What is Toplining?
Toplining is writing a vocal part over an instrumental track that's already been created. Its most popular in the genres of EDM, Pop, R&B and Rap. It's a different approach to traditional songwriting in the sense that you’re writing a melody and lyric for a piece of music that's already been made, and it's not your music.
What skills do you need as a Topline Songwriter?
If you’re a topliner, your main musical gifts are your ability to
- Write catchy melodies.
- Add good lyrics.
- Sing well.
- Record a decent quality vocal.
Legal Case Involving Toplining
In 2011, there was a famous legal case involving DJ Avicii vs Leona Lewis, as they settled a dispute in which the Swedish DJ had attempted to get a high court injunction to block the release of Lewis's new single, Collide, alleging that the instrumental track for the single was copied from Avicii's forthcoming single, Fade Into Darkness.
So how did Leona Lewis end up recording an almost identical track to Avicii's without realising their releases were going to collide? It's because of the common practice – especially among DJ/producers and dance labels such as Avicii's label Ministry of Sound – of sending out a track to a multitude of topline writers, asking them to come up with melody and lyrics (the topline) for the track. The writers then have to record said topline, so the DJ can have his pick of the bunch and select the one he/she likes best. In this case, one of the topline demos containing Avicii's backing track that was not picked found its way to Lewis, who recorded it, prompting the dispute.
Why do people hire topliners?
Producers often specialize in the creation of beats and or synthetic audio tracks. They can do this part but aren’t confident in their vocal melody or lyric writing skills. That's where the topliner comes in. And sometimes instrumentalists want to hire topliners instead of writing the whole song themselves.
How common is toplining?
Many writers earn a good living creating toplines for EDM, Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop producers, commercials, bands, and other situations where people don’t want to write the vocal part. If you wanna get paid to work as a songwriter you’ll definitely want to try toplining as an option.
How do I get started as a topline vocalist?
First, you’ll want to hone your craft. Don’t take a paid gig until you know exactly how to do it. Get some free music beds or background music online and practice writing to it. See how many ideas you can create. Use one track to create several songs. Set up your social media and let people know you’re available for toplining services.
How do I get paid for toplining?
This can be tricky, since you'll be writing part of the song but not all of it. You can work this several ways.
Option 1: No up-front pay, larger royalty split
I actually don’t recommend this one often. Unless you are sure the song will sell and generate revenue (if the client already has proven sales and a large following), you’re unlikely to make a ton of money off of royalties. Still, if you want the work and the client doesn’t have money but is willing to split 50/50 with you, it might be an option
Option 2: Work For Hire (no royalties, all up-front pay)
This is most common for many topline writers. Many writers do this because they are not sure what will happen to the song after they are done with it, and the writer needs to survive while they do their topline work. However, the obvious downside to this is that if the song ever does become huge, the topline writer will make nothing off of sales. So it’s important to decide if this is a risk you’re willing to take.
Option 3: A combination of the above
Let’s say you are offered a lower rate than you would normally accept, or the client doesn’t have enough to pay. This is a good time to negotiate royalties with them if you’re willing to do this. Create an amount of up-front pay combined with royalties that will make both of you happy.
Toplining isn’t for everyone, but it if you truly love writing and singing songs, then it's one of the best jobs on the planet. You'll need to hustle hard and get your name out there every chance you can get, but you can easily earn $50,000 to $100,000 per year in this line of work. The team at www.vokaal.com would love to help you get your Toplining career started, so if this is something that you think you might be interested in, please don't hesitate to send us a message via e-mail.