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How to draw attention?

mediumaevum

Active Member
I was told that my pieces don't draw people in nor hold their attention.

As I'd really like to improve on this, could you take a listen to two of my tracks and tell me exactly what is missing, and why people don't hold their attention?



In the first piece, I do not have a B-section, I know. But it's so short that I thought it didn't need it.

In the second piece, I have an A and B - and the intro is even an entirely different section altogether.

I'd be really grateful if you want to take your time and listen to these two pieces and give a qualified feedback.

I also hope this thread will serve the purpose of teaching others what to do (what works) and what not to do (what's missing, what can be improved (and how) - and what shouldn't be done this way no matter what).
 

tehreal

Active Member
why people don't hold their attention?
Great question. If you ever find a definitive answer for this let me know :) Seriously, all composers (even those with great experience) struggle with this everyday. There's no template and it ultimately depends on the piece and the listener of course.

@MarcusD has some great comments in your other thread. Especially when he says:

Ask yourself how to make it more interesting
Put your pieces aside for the moment. You need to be able to listen to other music you find interesting and abstract underlying principles of compositional approach and apply them (when appropriate) to your own works. Ask yourself why you like a particular piece? What about the piece draws YOU in and holds your interest?

Listen to this piece as an example.


Granted it's a different style and is intended to be paired with picture but the general principles are there in the beginning. See if you can transcribe the first minute of it in your DAW. You will notice:

He could have just started with the drums/rhythm but he didn't. He opened with a short tempo-less section having the cello play a line with trem into gliss into trill over a low drone. This, for me, grabs interest.

Then before I can get bored, the drums immediately come in and introduce tempo. Notice the rhythm contains additional interest with the simple use of accents. Why play the rhythm with the same velocity throughout? But that's not all. Higher strings come in at the same time with a quiet trem which adds an extra dash of change.

Then before that can get boring we get a slight crescendo into an impact. Now low strings and brass join the drums (accentuating only part of their rhythm) and the main melodic idea (a simple one) is introduced. Dynamics continue to increase, harmonies begin to thicken until a huge dynamic change happens and we have stronger tempo through ostinato and a more climactic feeling with the whole orchestra playing. Soon the wider frequency spectrum begins to narrow, the dynamics begin to soften and we are back to a tempo-less section. Soon it will build again. These series of simple peaks and valleys (of dynamics and frequency) is the overall driver/arc for the piece.

Again, this is a different style of music than what you wrote and the changes come more rapidly then may be appropriate for your piece, but the underlying principles of continued interest through slight change built upon what came before are there, can be discovered through analysis and applied to your compositions going forward. And his ideas are tasteful and well executed. He knows how to set a mood and build drama.

Djawadi creates continued interest in the first minute mainly through changes to tempo, timbre, dynamics as well as vertical development (layering new motifs over the existing ones) as opposed to major changes to harmony, key, melody, etc. You may wish to focus on changes to the latter three. Or maybe all of them!

Perhaps your music could start with a tempo-less section or instead of having strings join the opening unison ostinato with the exact same rhythm, perhaps they could break up the rhythm, accentuating certain parts of the original ostinato, which may create more interest. Perhaps they could introduce more rhythmic complexities to the initial rhythm. Maybe you could start to thicken the harmonies gradually (as happens in the Dragonstone piece) instead of just having the ostinato remain a two part harmony. Then again, maybe all my ideas are bad and you'll find a better way to create continued interest. My point (and @MarcusD) is you should stop to ask yourself, what would make this more interesting? Push yourself. Get ideas from others (by analyzing their music), etc.

Also, let your music (especially phrases) breathe. Don't feel like you have to fill the time/space constantly. Things can become laborious for the listener otherwise.

It's fun thinking of all the different ways we can add continued interest to music! Have fun with it!

Read the book below when you get time. It may not address everything you're looking for specifically but I think it has some great info and will open your mind to new ways of approaching composition. And it's free!

http://alanbelkinmusic.com/bk/F.pdf
 
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MarcusD

Active Member
By no means am would I concider myself a professional composer, no where near! More so an experienced amature... But when I used to write melodie hooks & re-work ideas for solo artists / bands I learned a lot about how to make things more "interesting". Well, at least I think I did.. (people always asked me to tell them why there music wasn't "right" or if it sucked.) Here's my attempt to crudly consolidate what I learned into 5 points.

