Monday Sep 07, 2009

Creating an iPhone Custom Ringtone



As a long time Palm user, the transition to the iPhone had more than it's share of difficulties. Thanks to some software updates (cut and paste) and VirtualBox, assimilation is complete and I have become a big fan of the little device. With that as a background, let's explore creating custom ringtones from items in your music library. And contrary to what iTunes tells you, it is possible to create custom ringtones from any DRM-free content in your music library - not just the items you purchased from the iTunes store.

1. Choosing the proper ringtone

Everybody in your contact list deserves their own distinctive ringtone - or at least the ones that actually call you. One word of warning though: make sure you choose an appropriate audio source and consider what happens if they accidently dial your phone while standing next to you.

True story: My first custom ringtone was for my spouse of 26 (and counting) years. We don't really have an "our song" so I opted for something instantly recognizable. In 5 notes or less. Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water is too obvious and pedestrian. What's the next best riff ? Think Ronnie Montrose.

As I am creating the ringtone, a buddy at work notices what I am doing and taps me on the shoulder. "Dude, are you like wanting to make her mad ? Are you nuts - do you only want to live with half of your stuff ?"

I guess my quizzical expression indicated that I needed further explanation.

"Frankenstein. Dude, you chose Frankenstein. ..... Frankenstein ???? Get it ?"

"Oh. OH!!!! I get it"

While Ronnie Montrose's opening riff from Edgar Winter's Frankenstein is one of the most recognizable in the rock catalog, it is clearly an inappropriate ringtone for a loved one. My bride has a great sense of humor, but I doubt that it would extend to this.

Please learn from my near fatal mistake - choose a good ringtone. In my example I will use Brainstorm from Hawkwind's third album, Doremi Fasol Latido. Another great opening riff. And no, I will not use this for my spouse, daughter, boss or any other person real or fictional.

2. Edit the source for your ringtone

A ringtone needs to be a short AAC encoded audio file. It should be at least 10 seconds in length and no longer than 30 seconds. If you are a computer wizard this is not a difficult task. Then again, if you are you wouldn't be reading this howto. Fortunately for the rest of us, iTunes can do this quite nicely.

After listening to Brainstorm, I have decided to use the first 25 seconds for my ringtone.

Right click the song you want to use for your ringtone - Brainstorm in this example.

Select Get Info and then click the Options tab.

Fill in the start and stop times in the boxes as I have on the left.

Note: The start and stop times do not have to be in whole seconds. Play with these numbers a bit of you want to cut out something like a voice or drum beat. A few tenths of a second can make a big difference.

Click OK and you will have an edited sound source that we will use to make our new ringtone.
Click image to enlarge 

Create an AAC encoded audio file



Right click your edited song and look for "Create AAC Version". If it is there skip over the next few steps.

If you see Create MP3 Version instead, don't panic. A lot of the other howtos that I found skipped this - and it's not exactly obvious what to do next.

The Create setting is based on your CD Import settings. The iTunes default is AAC which is correct for creating ringtones. It is also less than desirable if you want to get the most out of your iPod listening. Or (gasp) if you want to listen to your audio files with anything other than (another gasp) iTunes.

If you see Create MP3 Version as on the left all you need to do is change your CD Import preferences. Click Edit -> Preferences and while on the General tab click Import Settings.
Click image to enlarge 


Take note of your current settings. You will want to change them back when you are done.

Select AAC Encoder in the Import Using: drop box.

Since the internal speaker in the iPhone isn't exactly high fidelity, the encoding rate isn't important. Click OK and we are ready to make the audio file that will eventually become our ringtone.
Click image to enlarge 

Create an AAC encoded audio file - this time we mean it





Now, right click your edited audio souce and select Create AAC Version. You should see iTunes start the encoder and in a few seconds you will have another copy of your song. The length of the ringtone will be shown in the Time column.

Important: Before you forget, and you will - trust me, go back to the original song and clear out the start and stop times. Unless you really like listening to your ringtone in your iPod.

Select the original song, right click for the song menu, select Get Info, click the Options tab and uncheck Start Time and Stop Time.
Click image to enlarge 

What's in a name - quite a lot actually

The next step is to copy the new audio file to your Desktop where we will rename it. Click and drag the copy of the song you just created to your desktop. This should create a new icon, which is really a file in your Desktop directory. The filetype is .m4a which associates it with an iTunes song (audio file). What we need to do is rename it to something with a filetype of .m4r.

Before you forget, delete the audio file you created from your iTunes library. It is of no further use.

Now open up a command window. Click Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Command Prompt or Start -> Run Program and enter cmd. Either way works.

In the command shell, change your directory down one level to Desktop and rename the audio file from a .m4a to .m4r The icon on your desktop should immediately change from an audio to ring.
Click image to enlarge 


If it is not clear from the above screenshot, the command shell dialog went something like this. My commands are in bold
Microsoft Windows XP [Version 5.1.2600]
(C) Copyright 1985-2001 Microsoft Corp.

C:\\Documents and Settings\\bob>cd Desktop

C:\\Documents and Settings\\bob\\Desktop>dir
 Volume in drive C has no label.
 Volume Serial Number is 2CBE-1F9C

 Directory of C:\\Documents and Settings\\bob\\Desktop

09/06/2009  02:07 PM    <DIR>        .
09/06/2009  02:07 PM    <DIR>        ..
09/06/2009  02:02 PM              1,072,142  01 Brainstorm.m4a
               1 File(s)           1,072,142 bytes
               2 Dir(s)       10,997,751,040 free

C:\\Documents and Settings\\bob\\Desktop>ren "01 Brainstorm.m4a" "Brainstorm.m4r"
C:\\Documents and Settings\\bob\\Desktop>exit

Copy your new ringtone into iTunes



Drag your newly renamed ringtone into iTunes. You should now see it in the Ringtones part of your library.

If you have set up your iTunes to copy all files into your library (which should be the default), you can delete the icon from your Desktop.

Click image to enlarge 
This procedure should work with any non-DRM audio file in your iTunes music library. Now everyone in your contact list can have their own custom ringtone.
About

Bob Netherton is a Principal Sales Consultant for the North American Commercial Hardware group, specializing in Solaris, Virtualization and Engineered Systems. Bob is also a contributing author of Solaris 10 Virtualization Essentials.

This blog will contain information about all three, but primarily focused on topics for Solaris system administrators.

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