seemed happy with my noises but I want to be better than them being 'happy' or, more importantly, telling me what I want to hear. Any tips? I struggled, in particular, with the mic positioning....

Any tips from singing drummers out there? The two songs I've done so far are The Beatles' 'If I needed Someone' and REM's 'Superman'.
Edited by mpointon on Dezember 17 2016 03:18
posted on #2
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Posts: 45
Joined: 03.12.14
I have no idea about singing!
- But i know about wishing people good luck!

So good luck man! hopefully we, here on the loops can get a taste of pratice drum/vocal sessions to fiddle around with ;)

Have fun man!
My picture = Faceswapping with a wax doll.. yea, creepy. <3
posted on #3
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Joined: 24.03.14

get a headset! Otherwise your gonna hurt your neck and/or back. This seems to be the best option. Check out what Phil Collins did, he was a prolific singer/drummer.

I used a headset for awhile during some gigs, it was great. They had to take it away from me because I got out of control!!

And finally you need some kind of monitor so you can hear yourself...

good luck

rp3 (Raymond)
posted on #4
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Joined: 30.12.10
hey, tough task!!
I'd agree with what rp3drums said - a headset and ideally one in-ear plug to monitor voice pitch would help you big time, also, from my mixing experience, it is really bad if the drummer uses some not-too-focused SM58 to sing - that is definetly going to pick up a lot of drums, so if the guy doesn't really sing loud, one would have to amplify the vocal mic to a point where the drums bleed over the vocal channel (crossover signals are referred to as "bleeding", just in case you are not familiar with the term and wondering).

When mixing live, I'd tend to mute or at least lower such vocal mics when they are not being used to prevent the snare from showing up on the vocal channel and picking up the vocal reverb all the time, but you need to be familiar with the songs to know when to turn these backing mics on and off.
If you don't have a designated mixer who is familiar with the tunes but rely on someone who does it "on the fly", then you have a good chance your vocals will be mixed very low in volume if you do not supply a trustworthy strong vocal signal.
If you prefer a mic on a stand but like to stay away from that further than 3inches, then I'd definetly turn that down if I had to control the show. (Hope the sound engineers guild will not shoot me for telling you this, it is my experience and what I'd do).
One could try to catch some of the unwanted drum signals with a "gate", but you would definetly need to practise with that, since you would need to provide a reliably loud signal when singing to open the gate. You can experiment with that, but from my experience it is difficult, and a badly configured gate can mess up a show really badly ("why does my mic send nothing when I whisper, but blast from the monitor when I sing?" - bad gate config there)

A second hint besides the gear aspect is this:
I've tried to sing when drumming, and found it extremely difficult to have one part of myself focused on being tight and spot on to the groove, while singing is mostly expected to be rather soft and not too rhytmical (if you don't rap).
Many songs live from the vocals being a little too late, or moving about the song, and that is really hard to do if you are the timekeeper at the same time.

What I learned about backing vocals when recording is:
In many cases, the backing vocals call for quite different articulation of the words than the front-singer.
For example, one singer I recorded who did his own background vocals simply avoided singing any "t"s or "p"s when doing background vox, to avoid the multiple hard consonants from messing up the mix.
You wouldn't notice at all in the mixed result, but singled out, these backround vocals sounded quite funny.
Maybe you can apply some of that to your situation and de-stress yourself by focusing less on articulation and more on voicing -
I believe it comes down to: It doesn't really matter if you start to sing matching your drumplay rather than being in sync with the singer as long as you just focus on the pitch aspect and provide harmony.
Any consonants are useless in harmony, so skip some of em to smoothen things wherever possible :)
Just an idea, let us know how it goes :)
Edited by Dick on Dezember 17 2016 12:56
posted on #5
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About the recording/performing whilst playing drums I agree with the close miking by the use of a good headset. There are a lot cheap ones with omni-directional mikes which I wouldn't recommend because of the earlier mentioned bleeding. Of course in live situations watch out for drum monitors/side-fills and always use the lo-cut button.

I don't know if some of the recording experienced guys B) have any thoughts on the use of phase-shifting? Maybe you can do some experiments with that so the bleeding of the drums won't automatically result in adding something to the drumparts. It still would have impact but maybe it's less and easier to repair?

And it's probably terrible English but I'll try... I think that drumming is not done on a metronome but to a metronome. As a drummer you tend to 'play' with the steady beatclicks (real or in your head) to get the groove, similar like the bass. In earlier days I also tried but find it extremely difficult to keep the groove while trying to sing so I gave up on that. Maybe I'll pick it up again when I have to start playing polka's. ;) Don't kill the groove because they need you to sing, And if I remember correctly Phil Collins didn't do much drumming when he was singing live either.
posted on #6
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Joined: 27.09.14
Singing drummers, for me there is only one: The great late Levon Helms. He always sang turning the head sideways, maybe that was also done to reduce the bleeding


Edited by TeeGee on Januar 02 2017 16:42
posted on #7
Posts: 250
Joined: 30.04.16
wear tight undies as I'm sure you'll be responsible for some high notes!:D
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