The craft of writing on-point toplines that work in commercial contexts yet carry a definite sense of artistry and depth is definitely an area worth spending a lot of time and brainpower on.
As a producer and songwriter, I regularly come into fortunate situations where I can work with and learn from gifted writers, passing on my own knowledge and gaining a whole lot of “lyrical calories”, in a positive sense.
Having shared sessions with a variety of different writers, I have come to identify certain styles and habits that can – must not – but can, lead to great, fast and solid output. These mannerisms run on autopilot for most creatives, but are quite interesting to talk about none the less.
In this article I am going to break down 3 of those fun little habits, that each carry the potential of having a positive, creative effect on your writing session, especially when trying to come up with fast, witty toplines for that next production of yours.
I am also going to ad some pointers on how to handle vocalists, explaining ideas and such.
Banilty as a form of grace
A common misconception about stunning songwriting and toplining is the idea, that great ideas and phrases have to be exceptionally out-of-the-box or just completely detached from our normal, everyday conversation.
My experience has taught me quite the opposite: Beautiful lines, lyrical phrases that really hook and touch you in places that matter, are often connected to your “regular” form of speech, as if exchanging some thoughts with a good friend or family-member.
Good writers are able to come up with deep metaphors and allegories, swinging abstract images around like lyrical baseball-bats. That´s natural – they try to achieve something poetic, with a truly unique sense syntax and phrasing.
Great writers, on the other hand, challenge and act in the common boundaries of the way we express ourselves in our daily routines – at the supermarket, gas station, library, you name it. They are able to take something banal as saying, like saying“Sorry”, combining it with a unique melodic structure to hit the sweetspot of a very real, emotional part of us.
So, be aware that banality is good and beautiful, if used in the right way.
Solving the chicken-egg dilemma
Probably the most common question in songwriting and toplining for that matter, is, what comes first: the lyrics or the melody.
As always, there is never ONE way to do it right. Many, many toplines arrive at studios without a clue of what is waiting for them in the booth, and then release a storm of non-lyrical or fragmented mumbo-jumbo, focussing on getting certain hooks down and maybe connecting that to words that form some kind repetitive vibe.
A great way of combining existing lyrical content with free melodic development, is starting with one chord or basic beat, setting up a 4-8 bar loop and improvising around that lyrical content. Using words in an improvisational sense, and not clinging to ideas and exact phrases, lets you move freely within a context that yet to be developed.
The ideal workmode in this sense is that of a child – jumping around sounds and phonetics that just feel good, and holding on to those that somehow seem right in a given situation.
I can´t overstress the importance of separating the analytical part from the creative part. Think of the idea-generating process as an effort to just accumulate as many sketches and fragments as possible. Later on you can then evaluate the outcome, creating a hierarchy of ideas from best to worse.
Obviously, if you are working with a partner or several people, make sure everyone is on the same page and aware of the fact, that this free, fun development of a lyrical/melodic idea-pool has to stay flexible and non-judging.
This brings me to the last point
Keep it an Angst-Free-Zone
If I start collecting and naming anxieties that we writers collect over the years, brooding over our work and the output we deliver, i’d probably be finishing this article by the end of next year.
This is not the point I’m trying to make – everybody is scared of failing in something, especially something as delicate and intimate as writing.
What I want to underline, is the fact, that every solid toplining-session should be carried out in an Angst-free-zone, meaning an atmosphere where no idea, no matter how weird or boring, is judged by the individuals involved.
The key to fast creative output is the unfiltered release of expression. This is basically the holy-grail of fast toplining – just unleashing things and letting go. Former mindsights or moods should and will wait outside. Every thought and melodic/lyrical quirk should be met with intrinsic resonance, and taken seriously.
So, these were 3 vital points that can help you create stunning toplines under pressure and in no time. If you need some more insights and tips on songwriting and production keep digging through our blog and check out our iOS app2 join the family and show some love for this!