How to come up with toplines the easy way
Toplining is a strange term in music. Some of the musicians with whom I’ve discussed songwriting have never heard of it. Others thought songwriting and toplining were interchangeable terms. I’d like to go over what it is and how you can get started as a topliner in the industry.
The more interesting part of the story is discovering that the majority of pop, R&B, EDM, and hip-hop songs you hear on the radio began as instrumental beats that were later toplined. In fact, if you’re a budding mainstream songwriter, you’ll be doing toplines 95 percent of the time.
Toplining can be beneficial or detrimental to songwriters. It’s beneficial because it immediately places you in a particular musical style or niche, but it’s detrimental if the track you’re working on isn’t up to par. It’s good because you don’t need to know how to play an instrument to write well, but it’s bad if you’re an instrumentalist who wants to write songs but can’t sing.
WHAT EXACTLY IS TOPLINING?
Writing a vocal part over a pre-made music bed is known as toplining. It is songwriting in the sense that you are writing a significant part of the song, but it is not songwriting in the sense that you are writing a completely new song. If you’re hired to topline, the music will already be written for you, and you’ll be expected to finish it.
WHY DO PEOPLE CONSIDER HIREING A TOPLINER?
Producers are frequently gifted in the creation of beats and synthesizer tracks. They are capable of performing this part, but are unsure of their vocal melody or lyric writing abilities. That’s where a topliner comes in handy. Instead of writing the entire piece themselves, some instrument players prefer to hire topliners. There are numerous options!
TOPLINING: HOW COMMON IS IT?
Toplining accounts for about 90% of my songwriting time. It’s something I do for EDM producers, commercials, bands, and other situations where the vocal part isn’t written. The remaining 10% is spent on songwriting, which entails creating a complete song for a client from scratch. So I’m obviously biased when I say toplining is extremely common, but if you want to work as a songwriter for a living, you should definitely consider toplining.
HOW TO COME UP WITH TOPLINES ON THE SPOT?
You’ll want to start by honing your skills. Don’t take a paid job until you’ve perfected your skills! Get some free music beds or background music from the internet and practice writing while listening to it. Have some fun with it! See how many different ideas you can come up with. Create a reel of examples of toplines you’ve done with this. Another tip: You can make several songs with just one track! This was something I did when I first started out to show people that I could take their idea and run with it. It landed me my first two toplining gigs!
Set up your social media accounts and inform people that you offer toplining services.
WHAT DO I DO IF I WANT TO GET PAID FOR TOPLINING?
Because you’re only writing a portion of the song, this can be challenging. However this can be done in a variety of ways.
Option 1: No up-front payment in exchange for a larger royalty split. I don’t recommend this one very often. You’re unlikely to make a lot of money off royalties unless you’re confident the song will sell and generate revenue (for example, if the client already has proven sales and a large following). Still, if you want the job and the client is willing to split the payment 50/50 with you, it might be a viable option.
Work-for-hire is the second option (no royalties, all up-front pay). This is the most common scenario. However, the obvious disadvantage is that if the song becomes popular, I will not profit from sales. As a result, you must decide whether or not you are willing to take this risk.
Option 3: A combination of the previous two options. Let’s say you’re given a lower rate than you’d normally accept, or the client can’t afford to pay. If you’re willing to do so, now is a good time to negotiate royalties with them. Calculate an amount of up-front pay and royalties that will satisfy both of you. If you really want to get into the toplining business, I suggest checking out Voclio to connect with potential customers.