1. Knowledge - Understand what you are doing and how the dots connect. You don't have to be a theroetical genius, you don't have to be able to read music fluently or know all the terms. The ability to break-down what you are doing and understand it, is really important and helps with decicion making. There's no better instrument than the piano to help "get your head around it". Again, don't need to be able to play it very well. Just use it to understand what you are doing or at least use it to find your own way to understand what you are doing.

2. Sense - You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don't use your ears / heart and "feel" the music, you'll rely on theory to fill the gaps. Having knowledge is great, but for me it's an 90/10 split between feel and theory (I know everyone will have their own opinion of this). Do what you think feels right, if it doesn't work use you're knowledge to approach from a different angle. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn't, move on. This also applies to note choice when writing melodies, what does a single note or a collection of notes make you feel? Is it convaying the correct tone and mood? That's what you should ask yourself.

3. Rhythm - Really can't stress how imporant rhythm is. Don't fall into the trap of using 4/4 with straight 16ths, 8ths and 4ths playing to every beat, across every instrument. It's comes across souless. Life is about rhythm, rhythm is happening all around you, every second of the day. Draw insperation from everything. Birds singing (listen to the rhythem, not the "notes"), someone coughing, the sound of train tracks, footsteps, hell, even the way the toilet flushes! sounds cheesey, but rhythm is soul of the universe. The more rhythmic knowledge you aqquire the better your melodies will be and your tracks will feel more interesting. Having a solid sense of when something should / shouldn't be happening is key.

Challenge yourself, pick two notes and make them interesting by using different rhythms. If you can't do that, you really need to start looking at rhythm more. Take one of your favorite melodies, draw the MIDI in on your DAW then move all the notes onto 1 key. Listen to the pattern. You'll soon discover the most interesting melodies are the ones that have slight variations to the rhyhm. Also, note choice and rhythmic choice go hand in hand for potraying the message and feeling to the listener.

Best example of this would be Beethovens 5th. I don't even need to sing the notes, but If I sing the rhythem on 1 note you'll most likely know that it's Beethovens 5th.

4. Accents - This ties in with Rhythm, accents are important when you want a particular note or hit to stand out by making instruments play something harder or softer. If you are happy with the rhytmic pattern you have created for an instrument, adding accents to that pattern will make it even more interesting and create dynamics.

Metronome tip: the accent of the metronome can cause you to write to the metronome (if that makes sense?). Always set mine to play the same even pitch through out. Helps you "feel the pulse" of the tempo.


5. Dynamics - Gentle, Firm & Hard. Slow, Steady, Fast. What do you accosiate with those words? (You all have dirty minds) How can utalise those dynamics to accentuate the message and mood of your piece? Lots of questions to ask yourself.

Finally, you'll never stop learning. But don't become too distracted burying your head in the sand, the best instrument you have is your ears. Use them wisely and trust your instincts. If you still find you can't create something that satisifys you, well you need to go live a little. Go do shit (unrelated to music) and experience things that put you outside your comfort zone. Then sit down and write. It's like a conversation, if you have nothing to talk about it'll be a borning conversation.

Examples:

Just quickly created these examples on a snare to demonstrate how accents alter the sound & how slight variations change things. Using a snare with some 8ths. Note how the last two feel different..

