Creating custom sounds for iPhone and Android mobile appsLeave a Comment
With the new server monitoring mobile apps for iPhone and Android, we decided to fulfil one of the most common requests we had with our old apps – custom alert sounds. This is important because you want to ensure that you notice alerts coming in from your server and website monitoring alerts, and distinguish them from other push notifications on your phone.
Both iPhone and Android allow you to specify custom sounds for push notifications so we hired a sound designer and composer to create some custom sounds just for our apps. The brief was to create a range of custom sounds for alerts – to be able to wake people up but still sound nice i.e a broad scope to leave the creativity up to the expert.
We also asked them to document the process…enter Chris Rowan, the composer we worked with on this project:
I’m Chris Rowan, freelance sound designer and composer. My specialties lie in creating original sounds for different types of media. For Server Density I developed alert sounds for the purpose of alerting customers when a server is malfunctioning. When creating the sounds for the app, my goal was to create a range of audible alerts that would contrast the usual tones and jingles associated with most apps. These contrasting alerts give an interesting range, helping users distinguish between Server Density and everyday mobile alerts. Three techniques where used making the server density application alert:
- The manipulation of recorded sounds from natural sources
Below is an analysis of three alternate sounds using the alternate techniques described above.
When using audio editing software, alert sounds can be developed through midi instruments. This is achieved through the manipulation of the instrument’s tone and body through modulation and alteration of the instrument’s parameters, such as flange or chorus.
One of the sounds that utilised this technique is the manori stab (named after the MIDI instrument used).
The original manori stab has a cascading element that I liked and thought would work well as an alert, but the length was too short and the attack to quick. To achieve the desired sound, pitch shifting and time stretching was required. These tools lowered the tone of the sound and also elongated it.
Time Stretching can be extremely destructive so it is always best to use it sparingly. However, pitch shifting is a non destructive technique that can effectively heighten or lower the pitch of the sound. Pitch shifting is a better option and will use less memory to generate.
To create a truly original sound, digital synthesis gives you the means. Most sound editing software will have some sort of synth tool but for the sound ‘Delays on Delays’ I used an analogue synth.
I chose to do this because having a physical medium to create can give you more accurate results making experimenting a lot faster and easier. The ‘Nord Rack X2′ Synth was used to create ‘Delays’, starting with a pure tone (Sine Wave), adjusting parameters and altering the attack, sustain, release and decay.
Synthesis can be used to create extremely complex sounds from the ground up and is used to make a lot of mobile device ringtones and alerts.
Manipulation of recordings
To contrast the synth heavy sounds described perviously, I recorded a range of natural sounds from wooden knocks to glass squeaks. After collecting the materials needed, I began recording a collection of sounds that would then be mixed, cut, and EQ’ed into desirable tones. I also utilised reverb to give the sounds more tail and body.
For the sound ‘Glass tones – Toned Down’ I recorded the sound of a finger running over the rim of a half full wine glass. This creates a looping tone that oscillates.
Once the sound was moved into Logic Pro, cutting was achieved using the sample editor. EQ, modulation and pitch shifting were used to alter the tone and make the sound brighter. Reverb was added to give a smooth tail and bigger body.
When manipulating recordings it is important to apply effects gradually as plugins such as distortion and modulation will amplify unwanted artefacts previously unheard.
The final choice
The entire process created 14 sounds, most of which we have included in the app so the user can choose their favourite. Based on feedback we’ll see if we need any more created. After an internal vote we decided to make “space ring” the default, as a nice mixture of a futuristic sci-fi and alert tone.
To see more of my work please check out my YouTube channel and LinkedIn.
… and we’re back!
So thanks to Chris Rowan for his fantastic work on our alert sounds and for documenting it for us to enjoy. If you’re interested in getting your hands on our new iPhone app, then it is available over here (If you haven’t got an account with us you’ll need to signup for your free trial)!