by India McCarty –
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, chances are you’ve heard “Old Town Road” at least once. A smash hit for newcomer Lil Nas X, the song blends country and rap in a way that we really haven’t seen before.
This song is a great example of toplining, something that is becoming increasingly prevalent in pop music circles.
Toplining is the process of writing lyrics over a beat or instrumental track that has already been created. For example, Lil Nas bought the beat to “Old Town Road” for $30 off of a beat-sharing website. This practice has been around for a while, but largely only in the rap and hip-hop genres. However, as it has proven its reliability, other genres are deciding to give it a try.
Toplining starts with the track. Someone – a writer, a producer, or maybe even the artist themselves – create a track. They use a computer program like ProTools or GarageBand to get the instrumentals they want, they structure the track with space for verses, choruses, etc. and, after a little finetuning, they have a completed track. All it needs now is the words.
This is where you come in. All you have to do is write the lyrics! Some songwriters like toplining because of how simple it makes the writing process. Others don’t like the fact that decisions about structure and tempo are taken out of their hands. Sometimes you might be able to work with the producer on a compromise, but that’s not always a possibility.
A huge benefit for songwriters is that toplining saves a lot of time. Instead of trying to figure out scheduling or how many co-writes you can fit into the week, you can write a dozen songs with just the tracks you have on your computer and send them off whenever you’re ready. Toplining means you can have multiple co-writes going on at the same time, without having to be in the same room, or even the same city!
Some producers even send their tracks off to multiple writers, just to see what they might get. The upside for the producer is pretty big: they can get multiple versions of a song, then pick and choose which one they like best. For the writers, however, this is a downside. What if your version doesn’t get cut? What about the work you put into the song?
When you’re toplining, make sure to get everything nailed down before you start the writing process. Do you retain the rights to your lyrics and melody? Do they keep the track? How do you split the writing credits? Do you split the writing credits? Be as detailed as possible and make sure you get everything in writing, especially if you’re writing with someone new.
If you don’t know anyone who’s churning out tracks, look to the internet. Sites like Abeato or Beat Stars offer beats at prices that range from $6 to $100 – the more in demand the producer is, the more they can charge.
There are many benefits to toplining, like increased productivity, a more efficient writing process, and – hopefully – more money! It can take some getting used to, though, and there are many things to consider, like what kind of deal you want to make with the people making the tracks, or if you’ll be able to write a song where many of the choices are already made for you.
At the end of the day, though, it’s a great way to stretch your creative muscles, improve your writing skills and make connections with people in the industry. So, give it a try! You might just have the next “Old Town Road” on your hands.