8ths at same dynamic (straight 8ths, no accents)
[AUDIOPLUS=https://vi-control.net/community/attachments/8ths-same-dynamic-mp3.20502/][/AUDIOPLUS]

8ths with accents
[AUDIOPLUS=https://vi-control.net/community/attachments/8ths-no-16ths-mp3.20503/][/AUDIOPLUS]

8ths with accents + some 16ths and some triplets.
[AUDIOPLUS=https://vi-control.net/community/attachments/8ths-accented-mp3.20500/][/AUDIOPLUS]

8ths with accents + 16ths + slight variation. (Removed some hits, added some extra 16ths and slightly altered some accents)

[AUDIOPLUS=https://vi-control.net/community/attachments/8ths-altered-accent-rhythm-mp3.20501/][/AUDIOPLUS]
 

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mediumaevum

Active Member
Put your pieces aside for the moment. You need to be able to listen to other music you find interesting and abstract underlying principles of compositional approach and apply them (when appropriate) to your own works. Ask yourself why you like a particular piece? What about the piece draws YOU in and holds your interest?
I really like Ralph Vaughan Williams' music. Alot of my string compositions are inspired by pieces like this:

 

MichaelVakili

New Member
I would really recommend to get some of the classes by Mike Verta. Usually he sells them for 30$. He would definitely show you how to keep an idea interesting and even if you are far away from the beginner level you would find useful information. If you are unsure - you can check his YouTube channel. The guy is amazing.
 
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mediumaevum

Active Member
I would really recommend to get some of the classes by Mike Verta. Usually he sells them for 30$. He would definitely show you how to keep an idea interesting and even if you are far away from the beginner level you would find useful information. If you are unsure - you can check his YouTube channel. The guy is amazing.
Well, I think my problem is that I find my own pieces interesting. As well as those pieces that I'm inspired of, while others think they are boring. If I thought my own pieces were boring, I wouldn't upload them in the first place - as changes are still being made, and the composition is yet to be finished.

When I upload a piece it is because I ran out of ideas of improvements. Then someone comes along and tell me that my piece is A) not interesting, B) don't hold their attention.

I listen to a lot of classical music, and some of the listeners saying my tracks are boring, listens to classical music too. But classical music is A LOT of things.

For example, I definitely do not like Wagner. It's too... wild for my taste. I like compositions from Gerald Finzi and Vaughan Williams, and not all of their pieces, only those hymn/psalter-like pieces orchestrated for string orchestra.

In the example above from Ralph Vaughan Williams, five variants of the dives and lazarus, I only like the first or second variant. Not the others.

I can't orchestrate a piece in a way that I don't like myself.
 
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mediumaevum

Active Member
Do you find this piece boring as well?
EDIT: This is NOT my piece/nor my channel.

This is only meant to figure out what's wrong with my sources of inspiration (this one is a source of inspiration for my works).

 
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MarcusD

Active Member
Then someone comes along and tell me that my piece is A) not interesting, B) don't hold their attention.
I wouldn't take things to heart.

The question you should ask yourself is "why didn't it grab their attention?" It could be something as simple as the sample libraries you used. Maybe the samples don't suit the composition, maybe the samples don't sound realistic enough to convey the message? Maybe the MIDI programming could be better? Maybe the mix didn't please them? It could be literally anything... (BTW in me mentioning those things, don't assume I mean those points apply to you.)

The point I'm trying to make is - Don't take it personally. Try see if there's any truth in what people say. Maybe they're wrong, maybe they're right - either way there's ALWAYS something to learn. Being bold enough to discover is what helps you grow. Just because people offer criticisms doesn't mean the music is bad.
 
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Personal opinions only ... take with a grain of salt, please. It takes bravery to post works and invite critique, and my hat's off to you for that.

There are interesting elements in both of these pieces (especially the 2nd one), but I come away with the impression that there are a few specific things that could cause listeners to "not stay with them".

In the first piece, there is not a cadence at the end of the phrase to give the listener any satisfaction, so it ends up feeling like one continuous chord with variations on that same melody. Maybe you were going for something Celtic without much in the way of harmonic development? If so, in such music the melody must be exceptionally strong in order to grab and hold the listener, which is always a challenge. I also feel that your counterpoint melodies are fighting your main melody and distracting from it, especially since they begin immediately without having given the main melody a chance to establish itself to the listener.

The sections of the second piece I found enjoyable in isolation, with a number of interesting bits (I like that intro with the ♭6 mixed into the otherwise major key of the melody, and feel there is more happening harmonically throughout), but I am not picking up a commonality from one section to the next ... it sounds a bit like a medley of individual pieces rather than a coherent piece with multiple sections. That can get tiring for the average listener to follow ... I believe they really want something familiar to hold onto while you are taking them to those different places, something that says "there's something connecting all of this".

