How to get the big gigs as a Backing Vocalist

Our Vocals alumna is on the road with Rick Astley - we learn how she got the gig and much more...
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Our vocals alumna Lauren Johnson is well used to playing some of the world's biggest stages. 

But her career has recently gone up another level, thanks to heading out on tour with music legend Rick Astley.

Alongside gigs with Disciples, MF Robots and Michael Bolton, she's continued to keep a number of musical plates spinning as a Backing Vocalist (BV) while also plotting the launch of a new event in September, aimed at helping the next generation of talent come through. 

In between tour dates, we caught up with Lauren to learn how she lands the big gigs and gets the stars coming back for more... 

Congrats on the tour with Rick Astley and Take That - how is the tour going? And how did you get the gig? 

Thanks very much, it’s a dream come true to be doing such a huge tour! It’s been unforgettable really, every member of the crew and cast have been lovely, they've treated us so well and the crowds have been super responsive. It’s a real sight to see 30,000 people all waving and singing along to what you’re singing, it’s what you dream of.

I got the gig through my good friend Dawn Joseph who has been like a big sister to me in this BV life. She had been a lone BV on the gig for a few years and when the album '50' came out in 2016, she brought me in for the promo run. I’ve been part of the gang ever since.

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How did you begin your musical journey? Was there a record or person who started your love for music? 

I always loved singing as a child, I drove my parents mad watching old films like 'The Sound of Music' and 'Annie' but as I got older I became obsessed with Whitney, Mariah, Luther and other legends my dad introduced me to. He used to play records on a Sunday, anything from Tracy Chapman to Fleetwood Mac and really encouraged me to enjoy music. 

What led you to study at ICMP?  

I was due to study midwifery as my parents were quite academically encouraging but I decided at the last minute that music was the only thing that would make me happy.

I stayed up late one night, found The Institute online and woke my parents up to tell them tearfully that I wanted to study music to which they replied: “Okay Lauren, whatever you want, let’s talk about it in the morning”. And that was that! 

I really enjoyed my time at ICMP, I made some lifelong friends and had lots of fun exploring what sort of musician I wanted to be. I tried my hand at composing, songwriting and learnt invaluable performance tips while making connections that ultimately led me to where I am now." 

What was the most important thing you learned while studying with us? 

That’s a tough one but I think the most important thing was just to try things and be open with people and experiences. It was such a safe place to explore genres and hone my skills that it taught me to be less self-conscious and just go for the things I want in life.

What other projects have been keeping you busy? 

Gosh lots! I did some amazing summer shows with Disciples last year where I got to sing that huge song they did with Calvin Harris. That was a real moment for me.

I work with an extremely cool band called MF Robots - definitely check them out! Last year we toured with Lenny Kravitz. I MEAN...! 

This year I worked with Michael Bolton which was a gig I still shed a little tear about but I’m also studying for an alternative career and setting up an event for women in entertainment so I’ve got my fingers in a few pies. 

What's your top advice for any vocalists wanting to follow in your footsteps? 

I always answer this question the same way: work hard and be nice to people! It’s that simple. Be easy to be around, do your job well, don’t be late and look the part. It’s not that hard but you wouldn’t believe how many people just can’t be cool.

You can be the best singer/player in the world but if you annoy people or are too difficult, you won’t get booked. No one wants to spend two months on a tour bus with someone like that!"

Have you any advice on how to maintain good vocal health? 

Water, vocal massage at Physio Ed and steaming are essentials for me. I’ve recently realised that I need to stretch and keep the muscles in my neck and shoulders loose; tension is no good for singing.

And just pace yourself. If you’ve got a tour, don’t start off caning the booze and partying or you will not make it to the end. Good habits get you through.

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What would you advise anyone wanting to launch a music industry career? Have you any tips or words of wisdom? 

Another tough one, it’s such a challenging industry to navigate. On one hand you need to have a thick skin and be easy going but on the other hand you need to maintain your integrity and remember your worth. That balance comes with experience and your good reputation.

Again just be nice and work hard, it will work out in the end and try not to compare yourself or your career to others or you’ll never appreciate what you have actually achieved. 

What does the future have in store for you and your music? 

Who knows! I’ll stay with Rick as long as he’ll have me as he’s just the best boss I could ask for but I’d love to work with new artists when Rick has some down time.

I’m running my band @thelaurenjohnsonquartet and setting up what looks to be an incredible event that I’d love to invite female ICMP students to. Follow @thehustlelifeoffstage for info as it’s going to give invaluable insight into the industry.

That should take place in September and I get married in December. After that, who knows ... that’s the beauty of this job, you never know what adventure is around the corner! 

Lauren Johnson :: Backing Vocals Showreel 2017 from Lauren Johnson on Vimeo.

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by Jim Ottewill
June 19, 2019
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