Updated: Jun 4, 2021
Controversial right? However it's true in the BV world. The BV industry mainly features talented women and a few male vocalists. It's not over for the BV world or live music-things will just be VERY different and female vocalists will still be at the forefront of this shift. Let's explore why.
From my live and recording experience over the last decade or more, the BV sector is dominated by women. Males tend to gear towards being solo-artists or do choral work which then leads to the odd BV stint or feature vocal. Female BVs are sonically able to cover most vocal parts not just with notes and scales but with tonality. What do I mean by tonality? The tone of a vocal relates to the character of the voice. I feel like having a male vocal in a BV mix adds a weightier tone even if the male has a good falsetto. This mix is so nice to listen to and suits a variety of artists but isn't very common in a live setting here in the U.K. I mainly experience this in recording scenarios.
Vocal ghosting and the skill of blending and sounding like other artists in their tonality is a BV trait that isn't too often explored. I have learned so much about this over the years mainly from Musical Director, Producer and friend Steve Anderson (Kylie, Steps, Westlife et al). Steve does not put BV sections together just based on aesthetics like a lot of labels are guilty of doing. They often do this without even hearing if the vocalists can actually do the job required. In saying this everyone's preference is different especially now when there is a lot of opportunity to just get aesthetically pleasing vocalists to mime. Steve prefers real singers, with real skill, tone, adaptability and nice personalities :-) This also goes beyond being able to riff, there is a time, place and artist to suit certain vocal styles. There is room for every tonal quality.
Working with Steve I see that he puts BV sections together based on the vocal parts they can cleanly attain, tone of voice and their blending capability as a unit. Team Kylie in the BV dept is a cultivation of all her vocal intricacies. Soft, sweet, sexy, strong, Pop, syncopated-it is really a pleasure vocally to work on all her intricate nuances with the BV team. This is so important to the overall sound of the section and how it relates to the Artists vocal.
The whole point of having a BV section in my opinion is to add to what is there already, embellish and garnish a great artists vocal. As a section I should not be able to identify who is singing what part and neither should the section overshadow the artist. In previous years I actually struggled with the latter when it came to one artist who is a vocal enigma to me and that is Ellie Goulding. I joined team EG after spending years with Leona Lewis (who is the perfect person for me to ghost) in my weightier sound. I carried that skill into the EG team and it really didn't belong. It took a while to adapt and I never really got a chance to fully get it as the balance of the section tonally just wasn't right. This fuelled my desire to do BVs in a sacrificial way, not sounding like myself but to really work on being able to adapt vocally. However, if the section you are in is not balanced this will never be achieved whatever you try! The BV section Ellie has now is the perfect blend of sweet, strong and classical (Abbie Osmon, Sara-Jane Skeet, Melissa Erpen).
Aesthetics of course do play a part too. Male artists I've worked with in the past have had female bvs for a vocal contrast especially if they have a definitive/characteristic voice. Female bvs also add a focal element for audiences which is another reason for having "dancing bvs". Male BVs Jonathan and Darren who sing with Olly Murs give the aesthetic an old school barbershop feel like a boy band from the 60s. It's so cool and fresh to see them perform and they really have that side down! Otherwise Male BV sections are not that common..maybe they should be in future.
These thoughts are based on the UK scene. Our scene is smaller in comparison to the US and our collective is smaller and female dominated. With this said, I didn't have many females in this genre to ask questions or follow who worked at the top of their field. There were no agents etc so it was about who I knew, taking and making the most of the opportunities that came my way. Nowadays the collective is growing and we are connecting through work, making our own mark on the industry as a whole. Myself, the Vocal Code ambassadors and a few others have grafted hard over the years battling industry, sexist/racial stereotypes, working with artists in the UK and internationally in varied teams and circumstances.
With this platform and as a female who has successfully navigated her way around, I want to empower you if you are reading this. The industry as we know it is now being forced to evolve and change as we get more digital. This may mean recording gigs as exclusive TV shows or cinema events, residency style shows with smaller audiences, more remote recording for TV shows, Ads and films etc. Who knows how we will return and continue. In the mean time get your ducks in a row and research your rights when recording for vocals and any TV shows etc as the structure of how we work is going to change. If you play an instrument or compose there are other niches to explore too with library music, syncs etc. BVs are not limited to this type of work either. Doing featured artist work is another angle too that should definitely be explored as well as top lining.
Over the coming weeks there will be more posts on the latter and other ways to come out of all this with some new perspectives. Please ask me anything..within reason and I'll be happy to share! Also would you appreciate some Instalive/Zoom sessions with other vocalists, MDs and producers so you can ask burning questions and know how other people are processing the new normal? Let me know! Drop me a line on Instagram or firstname.lastname@example.org
Till next time