Finally, one thing that doesn't seem to be a major element in either of these pieces is dynamics, other than one or two crescendos in the 2nd one. To my ears, there's not much of an emotional "flow" through either of the pieces as a whole ... they don't really seem to build to anything, and so when they get to the end, the endings feel a bit unexpected, sudden and unsatisfying. I'd say to consider more long-form dynamic development to shape the pieces and hold the listener: volume-wise, orchestration-wise, and don't overlook modulations as well. The percussive elements that MarcusD mentioned would also fit into this overall category IMO.

I hope you'll find this constructive, and I would echo the suggestion to look into Mike Verta's classes. I feel that I've gotten a lot out of them myself.
 
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mediumaevum

Active Member
if someone doesn't like your music - it is alright.
Of course it is alright not to like my music. I'm not forcing anyone to like my music.


The question you should ask yourself is "why didn't it grab their attention?"
Of course, and that's the point of this thread, to figure out the reasons why people dislike my music, so I can improve on it, on the style/genre I want to compose for (within this particular sub-genre of classical music).
 
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mediumaevum

Active Member
Personal opinions only ... take with a grain of salt, please. It takes bravery to post works and invite critique, and my hat's off to you for that.

There are interesting elements in both of these pieces (especially the 2nd one), but I come away with the impression that there are a few specific things that could cause listeners to "not stay with them".

In the first piece, there is not a cadence at the end of the phrase to give the listener any satisfaction, so it ends up feeling like one continuous chord with variations on that same melody. Maybe you were going for something Celtic without much in the way of harmonic development? If so, in such music the melody must be exceptionally strong in order to grab and hold the listener, which is always a challenge. I also feel that your counterpoint melodies are fighting your main melody and distracting from it, especially since they begin immediately without having given the main melody a chance to establish itself to the listener.

The sections of the second piece I found enjoyable in isolation, with a number of interesting bits (I like that intro with the ♭6 mixed into the otherwise major key of the melody, and feel there is more happening harmonically throughout), but I am not picking up a commonality from one section to the next ... it sounds a bit like a medley of individual pieces rather than a coherent piece with multiple sections. That can get tiring for the average listener to follow ... I believe they really want something familiar to hold onto while you are taking them to those different places, something that says "there's something connecting all of this".

Finally, one thing that doesn't seem to be a major element in either of these pieces is dynamics, other than one or two crescendos in the 2nd one. To my ears, there's not much of an emotional "flow" through either of the pieces as a whole ... they don't really seem to build to anything, and so when they get to the end, the endings feel a bit unexpected, sudden and unsatisfying. I'd say to consider more long-form dynamic development to shape the pieces and hold the listener: volume-wise, orchestration-wise, and don't overlook modulations as well. The percussive elements that MarcusD mentioned would also fit into this overall category IMO.

I hope you'll find this constructive, and I would echo the suggestion to look into Mike Verta's classes. I feel that I've gotten a lot out of them myself.
Thank you so much for writing an in-depth critique of my music. I will take notice of every word of this.

Keep up the critique :)

I think it is beautiful and the vibe is perfect for the scenery.
It's not my piece, but only my source of inspiration. I hope you all know that.
 
It's not my piece, but only my source of inspiration. I hope you all know that.
I hadn't listened to that RVW piece before making my first comments. So I just did, and I think it does reveal examples of many of the elements I mentioned. For one thing, it starts with a very simple, mostly step-wise melody, which isn't fighting for attention with any other elements ... and then later on counterpoint starts to appear, but even that is often echoing the melody at different pitches and timing offsets, as opposed to being completely different ... really the whole piece seems to be about variations on that single, step-wise melody. Also, pretty much every phrase ends with a cadence of some sort, giving the music a shape that the user can follow and feel occasional moments of resolution before embarking upon the next question. And finally, although the dynamics are subdued, they are definitely there ... often swelling gently and then dropping away again over a long period, even up to 16 measures, like slow surf rolling in at the seashore, giving a gentle but ever-present sense of moving forward to the piece.

