Sunday, February 10, 2013

Learn How to Make a Ringtone

This afternoon, I decided that I'd teach you how to make a ringtone. We're the in middle of a large snowstorm here in Canada, and learning how to make ringtones is fairly easy for anyone who is moderately comfortable with computers and technology.

A ringtone is basically just a simple audio file, which plays on your phone when you get a phone call or text or instant message. So instead of a standard ringing noise, your phone might play the first thirty seconds of the theme from Seinfeld. I personally like to find songs that start relatively quietly for the first few seconds, in case you can answer your phone quickly, before they ramp up to full volume. Smartphones can also be set so there are different ringtones for different events, ie. one song for a voice call, another for a text message, and so on. Depending on the phone, you can sometimes even set your phone to play a unique song when a specific individual calls you, so you know who is calling without having to look at the call display.

If you'd rather watch a video to describe everything in this post, I have one ready. It goes through all the technical steps in enough detail that you should be able to figure out how to make your own ringtones and put them onto your phone. But I'll also describe the process in more detail below. Anyway, here's the video:

The first ringtones came out in the mid-1990's, and became really popular in the mid-2000's. Purchased ringtone sales peaked in 2007, but that's probably because people realized that you don't necessarily have to buy a ringtone to put on your phone. You can probably do-it-yourself. But of course, voice telephone traffic has also been dropping in the past couple years, thanks to the widespread use of texting, instant messaging, video chat, and other recent technologies. The rapidly increasing use of voice-over-internet is also cutting into traditional voice calling, because people can make free voice calls on their phones over wireless connections, through tools such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, Google Voice, and Bobsled (although not all of these platforms are available for every mobile platform). For example, I use my phone every day, but in the past six weeks I believe that I've only gotten phone calls from two people. Anyway, regardless of the slight decrease in importance of ring-tones in the past few years, it's still fun to have them.

There are several different ways to make a ringtone, including:
1. Using custom software designed to make them.
2. If you have an iPhone, it's easy to make them in iTunes.
3. You can use audio software to edit an audio file, then attach the phone to your laptop, and drag and drop the new clip into your ringtone folder on the phone, then turn it on in your cell phone preferences.

I'm going to show you each of the above processes, as quickly as I can.

If you're using either of the first two methods to make a ringtone, a lot of the technical stuff is taken care of for you. But if you're doing it yourself, you should be aware of a couple key points. First, the ringtone should be less than 40 seconds long. Some phones now allow longer files, so this rule isn't hard and fast. But you should also think about this: for most people, voicemail will kick in eventually, if you don't answer the phone. So with a long audio file, such as a full-length song, a lot of the file will never be played anyway because the phone will go to voicemail. For instance, my blackberry currently goes to voicemail after 5 rings, which takes about twenty seconds. So if I'm making a ring-tone, I'll always make sure it's only 25-30 seconds long, so I'm not wasting too much of my storage space. Of course, the way cell phones are advancing, storage space for a ringtone is essentially a non-issue now anyway.

There are a lot of different phones on the market today, and there are also a lot of different file formats that these phones expect for ringtones. Before you do anything else, you should do a Google search on your cellphone brand and model and find out what your specific phone requires. On a positive note, as smartphones get better, they're starting to take a much broader range of file types than a few years ago. Some example formats which are currently popular are 3GP (which is a video format), MIDI (a format used frequently quite a few years ago but much less popular now), MMF, AMR, M4R, QCP, and of course, a range of the "mainstream" audio file types such as WAVE, AIFF, MP3, AAC, and FLAC.

In the last example that I show in the video, I'm assuming that you've got a smartphone that accepts generic audio files, since that is becoming more and more common as technology advances. I've been able to use "normal" CD-quality audio files on some phones, ie. with specs where the sample frequency is 44,100 Hz and 16-bit sample size, in two channel stereo. But if you find that your phone requires a file with lower specs, it is easy when saving your edited ringtone to adjust the settings for a lower sample frequency, a lower sample size, or a conversion from stereo to mono (often not a bad idea, since your phone doesn't have stereo speakers).

I won't bother getting into a detailed explanation of our first option, using custom software to create ringtones. The software is pretty self-explanatory, and it has the advantage of knowing what format is necessary for tons of cell phone models out there. But you may wonder which software package is best to use. Rather than recommend a specific software suite right now, which could be irrelevant a year from now, I'm going to suggest that you do the following: first, do a google search on "" and "ringtone software." Top Ten Reviews is a pretty useful site which gives reviews on a ton of different product categories. If you find their current page, you'll see ten common software packages that can be used to make ringtones, along with a breakdown of specs for each package, pros and cons, and ranking details. For instance, right now, the top rated package is the MAGIX Ringtone Maker software for $19.95. All of the packages that you'll see on this site are for purchase, ranging from about $10 to $30 dollars, although you can also find free software if you look around carefully. Mind you, some of the free software comes with malware or limitations, so check it out very carefully before you install, and watch the install dialogues to see if the program is trying to sneak any toolbars or other crap onto your system.

