Zings, Zaps, and Zoodles!

You’ve heard them: those brief, intriguing “blasts” of a short, dynamic tone — or “flurry” as I’ve been known to call them — when you dial into the main number of a telephone system or even when you dial a company. It’s almost a “tone” or “glimmer” which lets you know — especially if their sound is distinct to them — that you’ve reached the right place.

Possibly the most recognizable one today is the staccato piano tone which emits when you reach T-Mobile (and it’s even the ringtone when messages and texts roll in via T-Mobile) — its a distinctive sound which has actually become part of their brand. Lance Massey composed it, and likely had no idea how huge it was going to be. Of course, on the broadcast side, NBC’s 3-note flourish is a classic; the MacIntosh startup tone, THX’s “Deep Note”, and the ever-recognizable “Intel Inside” musical jingle flourish (composed by Walter Werzowa) is firmly entrenched in our conciousness.

I decided a while back that it would be an interesting add-on to mix “flurries” into the telephone prompts I record; I set about looking for them on existing sound effects CD’s I already had in my library and found — in amongst the plethora of intergalaxy outer-space zings and zaps which were readily available — there was a dearth (and not Vader) of the right-sounding effects which would mix well with telephone prompts. I then decided to mine some of my favorite sites where I find on-hold music: www.musicbakery.com and www.soundrangers.com — and posed the challenge to their customer service reps, using descriptors like “logos”, “flurries”, “zaps”, “stingers” (carefully avoiding terms like “telephone sounds” which will give you all the ringtones, dialpad sounds, and out of service tones you could ever want; and wanting to avoid long, broadcast-y sounding flurries which might play as someone lurches onstage to accept an award, or which might sound like a radio program intro — it was key that they were short, attention-getting, fresh, and modern sounding.

This one (supplied by Sound Rangers) has long been a favorite of mine, and I’ve used it often:

Sound Rangers Flurry Example 1

…they even work well capping off the end of a prompt:

Sound Rangers Flurry Example 2

However, these favorite “zings” and others soon became over-used, and it became clear to me that I had to keep looking. I was getting bored with them; I can only imagine that my regulars were, too. They’re just not all that readily available — and actually very hard to find.

Enter Craig’s List. My first foray onto Craig’s List involved me sending out a request to composers who would like to try their hand at designing short “signature logo” sounds for me to use with my client’s files. Only one reply came — and it was the best possible reply I could have gotten.

John Kasiewicz

John Kasiewicz, a composer based just outside of New York City, replied, indicating his interest in giving this a try. Having designed musical scores for films and TV, I knew he had chops — whether or not he was interested in such a wierd-ball project — which was such a departure from what he usually does — was another thing altogether.

Luckily, he took on the project, and with very little guidance or direction, managed to compose several fresh new flurries which I use each and every day.

When I asked him what intrigued him about doing this project, he emphasised that timing was everything. “Around the time you approached me I was thinking a lot about composing miniatures in a variety of musical forms,” explains Kasiewicz. “”Probably similar to the desire some people have for building a boat in a bottle, composing telephony sound effects seemed like a great fit for my current musical aspirations.”

Composing for the limited aspects of telephony sounds posed an interesting challenge for John, — not even in the just file specifications, but in the tonality: “Finding the appropriate timbre for IVR systems, especially reminding myself that the delivery system for these ‘stingers’ is typically a lo-fi telephone handset speaker, helped limit my work environment.”

The fact that commercial jingles or stingers are so prevalent in our consciousness (and particularly in our adolescence) helped John think in truncated, brief terms required for telephony flurries: “I think we could all sing at least a dozen famous audio logos or jingles off the top of our head, right? I used to sing them on the bus ride to school growing up and I still sing while cooking a meal or mowing the lawn,” muses Kasiewicz.

I could definitely identify — my mother said I literally drove her nuts from singing all the jingles to every product I recognized during each grocery shopping trip we took. This was actually a tip-off that my eyesight was bad from an early age; commercials were the only TV I could watch.

Before embarking on the project, I described to John what I needed in the form of “zingers”, and gave samples of what I prefer and what I want to get away from — and then backed away. I needed to hand over the creative control, much like my favorite clients do to me. I needed to know if that style of hands-off project management worked for him. Turns out it did: “I was thankful that you left so much unsaid and allowed me to create with few boundaries.” It’s not unusual for Kasiewicz to work on a film score in which the director has already roughed-in pre-existing music, and, as he explains: “It’s always tricky business to create something new that is so closely tied to something already so well known.”

With his tags being used on IVR’s I’ve recorded for KitchenAid, Sony Technical Support, Electrolux and Whirlpool, John’s sounds are reaching a whole different audience — some of whom have enquired about “buying” the sounds from me (they’re not for sale) or if a sound can be made exclusively “theirs” (I steer them towards Mr. Kasiewicz for direct negotiations on that one.) John Kasiewicz’s website can be accessed at: http://seejohnplay.com/

Here are some samples using John Kasiewicz’s original “logo” sounds:

Kasiewicz Flurry Example 1

Kasiewicz Flurry Example 2

“Flurries”, “Zings” “Zaps” or “Zoodles” are short bursts of sound which I mix into my sound files gratis — no additional charge, just kind of a fun extra I throw in, which goes over famously almost every time (I think an online parole payment system was resistant to a cute, perky sound greeting their callers) — it generates lots of repeat business, with many clients actually saying: “Oh! And throw in that little…..sound effect…like last time.”

Next blog, I’ll be discussing the odd and sometimes unpredictable uses for voice-over — we appear in the places you’d least expect!

(Editor’s note: I have decided to change the interval of blogs from weekly to every two weeks, effective immediately. I want to keep the content rich, exciting, and always of interest to my readership. Blogging weekly for nearly two years is tapping me out a bit, so I hope you’ll stick with me while the interval between articles is longer — but the content still maintains its quality! Thanks for your flexibility!)

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.



  1. John Todd Said:

    Worthless trivia of the moment:

    1) The NBC flurry is actually a sequence of the notes “G-E-C” which coincidentally can stand for General Electric Company, which has been an owner of NBC since 1986 (though I think the chimes pre-date that time.)

    2) The Apple “power-on” chime was composed by Jim Reekes, who also made many of the other sound effects for Apple during his tenure there. Some of the flurry/sound effects have good stories…


    • voicegal Said:

      As always, JT, your comments are a joy to read. I had no idea about the “GEC” coincidence with NBC’s flourish. According the the Wikipedia entry on sound branding, “the Macintosh startup sound was created to avoid negative connotations for when an Apple Mcintosh crashed”. I’m dying to know who made the big “swoop” sound when Skype starts up. It sounds like a sock caught in Satan’s vacuum…

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