How to Design Sound Effects for Alexa Skills? – Interview with Firelight Audio

Vale Viola Firelight Audio working with her white dog on a sound design project focus

We interviewed Vale Viola from Firelight Audio, an Artist, Producer and Composer who works on a niche sound design project for Alexa, an Amazon virtual assistant technology. In this interview, Vale explains how she built her career in sound design and shares with us her experiences with creating sound effects for Alexa skills. 

Vale Viola has created music and sound effects for Alexa Skills such as Big Fart, Christmas Countdown & Santa, Animal Sounds as well as composing music for mobile games including Overcharged and Citizen: Rome.

Vale Viola Firelight Audio working on a sound design project
Vale Viola Firelight Audio working on a sound design project

Who is Firelight Audio?

Hi Vale! Congratulations on your new project with Alexa and Red Tear Games. Your projects sound incredibly fun! Can you tell us more about them?

Hey! Yes, of course. I work for two companies now with very different projects. 

The first one is Alexa, an Amazon virtual assistant technology where I work on music and audio with an Alexa Skills Developer called Hugo. On the website HUGO.FM, you can see there are several Alexa skills from Big Fart, to Santa and Christmas Countdown to Animal Sounds which are a lot of fun to work on along with some other games too. For these projects, we also do lots of songs! Do the zombie, a song we did for a Zombie Racing skill is one of my favourites! 

HUGO.FM – Zombie Racing Alexa Skill: Do The Zombie – Halloween Song

The second one is Red Tear Games, which is a company based in Argentina, where I lived for 5 years. I met Juan Manuel Guerrero who is the founder of Red Tear Games and he invited me to be part of the project. We are currently working on “Ophelia’s Chapter” which is a point and click fantasy and horror game. It is a lot of work but a lot of fun too!

As long as you’re having fun, that’s the most important thing! We’re curious to know a bit about your background – how did you get started in sound design?

I studied music production and music composition at Escuela de Música Contemporánea, a University in Argentina. At that time, I wanted to produce records, I was not thinking about doing games in the first place. 

Once I started music production, I got a job as an assistant in a studio called 0618 where I learned a lot about recording bands, especially local music genres like tango and folklore. That was a completely different world from the video game industry and sound design overall but it was an enriching experience as a sound professional. 

Vale Viola working in a studio called 0618
Vale Viola working in a studio called 0618

A friend of mine, Andres Kent is a game programmer, we have been friends for most of our lives. When we were kids he would always say that he wanted to do video games and I always wanted to do music. That’s what we ended up doing and some years ago, he called me and said: “Hey, I’m doing a game, I want you to do the music”. And I was like: “Awesome, I’ll do it”. It was a super small project, a mobile game called Overcharged, but it was a lot of fun. 

After that, other people liked what I did for Overcharged and they called me and said: “Hey, can you do music for my game too?”. It was like a small domino effect, I wasn’t expecting it at all! And after sharing my work on Facebook and on SoundCloud, Juanma asked me to join Red Tear Games and I’ve been working with them ever since. 

So, I started learning about how to do music and sound for games, as well as learning how the industry works. I did a game audio course in Argentina, and then another one here in Uruguay. There are not many places to study something so specific so I had to learn most of it by myself.

A couple of years after the release of Overcharged, I started looking for work online on Upwork. That’s where I met Hugo. In the beginning, I didn’t even know what Alexa was as it wasn’t very popular in South America yet, but it felt like the perfect thing to do to complement my game work. I’m working full time on interactive media now.

Women in Sound

You have built yourself an amazing portfolio and reputation – How do you find working in the audio industry from a woman’s perspective?

It’s true that women are a minority in both audio and games but we are seeing more and more women get involved in sound design. I’ve been lucky to be a part of a local network of women and trans people in audio called Red Multi Sonora. They’ve helped me to connect with other women in the industry and we are constantly working to showcase female work in all the different areas of audio, organising courses and workshops for those who want to learn about sound. 

I hope we can inspire other women to follow their dreams and become a part of the industry.

Firelight Audio working on sound design using Reformer Pro
Firelight Audio working on sound design using Reformer Pro

Read other articles about women in sound: Aline Bruijns, Emma Butt, Christa Giammattei, Vanessa Flores.

How did you come up with Firelight Audio? Very cool website by the way!

Thank you! It is called Firelight Audio because I don’t really like to use my personal name as a brand like many composers and others do. When my job started to take off a bit and bring attention, I was like: “I’m a person and my name is just who I am so I need another name and a brand in some way that is like a portfolio where you can find all my work”. I loved the general concept of light in the dark, so that’s where it comes from!

Firelight Audio Logo in Black and White
Firelight Audio Logo in Black and White

It worked well for me to focus on a super-specific area of audio and find the niche that is now my area of work. In Argentina and Uruguay, it’s normal to find audio professionals working in lots of different areas – most people know how to produce, record, mix, master as well as do live sound. When I started doing music for games, I became the go-to person for the people around me in this niche. I think it would have been way more difficult to try to start a career in the industry in many areas at the same time.

