Topline and Vocal Production


Authored by Rodney Alejandro


Course Code: OSONG-639

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Topline is the art of creating and crafting a melody with lyrics to an already existing beat, track, or music loop. The focus of the topline is to craft hooks that grab listeners and not let go—known as an “earworm” in industry circles. As a songwriter, having the ability to topline creates an added skill set to expand your collaborative possibilities. As a track producer/beat-maker, understanding topline can improve your songwriting and vocal production skills. As a vocalist, having the capability to perform and produce a topline provides greater value to your abilities. As an artist, learning to topline helps you define what you want to sing and say in your music.

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This course will explore hook writing around melodies and lyrical concepts. In addition to the composition of topline, you will also explore vocal production to give your topline skills professional polish. You will do a deep dive into melodic topline for genres, for artists, for TV/film, and will collaborate within the cohort and outside the class.

Upon completion of the course, you will have mastered the craft of topline. You will be able to contribute melody and/or lyric to an established music track, and produce vocals to help bring a topline project to completion.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Identify differences between topline and songwriting
  • Craft catchy, memorable hooks for song construction
  • Generate topline starting from beat/track, lyric concept, melodic idea
  • Collaborate with topliners and producers to generate songs
  • Identify and synthesize current trends in toplining and vocal production
  • Produce and deliver topline vocals at professional quality specification
  • Apply techniques for discovery of unique selling proposition
  • Hear and apply critical feedback to your own work
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: The Professional Topliner

  • Top 40 to Topline
  • Hook Singing
  • Topline’s Bottom Line
  • Creators Few, Stakeholders Many
  • Who Owns What of a Topline
  • Finding Beats and a Topline Folder
  • Assignment 1: Topline Trends

Lesson 2: Topline Tools of the Trade

  • Tools of the Trade
  • The Microphone Chain
  • Monitors and Headphones
  • Workflow Organization
  • Delivery of Vocal Performance and Production
  • Assignment 2: Recording Vocals and Preparing Stems

Lesson 3: Hooks are the Honey (Part 1)

  • Hooks Like Honey
  • Motifs, Melodic and Motivic Development
  • Coming Back for More: Repetition and Interpolation
  • Doubling Down with Lyrical Hooks
  • Assignment 3: Working with Hooks

Lesson 4: Hooks are the Honey (Part 2)

  • Pop Hooks: Chorus/Pop Drops/Verse
  • EDM Hooks: Builds/Chorus/Drops
  • Hip-Hop/R&B Hooks: Chorus/Post-Chorus/Pre-Chorus
  • Latin Pop Hooks: Chorus/Post-Chorus
  • Assignment 4: Hooks and Toplines

Lesson 5: Song Sections to Sweeten Up

  • Verse
  • Pre-Chorus
  • Rap/Breakdowns
  • Bridges/Middle 8
  • Assignment 5: Developing Song Sections

Lesson 6: Target Toplining of Genre/Artist

  • Genre Lyrics and Concepts
  • Genre Style and Melodic Framework
  • Artist Style and Melodic Framework
  • Artist Specific Concepts and Lyrics
  • Assignment 6: Lyrical Concepts and Melodic Framework of Genre/Style

Lesson 7: Topline Spotlight

  • Topline Performance
  • Topline Production
  • Additional Topline Production
  • On-the-Fly Topline Processing
  • Assignment 7: Performing the Topline

Lesson 8: ‘Sooner or Later, Everything Old Is New Again’

  • Line ’em Up
  • Knock ’em Out
  • Topline Channeling
  • Topline Scripting
  • Assignment 8: Toplining from a Guide Track

Lesson 9: Ear Candy Vocals

  • Background Harmonies
  • How to Stack Vocals
  • Vocal Vibes for Sweet Sounds
  • Vocal Chopping
  • Assignment 9: Manipulating the Topline

Lesson 10: Vocal Tools, Tweaks, Tips, and Tricks

  • Right Tools for the Right Job
  • Topline Vocal Tuning
  • Vocal Processing
  • Additional Vocal Treatments
  • Assignment 10: Processing Topline Vocals

Lesson 11: Creating Comes from Inspiration, Crafting Comes from Application

  • Creating is Inspiration, Crafting is Perspiration
  • Finding Your Topline Voice
  • Internalizing External Resources
  • Courage and Conviction
  • Collaborating for the Bigger Picture
  • Assignment 11: Finding Your Voice and Collaborating

Lesson 12: Toplining as a Career

  • Independent/Work-for-Hire Service
  • Topline Tryout Via Publishers/Managers/Producers
  • Topline Tryout for Ad Agencies, Creative Directors, TV/Film Composers
  • Hired for Toplining


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Songwriting: Writing Hit SongsSongwriting Tools and Techniques, and Music Demo Production for Songwriters or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.
Students should be able to:

  • Manage a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of your choice at an intermediate level
  • Apply music theory concepts such as major and minor scales, chord progressions, etc., to their songwriting analysis and project completion
  • Create vocal performances for their topline projects



  • Full-featured Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton Live (Suite or Standard), Reaper, Reason, or FL Studio (Producer or Signature). Note that GarageBand is not acceptable.
  • Pitch correction software, such as Autotune (Artist edition or higher), Waves Tune, Melodyne (Editor edition recommended, Essential edition not sufficient), etc.



  • Pop filter
  • Microphone stand

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Rodney Alejandro

Author & Instructor

In his 30+ year career, Rodney has become recognized as a protean polymath within the entertainment industry. In his most recent rock ‘n’ roll chapter, he was a performing member of the international pop band the Script. As the keyboardist/music director, he was responsible for arranging and weaving the group's hit songs into an unforgettable concert experience. Before his tenure with the Script, Rodney built a career as a consummate professional behind the scenes. 

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Rodney’s work includes songwriting/producing chart-topping songs in the English, Latin, and Asian music markets. He has collaborated with artists such as Quincy Jones, Sting, the Temptations, and Ray Charles. Rodney has also performed with many artists from around the world including Mańa, Babyface, Sofia Carson, and Stevie Wonder among many others. His work has earned industry recognition with projects garnering Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations, winning Billboard Latin pop album of the year in 2004, and multiple gold and platinum-selling record awards. Rodney has also taken on television opportunities and was the main title composer/producer for the Golden Globe winner for best drama series The Shield, as well as the composer/music producer for the drama series Thief.

In 2006, he was honored by his alma mater Berklee College of Music as the Alumnus of the Year, and in 2011 received recognition as the Music Education Advocate of the Year from the Recording Academy Texas Chapter. Rodney is currently an associate professor at Berklee College of Music where he teaches in the Songwriting Department, sharing his knowledge and experience from his distinguished music career.

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What's Next?

When taken for credit, Topline and Vocal Production can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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