The discrepancy between a backing vocalist and a harmony singer often baffles most people. They appear to be identical and present the backing for a lead singer, or vocals for effect on instrumentals. However, there is a noticeable difference. Allow us to explain in the simplest words to better your understanding.
The backing vocalist provides background harmonies and vocals that complement the melody lines performed by a lead singer. On the other hand, a harmony singer vocally reproduces what they hear to create a harmony vocal line that adds a touch of classiness to songs.
The definition of these both – Backing Vocalist and Harmony Singer – also has numerous variations. And, in most cases, they work together as well. In order to view the differences between these two more clearly, let’s canvass them in a tad more depth.
As we’ve said earlier, the backing vocalist provides backup to lead singers and musicians in recordings. These include songs, commercial jingles, and live performances. Sometimes, they sing alone, too, as a lead-in to the main vocalist’s entry. But there are various areas of singing which they dominate. For starters, they comprehend how to blend, especially if there is more than one vocalist. They marvelously match the volume-tones, starts and stops, and phrasings, to sound like one voice. They also know how to emphasize on-key phrases throughout the performance.
Secondly, their aim is to back the lead singer, not outdo them. For that reason, it’s pertinent for the backing vocalist to balance the volume; their vocals shouldn’t be too loud or too soft. If their voice is not hidden, or if it’s clashing rather than blending, they are not the backing vocalist.
On the other hand, the work of a harmony singer is rather different. They make melodies more interesting and beautiful. For instance, if the melody is the tune you hum, the harmony singer compliments it through harmony. Allow us to give you an example. Let’s say you’re a harmony singer. First, you’ll make yourself aware of the melody and then sing it in a lower pitch. After that, once you have a better understanding of the chords, you’d pick any one of the notes among them and harmonize it by singing, with more than one person. In case some notes don't work well, you can experiment with the other notes.
For a common person, it’s not that easy to notice the harmonies. You often have to focus a bit more on the performance of the song and listen more closely, over and over, in order to find the harmonies. You will notice that the harmony singer, while in the background, lifts the lines without making it too obvious. Concluding Thoughts
In the first case, you’re backing the lead singer, but in the second case, you’re harmonizing and making the song more beautiful. The difference is not that big, but it changes the game on a professional level.
Still not fully clear? Here is a video that demonstrates both background vocals and harmony singing.
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