The second option, which is specifically for iPhone users, is to use iTunes. Now you have to be careful because iTunes has a built-in ringtone maker, but that costs a couple dollars to turn a song purchased from the iTune store into a ringtone that you can use. However, if you've got any songs in your iTunes library that were NOT purchased from the iTunes store, ie. songs that you've ripped off a CD that you bought, or songs that you've purchased from an online retailer like Amazon, Rhapsody, or Songster, there is another approach. Basically, here are the steps in point form:

1. Pick your song and have it up on the screen in iTunes. Again, remember that it must be a song that you imported, not an iTunes purchase.
2. Right-click on the song.
3. Go to "get info."
4. Go into "options."
5. Select a start and stop time. Remember, about thirty seconds total is probably optimal, and as you can see, you don't necessarily have to use the first thirty seconds of the song. You can pick a section from the middle of the song.
6. Right-click and "Create AAC Version," NOT the "create ringtone option."
7. A copy will now be made in iTunes which is the section of the song that you specified between the start and stop times above.
8. Drag and drop that new piece of audio out onto your desktop, so you can play with it.
9. Delete the copy that is still in iTunes.
10. Go back into the info/options for the full song that you were working with in steps one and two, and change the start and stop times back to the beginning and end of the song, so the next time you play it in iTunes, you hear the whole song.
11. Go out onto the audio file on the desktop and change the extension from M4A to M4R. You'll have to confirm that you want to change the file type. Incidentally, if you're working on a PC and you can't see the extension, you can fix that in Windows 8 by going into Windows Explorer (window key + "E") and then click on the desktop in the left side preview plane, then click on the "view" tab and then near the top right of all the options put a check mark into the box that says "file name extensions." In windows 7/Vista/XP, click on this link for instructions.
12. Add the file back to iTunes, and make sure your iPhone is attached and visible in iTunes.
13. Click on the icon for your iPhone, then go into Sync and go into ringtones, and sync your device with the appropriate ringtone selected (same as syncing audio files, just a different tab).
14. Go into your ringtones on your phone and tell the iPhone to use the ringtone you just added for whatever its intended purpose is.

For the final option, I did a video demonstration of how to create a ringtone manually, using free software from Audacity. Since I didn't have an audio file on the laptop to work with, I grabbed a song from YouTube. Of course, for the purposes of the video, I used one of my own songs that I hold the copyright to. Here are the basic steps that I demonstrated in the video:

[Skip directly to step 5 if you've already got an MP3 or other type of song ready on your computer].
1. I downloaded a program called "YouTube Grabber" from
2. I used the YouTube Grabber to rip this video:
3. Incidentally, I used that video not because it was the best possible song for a ringtone, but because I own the copyright. And I am hereby giving everyone reading this my complete written permission to rip and use and share that song for your own non-commercial purposes, if you want. And if you know any famous people who do placements of music in TV and film, do me a favor and play the song, and suggest that they contact me for licensing it for their commercial use. It would probably work better in certain film/TV situations than as a ringtone.
4. If you don't already have VLC Media Player on your computer, it's a free program. Download it and install it. Use it to extract an audio-only file from the video file that you just created with YouTube Grabber. If you want more info about how exactly to do that, go to the 40min 41sec mark of this video. FLAC is fine for the file type right now.
5. Open this new audio-only file in Audacity.
6. Trim the edges to the proper length. In other words, if you're not starting at the beginning of the song, cut out the parts at the beginning that you don't need. And once you've done that, cut everything after about the thirty second mark.
7. Optionally, you can apply an EQ to trim a bit of the low-end and high-end, because the phone doesn't have a great set of speakers anyway.
8. Go to effects and "Normalize" the audio to bring it up to full volume, in case it isn't already.
9. Convert the audio to Mono, if your phone doesn't accept stereo audio files for ringtones.
10. Save the new ringtone that you've just create.
11. Plug in your phone, drag and drop your ringtone into the appropriate folder on the phone, then go into the ringtones menu on your phone and set your new ringtone to be used in whichever alerts you want it.

Fairly simple, although for this set of steps, it probably would be easier to follow along with the video.

Ok, that's about all there is to it. There's not much point spend a couple dollars to buy a custom ringtone, if you own music of your own and you can create a ringtone yourself!

Here's a free download link for the "When I Grow Old" ringtone (right-click to download):

Here's a free download link for the "Global Underground" ringtone (right-click to download):

And here's a download link for my desktop wallpaper, if you like the photo. I took it in Mackenzie, British Columbia, Canada:

If you enjoyed this tutorial, and are interested in any aspects of Audio Recording and Editing, DJ'ing, or Music production, check out the Videos page on my DJ website at the following link, and share a link to anything that you enjoy there:

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