Top Lining


We’re staying in touch with our Columbus community that has spread out around the city and around The United States since the 2020 ups and downs.

Showcases — we miss. But digital gatherings are top on mind as so many of our members are working remote, gigging around the state and region, and traveling in general now that restrictions have lifted. We’re thinking more about the opportunities of digital.

And as we think digital, there’s a spike in electronica music and mobile composition in The United States and all across the world — developing rapidly since 2020. Creatives are experimenting even more than ever before in home studios and keyboards, modular synths and Logic Pro, Fruity Loops, iMPC Pro 2 on iPhones… everyone seems to have a way to produce digital music these days!

For songwriters that dont create our own synth soundscapes, this presents an opportunity. I’m sure you’ve thought about taking your acoustic song and “producing it” with synths or backbeats, layers of chords, or compositions behind the original lyrics and melody, or track. You look for a producer and studio to make your song digital and cool. But have you done the opposite?

Enter: Top Lining. This is when you have a producer’s composed music in front of you, or an electronica artist has an instrumental track and maybe some titles or phrases, but it’s like a smooth shape of ice ready to be sculpted and detailed. When you write lyrics and co-produce ideas in melody and song structure, you’re getting into Top Lining.

In the economics of publishing, it seems that “Top Lining” songwriters may generally receive a lesser cut of the publishing rights of the song, because the song originated with the composition, and usually the producer is doing the audio engineering on voice and production, allow him/her to assume any producer equity. But this is another one of those “wild west negotiations” that we don’t have a strong standard for yet.

For example, I recently worked with a composer for television and films, who gradually evolved into a DJ and producer. He doesn’t consider himself a songwriter, but as a deeply experienced creative and artist, of course he can lean in and create magic, in a co-writing format. Now, for him, after making millions on his compositions and having his own backyard spaceship of digital gear and modular synth sculptures — he wasn’t interested to produce someone’s acoustic song. Instead, he craft his music and style and then invited a songwriter (me) to use whatever guitar or tools necessary to capture the words and vocal melody that would layer well with what he made.

So, in Top Lining, the typical song creation process is quite the opposite: the composer’s melody and guiding force behind the music has to be strong and present, but then can evoke ideas and themes to a songwriter, who follows their lyrical muse while adhering to the guardrails of the composition.

So flip it all around. If you let the music evoke the memory, that leads to the lyrical story, or hook, or payoff — the composition provides the primary colors that tell the songwriter what types of secondary color to layer in lyrically and vocally. Chameleon vibes. The lyrics should sound and feel inside of the music, but aren’t always going to be the heaviest aspect of the draw.

Loading up some examples below… as electronic music is all over instagram, sound cloud, reverbnation, and tiktok, dont be shy to reach out to the RainSkittlesNyC or DJheaven98 and ask if you can craft some lyrics into her music. Ive found that the electronica community is usually honored by top lining requests, and open to remix new versions of their tracks.

Need a selling point? Your toplining can extend their work into new audiences for mutual benefit. It gets their composition royalties and ISRC codes more spins and plays around the Rumblefish digital collections world — and its fun! Make sure you structure the publishing agreement with them before you release the new Version XO.

Email me at and I’ll be happy to share a modern example of a toplining agreement I’ve used in the west coast. Or, if this post evoked any other thoughts or ideas, email me too!

Top Lining at Star Hill Studios:

Early studio session of “Ghost Me” by Christopher Tyng, Joey Hendrickson, Julia Grayling

Published by