Tutorial: iPhone Ringtones Revisited

By Damon Brown

June 05, 2008

A step-by-step guide to creating ringtones for your iPhone.

Last September we did a column on the new iPhone ringtones - or, namely, the lack there of. Licensing problems with the five major music groups made only eight percent of the Apple Music Store available as a ringtone. As you may remember, out of 14.3 days worth of music, I had 14 songs I could turn into a ringtone. Therefore, we focused on a "backdoor" way to turn your music into a ringtone (which Apple blocked in iTunes update 7.4.1.2) and virtually ignored the Apple sanctioned way - simply because you probably didn't have a song that qualified.

Now there are many, many more songs that qualify as ringtones - nearly 100 songs in my collection are available. (Side note: I proudly ring Menahan Street Band's jazzy "Make the Road By Walking," as opposed to the generic tubular bells default plaguing iPhones since last June.) This is an excellent time to look at the ringtone creation process. It is as easy or as involved as you'd like it to be.

The first step is making sure your favorite iTunes Store purchased song is available in ringtone form. Unfortunately, songs transferred from CD or another medium cannot be turned into ringtones - only music bought from Apple through the iTunes Store. (Music bought through your iPhone, under the "iTunes" icon, also qualifies.)

Open up your iTunes. Look for the bell symbol among the music column headings that include "Name," "Time," and so on. Click on the bell and the music will be organized by which songs are ringtone compatible. The qualifying songs will be at the top of the list.

Now, what if you don't have any ringtone-compatible songs? Click on iTunes Store, search for your favorite music and look for the bell symbol. (It should be in the sixth column, between "Album" and "Price".) The iTunes Store front page occasionally has recommended ringtones, but digging through the albums is usually the only way to find available ringtones among your favorite tunes. Once you find something you like, click on "Buy Song" as you normally would any other purchase.

The second step is to actually make the ringtone. This is done right in iTunes. Exit the store, click on your Music Library, and then, as explained above, find a ringtone-compatible song. Double click on the bell symbol next to the song. iTunes will then pull up a ringtone editor on the bottom.

The editor lets you take any snippet of the song and turn it into your ringtone. First, find where in the song you want your ringtone to start. The blue area shows the ringtone's beginning and end. Move the cursor over the left side of the area, hold down the mouse button and skirt it along the sound wave. (You may need to push along the end of the blue area, on the right side, to scoot the ringtone snippet further into the song.) The sliding bar below the blue area moves you quickly to another part of the song.

Press the Preview button, immediately below the sound wave, to listen to the ringtone. There are several details you can adjust. At the top of the blue area are two available options, fade in and fade out, which will do just that when the ringtone begins or ends. At the bottom of the blue area is the ringtone length in seconds. The default is 15 seconds, but ringtones can be as long as 30 seconds. Note that, when someone calls, the default iTunes ring is less than 30 seconds, so you may never get a chance to hear the whole ringtone anyway!

Below the sound wave is information on the original music track, Looping options, the previously mentioned Preview button and Cancel or Buy buttons along with the price. Looping lets you choose how much of a pause, if any, your iPhone should take before playing the ringtone again. (The choices range from 0.5 seconds to 5 seconds.) It is only important if you are creating a short ringtone - say, something under ten seconds - otherwise, the ringtone probably isn't going to loop at all.

Finally, after you are completely satisfied with the ringtone, press the Buy button. All the ringtones we've seen so far go for $.99, but it wouldn't be surprising if some hot tracks end up costing more (and, hopefully, old, less popular tracks eventually end up costing less). Important: Once ring tones are bought, they cannot be modified in any way. Be sure the ringtone is something you'd be happy hearing day in and day out since, all things told, it's costing you $1.98 (half for initial purchase, half for the ringtone cost). If you decide to buy it, iTunes will process the ringtone and stick it under the Ringtones heading - located under Radio in the Library column on the left-hand side. (Click screens for larger view.)

Now you're ready to use the ringtone. Plug in the iPhone to the computer, click on the iPhone icon in iTunes, and then press the Ringtones tab at the top of the screen (between Info and Music). Check the Sync ringtones box and select All ringtones or, if you like, click Selected ringtones and check the specific ringtone you want. Press the Sync button in the lower righthand corner to transfer it to the iPhone.

As with other ringtones, go on the iPhone and press Settings, then Sounds, and then Ringtone. Choose your new ringtone as the default or, if you like, as a ringtone for specific people. You can have as many ringtones as you like, but remember that created ringtones are multi-megabyte snippets of music, so they will begin to take up memory.

Article courtesy of PDAStreet.com.

Damon Brown wrote the "Pocket Idiot's Guide to the iPhone" (Alpha/Penguin Books). Available on August 7, you can preorder it at Amazon or your favorite online bookstore. Damon also writes for Playboy, SPIN and The New York Post.

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