All in all, seems like a nice choice for inspiration. I'd say to just dig into it further and understand what it is doing that you might not be. Good luck!
 

rudi

Active Member
We are all learners (me more than most) and feedback is vital to help us improve. It is also very hard to listen to your own stuff with enough critical detachment (I am very guilty of that myself :speechless:).

Here is my very subjective feedback on your piece: "In a World of Knights & Castles".

First the good news: there are plenty of good ideas here. The execution could make it even better.

A breakdown of each section with some ideas / suggestions:

intro: the ostinato motif feels one dimensional, mainly because it lacks variations in dynamics. It feels step-programmed, which makes it feel stilted and rather repetitive.

0:14 I liked the entrance of the main melody - I feel it could be improved by lowering the level of the rhythmic pattern, as it fights against the high strings.

0:24 some variation in the rhythm would inject some interest - e.g either a slightly different variation, or a change in octaves, or intervals, or switching to a different sound (e.g low winds)... or maybe add a very light percussion such as a tambourine... or any other combination.

0:47 very nice arrangement here and a good change to a more intricate parts. Once again I found the rhythm in the background distracting (although the balance is good) - maybe leave it out.

0:58 the high string arrangement feels a bit too similar to the previous section. Maybe try to add some pedal tones, e.g low basses holding notes to anchor the top lines, or a higher string motif to act as a counterpoint to the strings. The rhythm feels too repetitive here too. Maybe replace it with a low bass drum playing at the start of each measure, or a very simple rhythm to provide some relief and grounding.

1:07 a variation in either volume (e.g make it softer) or instrumentation (maybe add a wind instrument) would renew interest here -- maybe add a couple of tambourine hits to surprise the listener.

To use a different analogy, in real life we tend to prefer speakers who modulate their voices, changing emphasis, rhythm, pitch, using pauses, and introduce some new material.

:2thumbs: There is plenty of goof stuff in your piece, and it'd be nice to hear put to its best advantage. I hope the above makes sense.

PS It's good that you got so much feedback. I posted one of my first pieces a while ago and got... zero feedback, which wasn't a pleasant experience o_O
 

JT

Senior Member
I think the idea about Mike Verta's classes is a good suggestion. Anytime you get exposed to an experts workflow, you're bound to get new ideas which can only add to your arsenal of tools at your disposal. You said "When I upload a piece it is because I ran out of ideas of improvements." You should never run out of ideas. This is what Mike's classes would help you with. Different ideas and techniques to use when you're stuck. Music is very much a craft, it's not just inspiration.

I recently had a string piece reviewed by an editor, and I thought it was absolutely perfect when I sent it to him. He made a list of suggestions, and after I put my ego aside and took his suggestions seriously, I started to make edits and it got better. Now we both love it.

It's natural to become attached to our work and hard to be objective about it. You have a nice list of suggestions specific to your work in this thread. I would try using these and see where it leads you.
 
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TimCox

Active Member
There's A LOT that can be done with movement under the melody that helps keep a work driving forward. Keep in mind that an ostinato is not the same as moving lines either. To the ear, an ostinato becomes noise after the listener gets used to it.

Although, it depends on what you're trying to write too. Plenty of game composers have to actively resist drawing attention away from the game, it's a delicate art!
 

MartinH.

Senior Member
I recently had a string piece reviewed by an editor, and I thought it was absolutely perfect when I sent it to him. He made a list of suggestions, and after I put my ego aside and took his suggestions seriously, I started to make edits and it got better. Now we both love it.
Does it happen often that you still enjoy both work and result after feedback is given? I'm asking because I've recently heard from another artist that change request feedback kills his intrinsic motivation and as far as I know that is not rare at all. If you have developed some technique to deal better with that, I'd be interested. Also what I'm talking about is definitely not an "ego-thing", it happens all the same if you think the feedback is spot on. I believe it has more to do with the inherent desire for autonomy and freedom.


Do you find this piece boring as well?
EDIT: This is NOT my piece/nor my channel.

