I've touched on focus before in the sense that i've written about how to write music consistently. But what I want to talk about today is focus in the sense of the focus your ideas have. I remember reading a post on Resound's blog a little while back where he stressed that you shouldn't have any elements in your track that aren't necessary.
While I certainly agreed with him at the time, I don't think I fully appreciated this and it's only now that have really come to understand what he meant. At the time I thought I knew exactly what he was talking about, and that was the number of elements in the track at any given point. You see, human perception is such that we only notice eight or so elements in a track at any given point, more than this gives a track a cluttered feel.
However, you also unconsciously group these elements, so that you might notice:
(1) Kick & Snare
(3) High Hats
(5) Chords / Pad / Ambience
(6) Stab / Oneshot
(7) Bass Edits
(8) Stab / Oneshot
(9) Atmospheric Effects
In the above example once we've transitioned to the verse, we no longer notice all the separate parts of the drums, rather we subconsciously group these together and our focus turns to other elements within the track. Rather obviously, the adding and subtracting of these elements will increase or decrease energy in said track.
Now while these changes are certainly important, there's more to just focusing on these. Yes it is possible to overcomplicate your track with vast numbers of edits of various elements and the removal or introduction of sounds continuously to generate change, and this is something to be wary of. But you'll find that this is much less of a problem if the ideas themselves and the sounds you've chosen to introduce / remove are relatively simple.
Ask yourself, are you generating bass lines that are overly complicated, involving far to many notes and far too much pitch shifting? Do your leads involve key changes plus chords plus more, or are they maybe spread over several octaves? Are you creating other melodies that are long meandering strings of notes? What purpose does this serve?
Nine times out of ten it's much better to focus on simple ideas, something more straightforward and to the point. Simple, but effective. An effective idea being something that serves it's purpose and nothing more. Perhaps it has a raw energy to it, or provides a nice texture or builds tension. Complexity can then be derived from the combination of many simple ideas together and the interplay between them. This will create a complex vibe, or groove for example. A call and response maybe. This way the overall piece of music is complex enough, but the listener can attach themselves to any number of simple elements which drive the track at different points in time.
In short, look to the forest and not at the trees. Or to put it another way, less is more.
Thanks to my girlfriend Sandra for making me realise this. I often derided other people for trying to do the same thing with modulation or effects, but never realised I was doing it in my own way through overcomplicating a melody before I was happy with it.