Most sound designers probably won’t get very excited when they’re asked to create a metronome sound. No sticking microphones onto fancy cars to record their roaring engines, no impressive out-of-this-world explosions. But I guarantee you, that metronome sound will reach the listeners ears many times more than those sound effects! After I started selling minimalist ringtones over 1.5 year ago, I started focusing my sound design on simplicity and effectiveness. From that perspective, creating the perfect metronome sound for the newly released app DrumTime offers a nice challenge.
DrumTime is a Mac App created by Siemen and Felix of badRabbit, a small startup located in Amsterdam. It connects to MIDI enabled percussion devices (electronic drum kits, drum modules), analyzes a drummer’s input and gives visual cues about the timing. The metronome is flexible - it can be set to every beat, or less if the drummer is getting more confident and needs less guidance.
The design of a metronome sound to be used with drums only comes with a few requirements to keep in mind:
- There should be the least interference with the sound of the drums as possible. The sound should not get masked by whatever the drummer is playing;
- This means a broad spectrum has to be present in the sound - a drum kit covers a large part of the sonic spectrum and its sounds contain a fair amount of noise;
- That said, the sound should still be pleasant to listen to during an extended practice session. So it’s all about finding the right balance between loud, clear and present on one hand and subtle and pleasant on the other;
- There should also be a clearly distinguishable tone in the sound, so the first beat can be indicated with a higher pitch. This might not sound like a problem, but while focusing on the other requirements it is easy to forget about the tonal aspect of it.
With this in mind I started working on some examples which could be tested in the app. After a pre-selection three sounds were chosen, of which finally one proved to work best during ‘field trials’ with drummers. I received feedback like “good frequency spread but muffled, it lacks tone. Hurts a bit when played loudly”, or “during the sound the glass tone sweeps down a bit, it sounds wacky to us”. After some more testing it was the wacky one which got revised and made it to the app. You can get an impression of it in the introductory video below, and you can read more about the app on the DrumTime website.