The good thing is it makes it easier to focus and learn about something specific, the bad thing is the only way to achieve it, is to say no to many jobs that aren’t related to what you want to do. If I had said yes to everything, I would be doing a lot of random stuff instead of focusing on games and Alexa sound effects!

Designing sound effects for Alexa Skills – Mr Farts’ Secret

Let’s talk about Alexa. What is the difference between designing sound for Alexa skills and a more generic sound design?

The main thing that needs to be taken into consideration when doing Alexa sound effects is that most of the content is mp3 with a sample rate of 22.050Hz and a bit rate of 48kbps. So essentially the mp3 conversion done for Alexa erases everything above 11K from the sound and downgrades the quality considerably. If you do something that has a lot of top-end, once you convert it, you lose it all. 

For instance, when I created a track for the first time for it, I had a trap-like hi-hat. But once I converted to the final quality, the hi-hat was almost completely lost.

It was complicated when we did a lot of the Christmas content, you can have a lot of glitter and chimes and things that sound like beautiful sparkles in the high-quality version but when you convert it all those elements that make the sound effect sound magical are mainly lost. 

It’s quite a challenge to do something that sounds good in such a compressed quality.

“Alexa, open Santa Claus” – Santa Playlist on Spotify

Yeah, it’s interesting. That’s something that probably most people wouldn’t even realise. I’m presuming that the Mr Farts project didn’t have that issue. They all sit within the frequency! *laughs*

Yeah farts fit perfectly in the frequency range we have available! *laughs*

A trick I use is sometimes I have an equaliser in the master cutting everything above 11khz to listen to how the material would sound after the conversion.

Twitter post experimenting bubble farts with Reformer Pro for Mr Farts Alexa Skill

We saw on Twitter that you’ve been using Reformer Pro to create those realistic farts. How did you come across it?

I have a colleague here that works in game audio and during a barbecue, he told us he bought the Everything Bundle and that he was super happy about it. I’ve been using Simple Monsters before and that made me think that I should try other plugins too. 

I’m definitely using Reformer Pro for future projects. I’m building my own library with it. I think the Fruit Squash Pro library that comes in is also super useful with farts!

Firelight Audio

When doing some new content for Mr. Farts, we needed bubble farts. So, I started to do farts and bubbles and tried to put it together and it didn’t work *laugh*. But then I thought: “This sounds like a Reformer Pro go-to thing”. 

So, I tried the demo and it worked very well! I started by creating a bubbles library inside Reformer Pro and processing farts through it using the dry/wet knob at 50% and then I created a farts library and processed bubbles through it. By that time I was having so much fun I decided to do the video and upload it to Twitter. It really worked well together so I ended up buying it!

It was like the exact solution that you were looking for. It’s so interesting to see that you found our product like that. We are happy that it helped you!

Yeah, it’s fun because this is the first time I have shown, or even talked about how Mr. Farts content is made. Ever since the Big Fart skill came out and then the songs came on YouTube, people have been asking me how I do it. And I’ve been saying since the beginning what happens behind the scenes, stays behind the scenes *laugh*.

“Alexa, open Big Fart” – Mr Farts Playlist on Spotify

It feels like being a child with a set of tools and sounds to play with until you have something that is fun. When you do this kind of content, if you’re not having fun, it’s not going to work.

Firelight Audio

Any techniques you would like to share?

For me, sound design is all about experimentation. Tools such as Reformer Pro help me to experiment and just play while working. It feels like being a child with a set of tools and sounds to play with until you have something that is fun. When you do this kind of content, if you’re not having fun, it’s not going to work. You should play all the time and laugh at what you’re doing and always be willing to try new things. 

The key with plugins like Reformer Pro is that they allow you to experiment until you find what works.

Vale Viola aka Firelight Audio working on Alexa Skill sound design using Reformer Pro
Vale Viola aka Firelight Audio working on Alexa Skill sound design using Reformer Pro

The way Reformer Pro allows you to create different sounds by having the dry/wet knob at 50% is great. I always want the source that I’m using, plus the sound that Reformer Pro is giving me. it undoubtedly makes everything faster.

Could you tell us about your future projects that you’re working on at the moment?

I hope to continue working in this area as you never really know what the future will bring, but I hope we can continue to do some fun skills with HUGO.FM and lots of songs. 

With Red Tear Games we will release the demo of our first game “Ophelia’s Chapter” and then we’ll try to get the funding for the rest of the game. So, that’s an exciting project for this year!

The game is very fun to make, but the people behind it are even better. I love the team we are working with. 

We wish you the best and can’t wait to see more about Firelight Audio! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today, Vale!

Thank you, guys. Thank you for inviting me. It’s been great chatting with you!

Next Week, Vale Viola will share some tips to start a career in video game sound design as well as sharing some of her work. Do not miss this article which will help you build a network!

For More on Vale Viola’s Work: 

Discover all her work on her official website: Firelight Audio

Listen to her music: Vale Viola’s SoundCloud

Follow her work on Twitter: Vale Viola Twitter

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