Backing Musicians Do The Heavy Lifting On NBC's 'The Voice'

16 hours ago
Originally published on May 22, 2017 7:56 pm
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NBC's hit show "The Voice" pairs famous recording artists with aspiring singers competing for a chance at a recording contract. The stars sit in big red chairs as the competitors give it their all on stage. Also giving it their all - the backup musicians, the house band. NPR's Elizabeth Blair went behind the scenes to learn more about "The Voice" house band for the first in our summer series Backstage Pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Six, five - big applause, big applause. And we're happy, yay.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: "The Voice" is a pretty massive operation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE VOICE THEME")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) This is "The Voice."

BLAIR: On live show days, rehearsals begin at 3 in the afternoon in a studio theater on the Universal lot in Los Angeles. The contestants, the crew and the band do a run through of what they'll perform that night.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) And it's too late, baby. Now it's too late. Oh...

BLAIR: The musicians and the house band need to be versatile because on any given night, the contestants perform a range of different styles from country...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VOICE")

LAUREN DUSKI: (Singing) I'm just a ghost in this house.

BLAIR: To Broadway show tunes...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VOICE")

WE MCDONALD: (Singing) Don't bring around a cloud to rain on my parade.

BLAIR: To R&B...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VOICE")

CHRIS BLUE: (Singing) It must be love on the brain that's got me feeling this way.

BLAIR: When you watch the voice on TV, you don't always see the musicians. But they're there on stage behind the singer, sometimes playing in the dark. They're veterans who've backed some very big names - Cher, Pink, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan. During rehearsal, even though they're on stage together, they talk to each other through headsets so they don't have to shout. Between songs, they make adjustments.

BLUE: I think I'm going let the cymbals ring because it sounds weird that I stop and Dave and Justin like...

SASHA KRIVTSOV: We don't play - it's - yeah, it builds and then we - we don't play the down beat at all.

BLAIR: That's bass player Sasha Krivtsov and drummer Nate Morton with guitarist Justin Derrico.

NATE MORTON: I just want to...

KRIVTSOV: B flat to C and we get off before the downbeat and adjust.

JUSTIN DERRICO: I thought we were plowing through it.

BLAIR: "The Voice" house band has plowed through an extraordinary number of songs since the show began six years ago.

PAUL MIRKOVICH: We've learned over 6,000 songs for the show.

BLAIR: Six thousand songs. Paul Mirkovich is "The Voice" music director and main keyboard player.

MIRKOVICH: It definitely gets your chops together to be able to play just about anything. And you have to play each song like this is the greatest song in the world. We're playing this song exactly like it's supposed to be played.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VOICE")

LILLI PASSERO: (Singing) Ours is not an easy age. We're like tigers in a cage. What a town without pity can do.

BLAIR: Learn. Rehearse. Record. Perform. Learn. Rehearse. Record. Perform. The house band on "The Voice" is expected to keep up and keep the show moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Three, four.

MICHEAL BERNARD: So you hear that click track? That's what the band follows along.

BLAIR: "The Voice's" music editor Michael Bernard says the click track plays in the band musician's ears. That way they keep the singers from stretching out notes too long or singing too fast - important in a live TV show that needs to end on time.

BERNARD: If not, someone could go way too slow or way too fast. And next thing you know, we - were ending up 10 minutes short or 10 minutes too long in a show.

BLAIR: Bernard says that rarely happens because these musicians are a tight unit. They've worked together for years. "The Voice's" music director Paul Mirkovich.

MIRKOVICH: You're unlike any other discipline of the show - the producers or the editors or anybody else. We have to be perfect, you know, because nobody remembers the 6,000 songs that we play if we make a mistake on one of them.

BLAIR: After all, it's the band's job not to be noticed but to make the singers competing on "The Voice" sound as good as they can. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENE PITNEY SONG, "TOWN WITHOUT PITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.