· By Joey Ebach
The Rise Of Top Lining
What Is Top Lining?
When people picture songwriting, most will probably imagine sitting down with a guitar or piano, finding some chords and adding lyrics and melody. Though that’s still a true picture for many writers, there’s a growing segment of writers that write songs much differently.
Top line writers start with a pre-made, fully produced track and add their own lyrics and melody to form a song. The top lining tracks or beats usually have predefined sections where the music changes denoting verses, choruses, bridge etc.
Jet Tracks obviously believes in the power of top lining because we both sell tracks and personally use tracks in our own writing. When co-writing, even when we don’t have a pre-made track, we will usually have a track girl/guy in the room to drop a beat. We write this way both with songwriters and artists, but they are used in different ways.
Artist Top Lining
For artists, top lining started emerging with the popularity of rap and hip hop. Rappers normally begin with a beat, then form the lyrics, style, phrasing to match the pre-made track. Because of this, rappers were always on the lookout for new beats and fresh producers. In the same vein, producers began building instrumental beats hoping a rapper would want it. It wasn’t long before pop jumped on the band wagon and other genres as well.
Today, music has become much easier to both make and release, and this has resulted in a ton of new artists and new music. For artists who do not have million dollar label backing, or who can’t afford the cost of sitting with a producer to develop a unique sound, top lining allows them to discover what that sound is and release it.
Songwriter Top Lining
I heard a story once that when mega hit writer Ashley Gorley finished writing Play It Again, he called up Luke Bryan and played it for him over the phone. When the song finished, Luke said don’t play that for anyone else, I’m going to cut it! As we all know, the song went on to be a big hit.
Simply playing a song, or a work tape of the song for the artist, used to be the way song pitching happened. But nowadays, unless you have Luke Bryan’s number in your phone, artists and music execs expect to hear a polished track when you play them your song. Because demos can be expensive, and the average songwriter writes 150 or so songs per year, top lining became an affordable way to demo a lot of songs.
But these aren't the only reasons top lining is on the rise for songwriters and artists. As a songwriter, I’ve found three other benefits to top lining, which I believe has contributed to it's popularity.
First, top lining keeps me out of a writing rut. You know the writing rut - defaulting to the same chords, same feel, similar melody and everything sounds pretty close to everything else. Top lining expands my writing stylistically.
Second, top lining inspires me. When I hear a great track or beat, I usually get an image in my head, a song idea, a unique melody or all of the above. It gets me excited, and I think that brings out better melodies and a more emotional lyric.
Lastly, top lining saves time. When I start writing, the track is already finished, it just needs vocals. So usually one of the writers or the artists will just lay down some vocals, send it over to me for mixing and it’s done.
So though for some that picture of sitting down with a guitar and piano to write songs may change, I believe some really great music is emerging from the top lining movement.