For app developers, especially those making game apps, sound and music resources are the kind of thing you don’t think about ahead of time. And good sound and music artists are much harder to come by; while it’s conceivable that a game app hacker can crank out some simple sprites in MS-Paint as placeholders, even seasoned veterans have no idea how to start with sound files.
So this will be an overview of available sound and music resources, assuming the modest budget and needs of your average small game app. Some parts of this will be easy, and other parts will have a learning curve. Pick your level and dive in!
Level 1: Getting sounds from somebody else.
Hey, the easiest solution: let somebody else do it! We don’t have to tell you that you can hire sound effects and music artists on services like UpWork or Fiverr. So if that’s not an option (or you need placeholders until other details are finalized), there’s free resources:
Wikimedia Commons – This is a collection of Creative Commons licensed sound in all forms, from sound effects to music. Don’t expect miracles here, but if you just have very simple audio needs such as a barking dog or clanking machinery or explosions, Wikimedia Commons has you covered. The music archive is extensive, but kind of hodge-podge – probably your most likely hit is a harpsichord tune for your Medieval-themed setting. There’s far better music sources out there.
Incompetech – Royalty-free music. You’re gonna like this guy: He composes simple instrumental pieces specifically aimed for video games or YouTube atmosphere, and all you have to do is shoot him a CC credit. Dozens of catchy, unique tunes for any occasion! Celtic music for your dungeon-crawler. Humorous piano pieces for your maddening puzzle quest. Chilling horror audio textures for your survival slasher. A great collection with many uses, some with individual tracks for remixing.
Freesound – A vast library of free sound under various licenses. This is another good source for simple audio effects and snippets. For instance, the dramatic section has theatrical music stings and punctuation. The background sound section has ambient effects for anything from a woodsy forest to a bustling downtown city. There’s bubbling water, cawing crows, blowing wind, and all kinds of mundane effects.
FreeMusicArchive – Again, Creative Commons licensed music along with some other licenses, this one a huge collection of music arranged into neat genres. There’s dozens of pages of music here from all over the world and every describable genre. Best of all, they provide contact info for the artist if they’re not licensing under commercial purposes, so you can negotiate a license fee – usually pretty reasonable.
Level 2: Creating your own simple sound effects and music tunes.
Don’t panic, some of these are easier than they look.
BFXR – For simple, old-school arcade-style sound effects, this is unbeatable. It’s based on an old open source noise engine called SFXR. You don’t have to know anything about sound engineering; just play with the buttons and stop when you have your beep, boom, ping, or ding. Then export it as a .wav file and it’s all yours. Fun and addictive – use headphones so you don’t drive your coworkers crazy.
JamStudio – This funky little commercial online app is a mixer and composer for simple chord-based music. Load up a pre-con from the “favorite artists” section and play it, then pause it and try swapping instruments and chords around. It’s surprisingly easy to throw together a decent tune with this. The basic set-up is free to use, and you can save the files you create. You can pay for an all-access membership to gain access to the whole workshop. This is one of the best options for people who know nothing about music, but just want a simple jam to loop in the background of a game app.
OnlineSequencer – OK, this is finally where you have to know something about music. However, with just a little knowledge, this is a very usable sequencer with a large host of instruments and drag-and-drop note placement. Files can be saved into MIDI format. There’s no “idiot-proofing” here, so your output is up to your musical talent. But it makes a great go-to for when you just need to tweak out a MIDI tune and don’t want to (or can’t) install the whole studio on your laptop.
Level 3: Desktop sound engineering.
For the dedicated multi-hat developer! From here on out, these tools are for those who know what they’re doing or don’t mind learning. Many new-comers to digital sound editing aren’t prepared for the steep learning curve. It turns out audio engineering is complicated stuff – you’ve seen those recording studio consoles with the galaxy of buttons and knobs and seating for four? It turns out that’s not just for show, you actually have to know what all the buttons do.
Audacity – Audacity has been the standard for FOSS desktop sound engineering for years. While it doesn’t make much noise by itself, it is ideal for importing sound files and editing them in multi-track layout with hundreds of tweaks for every effect. If you own an instrument and know how to play it, or if you’re keen to be your own Foley engineer for sound effects, you can easily record on your phone and import the tracks for editing and mixing. Audacity may look intimidating at first, but it scales very well into a professional-grade program. Why not download some of those free sounds and tracks from the section back there, load them up, and experiment?
Obligatory rant: Get a Mac! If you’re serious about professional desktop studio quality and nothing else on this list worked out, you’re probably ready to spend some money and you might as well spend top dollar. When it comes to professional-grade audio engineering, even the FOSS penguins have to admit that iOS / OSX environments have this market locked up.
However, if you’re very dedicated and very strapped for cash, there are open source equivalents. Here’s some possible leads for desktop music production. Be advised, though, that almost nothing in the open-source world of music sequencing is easy to set up and learn. For more in-depth set-ups, you’ll need synth libraries, a sequencer, a recorder, and a file saver, and then you’ll need to install mountains of proprietary codecs. Then spend a week wiring them all together. Oh, and most Linux desktops are married to PulseAudio right now, whereas most Linux audio sequencers are living in JackAudio. Good luck getting those two to live in peace together on one computer! The present author did it once, but it required many blood sacrifices and Gregorian chants, and the machine caught fire soon afterwards.
LMMS – This is the closest you come to an all-in-one desktop sequencing studio. It comes with a sound library, keyboard, playback, beat generator, and lots of controls and tweaks.
SEQ24 – This one’s far more complicated. It’s also one of the programs where you have to use it together with a whole bunch of parts, such as Hydrogen drum machine or a Timidty synthesizer. In fact, the aforementioned SFXR can even plug into Seq24. There’s a whole little universe of these toys waiting to be discovered for the intrepid sound explorer. That’s the benefit of modular synth systems; by this time, you can wire a recording of your cat through a sequencer and a wa-wa pedal plus a USB keyboard and make it sing. It’s for the true mad scientist experimenter!
As you can see, there’s a whole array of options for every level of commitment. We’re mostly aiming this article at app developers who just need the occasional audio file, though, not the accomplished sound engineer or musician. However, if you want to get that serious, the tools are there!