Demystifying Vocal Hooks, Melodies, and Lyrics for those that don’t know where to start
By Luke Chable
Many a producer has come unstuck at the thought of writing vocals for their track, through basically a lack of understanding of where the heck to start. Similarly, swathes of aspiring vocalists have also missed the boat when it comes to creating a quality topline with it’s inbuilt melody, hooks and lyrics. Read on to find out how to write a topline.
I’m going to break it down so its easy enough your cat (or pet of some description, except ferrets — they prefer their own format) could come up with the next hit with only 10 minutes training.
What is a topline? Put simply, a topline is the lead vocal you hear on a track. It’s the soaring melodic singing that you remember when you aren’t listening to the track… But is it the vocals you remember? Nope — it’s the melody of the vocal first, lyrics second. Proof of this is contained within a very typical phenomenon — how often you forget the words to a song, but you never forget the melody of the vocal.
So how do you go about creating a topline, or the best vocal for a track? First of all, throw out all the lyrics you had in the fancy poem you wrote on the train. Well, I guess you can keep it handy if you need some themes to work with— but writing a killer topline is about the melodic hook first and foremost. Forget about lyrics until you nail the melodic hook.
And now without further adieu…
THE MELODIC HOOK
Using a single note and a clean instrument like a piano, you can easily map out your melodic hook over your track. Here’s how:
- Start with the verse melody. Be careful to not make melodic phrases that are too long. Catchy is usually shorter. The brain likes to keep track of shorter melodies.
- Make a different, rising bridge melody that is intended to lead the listener into the hook (chorus) — this is usually a much shorter section when compared to the verse.
- Now create your chorus hook. This is what the lyrics of the chorus will sit over. The hook is usually a ‘soaring’ “yes!!” moment. Try not to follow your musical hook, as creating a great counter double hook is the key to a home run. Keep it repetitive and easily digestible.
If any of those stages aren’t catching you melodically, then they aren’t good enough so keep working on them. These are the foundation of your topline, and the thing that will connect with the listener most subconsciously, followed by the lyrics, so make sure they are interesting to you. Are you singing them without lyrics when you take a break and head out?
THE LYRICAL FLOW
Lyrical content aside, the lyrical flow is the next most important thing in the delivery of your topline. Just because you want the words in there, doesn’t mean they should be in there. Be open to change, and understand that if it doesn’t roll of the tongue, out of the mouth and ‘flow’ properly, then it’s most likely upsetting the balance of the melodic hook — and as a result sounding off or askew to the listener.
Be true to the melodic hook, always. Wrap your lyrics around the melodic structure you created before, not the other way around. As there are so many possible creative directions for lyrics, the best I can offer you is tips for lyrical flow, in the form of a checklist which should tell you if you are heading in the right direction.
- Is the singer struggling to string the sentence together with proper breath breaks? (or are they throwing in random ones at odd times?)
- Is the singer having to rapidly spit out a word just to fit it in?
- Are the words stringing together organically or does it sound forced, or strange?
- Do the lyrics sit perfectly on the melodic hook without the need to change the melody? (or are they sneakily changing the melody to fit the words?)
If you absolutely must get a certain word in, then make sure you do it based around melody, and also symmetrically — in other words mirror the melodic change at the same point in the other verse. When talking hooks, brains love symmetry.
THE LYRICAL CONTENT
This one is up to you. Do I need to mention novelty factor? Listen to all the big hits. There’s always a reason for the song. A catchphrase, or what I call the novelty factor. Titanium, Heroes, In My Mind. The list goes on… but think outside the box and give it a novelty catch phrase and you’ll have Guetta knocking at your door in no time.
And thats it. Congratulations! You’ve completed The Art of the Topline 101! You are now well on the way to creating the worlds next big hit.
It’s important to note that there’s of course more than one approach to creating amazing songs, and this is just one easy way to get you on the right track quickly if previously you had no idea where to start.