For the Eastern-Caribbean songwriter—in fact for any songwriter!—finding a way to substantially generate an income from your talent and craft is akin to hitting the jackpot. It’s certainly the seemingly illusive dream that most aspire to. The answer usually lies in seeking out opportunities which will bring you closer to realizing that dream.
One such avenue currently gaining momentum in the international music community is the area of topline writing: the art of writing song lyrics and a vocal tune over a pre-made beat. An article from AppleBeam.co.uk asserts that today there is a whole industry ready to match topliners with producers (who only make instrumentals). More often than not, accessing topline opportunities is done through a music publisher who may be able to pair you with music producers within his/her team in order to create completed songs which can then be pitched to record labels.
Alternatively, in today’s globalized technical world there are a number of online music and freelance websites where aspiring topline writers can submit bids to work with producers currently searching for topline writers.
If you find yourself considering a career as a topline writer it is utterly important that you educate yourself about the copyright ramifications and seek to protect yourself and your interests. An article from SonicBids.com warns that if this is not specifically ironed out, it could lead to legal woes.
Consider the fact presented by Sonic Bids that generally the way toplining works is that one producer would send out his latest track to several writers, and would therefore in turn receive several songs over that one specific track. If your song is not selected the questions of “who owns the song?” and “Is the track producer automatically a co-writer on the topline because he or she provided the backing material that influenced the melodic ideas for the writer?” arise, says Sonic Bids writer Benjamin Samama. Those are factors you as the songwriter should certainly bear in mind!
Samama in the Sonic Bids article says usually if the song is not selected most producers will let the writers take it back in order to pitch their topline to another producer, and they won’t take a percentage of the writing credit. However although this may be the unspoken norm, we highly recommend ironing this out and having a formal written agreement with a producer about song credits for any topline not selected by him/her, as well as agreed upon splits if the song is selected, before writing and submitting your topline. That way you are fully aware of the terms and conditions beforehand.
Meanwhile a Guardian.com article offers that for his part award-winning songwriter and record producer, Bill Padley says his sends out a legal disclaimer making it clear that if his melody isn’t used after doing a topline, it reverts to him, and the track back to the track writer. “If they don’t agree, I don’t do it,” Bill Padley is quoted as saying.
The Guardian article however brings to the fore other concerns associated with topline writing which we think you should also consider. Concerns such as the fact that, “if you’re one of eight people writing to the same track chances are your melody will sound similar to the others, and so – if your topline isn’t picked – it’s likely that your work will have been for nothing, as you won’t be able to use the topline for anything else (though, with any luck, you may be able to use the lyric),” The Guardian points out.
Meanwhile, consideration should also be given to the fact that “on top of the time you’ve spent, you may also have had to pay to record the vocal or to hire a singer,” The Guardian article adds.
So is toplining right for you? At the end of the day, that’s a judgement call that only you can make. After all there is always the possibility that your topline will be used on the album of a highly successful and renowned artist, which could lead to substantial royalty earnings and other amazing opportunities. The most important thing we’d stress however is ensuring that proper agreements are in place and that you fully understand the terms and conditions of those agreements beforehand.
Apple Beam (2013). What is Topline Writing? Retrieved from http://www.applebeam.co.uk/blog/what-is-topline-writing
Benjamin Samama (2016). What’s the Difference between a Songwriter and a Topline Writer? Retrieved from http://blog.sonicbids.com/whats-the-difference-between-a-songwriter-and-a-topline-writer
The Guardian (n.d.) Behind the music: Why topline melody writing creates disputes between artists and songwriters. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2011/aug/26/topline-melody-disputes-artists-songwriters
—Post written by Christine “Chrycee” Charlemagne