Not all these behind-the-scenes singers have had professional training. Some of them are naturally gifted and others practise hard. Yoyo Sham is a gifted singer who started singing as a backing singer before going on to be a solo artist. She has been interested in singing harmonies ever since she was small.
“When I went to see concerts, I’ve always paid attention to the backing singers and the band. I’ve also enjoyed listening to a cappella groups. Ever since I could remember, I’ve been intrigued by harmonies and appreciated backing vocals,” says Sham, in an email response to Varsity’s questions. In addition, she thinks learning instruments and music theory definitely helps a singer to develop and improve.
Although Sham is a student of renowned Taiwan singer-songwriter Jonathan Lee Tsung-sheng and is now an established singer with two albums under her belt, she still enjoys being a backing singer. “It pushes me out of my comfort zone, forces me to try singing differently for different purposes. It requires precision, and I think it’s excellent training,” she says.
If people notice backing singers at all, they may have the impression that they are the performers who are always singing at the back and the spotlight is always focused on the lead singer. Sham thinks this is an underestimation of their contribution.
“What does bother me, sometimes, is when I realise that not many people fully understand the significance of harmonies or know how to appreciate backing singing. As a result, this role is often underrated. This is why I take every opportunity I get to express my point of view about this job,” Sham says.
Apart from demo and backing singers, music producers also play an important role off-stage. From receiving a demo to recording the final version of a song that is ready to be released, a music producer supervises the whole process.
“Basically the song begins from zero. Before it reaches the audience, a music producer needs to be responsible for every step in the music production,” says Edward Chan, music producer of Warner/Chappell Music.
When a demo is accepted for development, its style may be altered or changed completely in order to fit the artist. The music producer also needs to take care of the backing singers engaged in the recording process.
A song needs to go through many stages in the production process before it is released. It is the result of a joint effort involving many unsung heroes. While some people want to be leading vocalists, others choose to be demo or backing singers. Without the trappings of celebrity or the laurels of fame, what drives these usually uncredited singers is their passion for and appreciation of singing. “I really love singing and I don’t need to be a singer or a star, but I still have my own recorded music,” Shiren Ho says.
Edited by Natalie Cheng