How to draw attention?


Senior 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.
Well put @rudi . There's no direct path to achieving anything in life, only an accumulation of knowledge and the interaction with others to share such knowledge. The epitome of human progression. How we apply such knowledge depends on our experience and personalities. We're all trying to be better versions of our self.
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@WindcryMusic has some very good points.

Few general things about attention I would add.

There are things that we are biologically hard wired for. For example, a sudden loud noise will get our attention, if we like it or not. Low rumbling sound will be perceived as threatening and will thus get our attention. But these are only effective, if used sparingly and in an appropriate context. They will hold our attention for very short amount of time. That is, until our conscious mind figures out the threat is not real (from few hundred ms to few seconds). Also, the effect of these reduces greatly with each repetition. There are probably more things like this that I am not aware of.

While the above might not be that useful for composing music, there is one thing that gets our attention in all art forms, not just music. That is contrast. And there are many types and layers of contrast:
  • You can be contrasting expectations people have before they even start listening. What is common for the genre you are writing in? If you do something that is not common for that genre, that will introduce a conflict between listener's expectations and that new thing. An element of surprise. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how fitting is that new element.
  • Contrast music in time: What has changed in your song from part A to part B, from one measure to the next and even from one note to the next. No contrast between these means there is repetition, which can be bad for attention (not always!).
  • Contrast between the elements at a single point in time. There should be a sufficient contrast between an element in focus and other things. The main element is communicating your primary idea and if there isn't enough contrast between it and other things, the message will not be clear. You will loose listener's attention, if he/she doesn't understand the point you are trying to get across.
  • And many more (soft/loud dynamics, low/high register, timbre, texture...)

From the examples above we see that the function of contrast is either to gain clarity or to introduce change.

One thing to keep in mind is that contrast that introduces change will get listener's attention only for a short amount of time. It is the interest that holds the attention. This is where it gets highly subjective, but there is one thing that we all have in common. In order to find something interesting we must understand it. For example, a melody can't be memorable, if too complex to remember. In a way, you're teaching the person listening. That is why the theme is usually in the simplest form when first introduced, with each additional variation getting more complex. So, repetition is a tool that helps us understand, but once we understand it, repetition doesn't hold our attention anymore. Of course, understanding something by itself will not make it automatically interesting. Think of it as a prerequisite. There also needs to be something new or some form of a conflict-resolution. The latter in music, I would say, is tension-release.

At least, that is how I view this subject.

One more thing. Music in your examples often doesn't cover the whole frequency range (partly due to sample libraries used and partly due to orchestration). People generally find it pleasing when music covers the whole frequency range, so it probably helps in holding attention. (Once, I read somewhere that there's a distinction between what we find interesting and what we find enjoyable.) Limiting frequency bandwidth can be useful tool for creating contrast, but in your examples I would try to extend the range a bit more (this may be just my personal taste).

These are a bit more generic tips/opinions, but I hope they are somewhat helpful.


Here's an example of what I'd do with the first one:

(Assuming you want to make it orchestral) And that'd be the basic/rushed version, following the constraints of the original pretty closely with some alterations/re-purposing and additions. Depends what you wanna do with it, that's just one take. You could simply add a harp and a flute, but you'd still have to shape it accordingly. And basically have a focal point and let everything else support. Way it is now everything is fighting without having something in particular to say. Even if the violin does or could, it's struggling. (You may run out of ideas, but it doesn't mean it's done or done well).

Even if you just keep the strings, you need to shape it more for it to hold its own (dynamics [it's flat], transitions/phrasing [unnatural], production [dry/uncolored], composition [for example, the melody seems to drag on just because you wanna hit a pre-determined transition, not because it naturally has to... Or, in other words, it feels uncontrolled, which doesn't exactly scream focused or polished]). But I struggle with this too. I think most people do. It comes with experience and study, no shortcuts I'm afraid. Also, it's one thing to do it for practice or for fun (perfectly fine) and another to present it commercially (so, even if you personally are content with it, it still has to meet the other person's expectations and compare to what's out there). Forget the graphics and the videos, find the essence first (those are fine too, but they need to complete the package of making the music more marketable, not replace it). Don't mean to sound offensive with that last one especially, but I'm telling it how I see it.

Quite a bit has been said already, this will probably speak for itself.