This is only meant to figure out what's wrong with my sources of inspiration (this one is a source of inspiration for my works).

It's not the kind of music I would normally listen to, but these words come to mind for me: pretty, meandering, random. I could totally see how people would say it's "boring", also I find that a very subjective and not very useful description. I'm sure much of what I like is "boring" for many other people too, even though it's on another level of "intensity".

From the things that I know and like the soundtrack that comes closest are the ambient tracks in Skyrim, like this one for example:


I think it's quite likely that more people like this kind of music than the track you referenced. I find it has much more recognizable repeating structures that allow me to stay oriented in the track instead of "lost in pretty chaos". I haven't read all the other posts, but I'll add a +1 to the Mike Verta recommendation. To quote him: "Do it twice!". If you watch a couple hours of his unleashed videos you'll get a very good idea of his approach, it might even be enough to get you where you want to go, but if not, his masterclasses are great and I've learned tons from them. I whish I had that kind of teacher 10-20 years ago, it would have changed my life...

 

tehreal

Active Member
Do you find this piece boring as well?
EDIT: This is NOT my piece/nor my channel.

This is only meant to figure out what's wrong with my sources of inspiration (this one is a source of inspiration for my works).

Beautiful piece.

Why do YOU like it?
 

JT

Senior Member
Does it happen often that you still enjoy both work and result after feedback is given? I'm asking because I've recently heard from another artist that change request feedback kills his intrinsic motivation and as far as I know that is not rare at all. If you have developed some technique to deal better with that, I'd be interested. Also what I'm talking about is definitely not an "ego-thing", it happens all the same if you think the feedback is spot on. I believe it has more to do with the inherent desire for autonomy and freedom.
I don't write for media, I write for a music publisher, in this case it was a piece for High School orchestras. And of course I'm happy with the music after making changes. I wouldn't put it out there with my name on it if I wasn't. I actually find the process of making changes a challenge. Taking someone else's ideas and turning them into something that's my own.

If however, changes were requested of me that I didn't agree with, I would explain my point of view to my client and why I think that what I have now works better. But when changes are requested of me, they're not orders, it's like, "can you add more movement here" or "the transition seems a bit abrupt".

I've been a full time musician for 43 years now, it's a business first and foremost for me. I don't write music for "art's sake". For those that do, more power to them. But music allows me to pay my bills and have a good life.
 

Royosho

New Member
Food for thought. If you're music is supposedly uninteresting, then following other people's directions to make your music sound more like their's will only make your music more uninteresting, because it'll sound less unique and blend in with the other clones. Originality is interesting. Templates are boring. Also, keep in mind, most of VI make music primarily for money, which is fine, but it's a different focus than making music for other reasons and requires a different approach.
 

rudi

Active Member
More food for thought... :) There is no doubt that finding your own voice is really, really, really important and what makes you (and me) unique is equally important.

But consider the following:

No musician, painter, writer, any kind of artist or human being comes into shape fully formed. We all depend on others to teach us, inspire us, (sometimes revulse us), show us, guide us, exchange information, skills with us.

All the greatest composers / artists benefitted from this cross-fertilisation and learnt from others. During the Renaissance for instance, all the great artists worked as apprentices, and learnt their skills in ateliers / workshops... composers went on journeys to learn from other composers and styles. All the great orchestral composers learnt from others. This kind of interchange enlarges your palette, pushes you to become more creative, more adventurous, gives you more options, enriches your vocabulary or palette.

I watched a documentary about Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Gustav Holst... two of my favourite British composers. I wasn't aware that they knew each other very well, studied together, and were life-long friends... during that time they critiqued and encouraged each other - Holst in particular was very unsure about some of his compositions and orchestrations and was spurred on by RVW to explore further, to find his own voice. Conversely Holst was a great influence on RVW exploring English folk music.

In a totally different area, even someone like Einstein didn't work in isolation - he was in contact with many other physicists and mathematicians all over Europe who helped him formulate and test his ideas. Like the other musicians that doesn't make him less of a genius (not that I am comparing us to geniuses), quite the contrary, it helped him clarify and refine his ideas and theories.
 
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