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Monday, August 6, 2007

If you haven't come across any of the late night TV commercials, classified ads or countless Web sites offering mobile phone ringtones (the sound played when the little beasts ring), the chances are that your gadget-freak friend (or child) has.

Ringtone business is absolutely booming, although Australia has yet to reach the scale of say, Europe. ARC Group (a UK-based research company) estimates that ringtone royalties accounted for 10 per cent of the global music market in 2003.

That's all well and good, but the problem for us is that getting the latest ringtones can cost up to $5 each. Now, I'm open to expressing my individuality, music taste and style as much as the next person, but it's hard to justify such costs. More so when you consider that we can now legally download top-40 music from as little as 99c per song. That's the actual, full-length song, remember; not some tinny, bleepy approximation of it. With this in mind, here are some ways that your PC can help you add ringtones to your mobile phone, either for free or with inexpensive (and cost-saving) software.

Obviously, there's a vast amount of mobile phone makes and models out there and we can't cover them all in these two pages. Instead, this is a more generic overview that's for tasks you can either try now, or hopefully in the near future (see "The sound of things to come"). You'll also need to refer to your phone's manual (or Web site) for specific information on features and PC connectivity--be it via infrared, USB or serial cable, Bluetooth or even WI-FI.

Mobile phone brands often use proprietary ringtone formats. Your phone will at least support beepy monophonic tones or if it's a bit newer, offer richer polyphonic (multi-note) melodies.

Do it yourself

Many phones feature a built-in composer-type function. This allows you to make up your own ringtones or program a pop song-inspired monophonic ringtone by entering in keypress codes (values that your phone interprets as melody).

But how can your PC help with all this? Well, large listings of codes can be found on the Internet with a quick search of Google. Some Web sites also offer free polyphonic ringtones that get sent to you by Internet access on your phone, although these are not often available for us Aussies.

Another method to get ringtones is by downloading royalty-free (and tiny) MIDI music. Many popular songs have been put into MIDI's .mid format by enthusiasts. Most phones have PC software to convert .mid files into ringtones or even compose/score your own .mid files.

It's also possible to turn your favourite music (such as an MP3 of your own band or free music from sites like www.mp3.com.au) into ringtones too. It'll take a lot of tweaking to get results similar to other ringtones you'd pay for, but it's fun. And free.

Using Audacity

Open your MP3 file and select a 5-10sec portion (see FIGURE 1). Play around a bit, and maybe zoom in until you've got yourself a good loop. Also keep in mind that simple musical sections will give you better results than complex layers or vocal sections. Finish up by selecting File-Export Selection as WAV. (You'll find previous articles on using Audacity at www.pcworld.idg.com.au).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Using AmazingMIDI

To convert our .wav file into a MIDI file, click the folder next to Input File and choose the .wav file you just made before also defining your output file name/location. Now select Transcribe from the Transcribe menu. From the bottom left, select a basic MIDI instrument similar to the sound in your sample then click Start. You should now hear your newly MIDIfied WAV sample (see FIGURE 2). If you want to edit it further, you'll need to use a MIDI editing program such as Cubase SX, Cakewalk, FL Studio etc.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Now, connect your phone to your PC (check your manual for more information on how to do this). If you're using infrared and Windows XP, ensure that transfers are enabled within the Wireless Link section of Control Panel and that your phone has infrared enabled.

My phone is a Nokia, so I installed the free Nokia PC Suite (www.nokia. com) shown in FIGURE 3, but most companies have equivalent software. Specifically, I used the wizard in Nokia's Sound Converter program to convert my .mid file into a Nokia ringtone. You can even preview what it'll sound like matched to your phone's playback capabilities. With your phone connected to your PC, the program then gives you an option to send the file to your phone. Enable it and brag to your mates. Voila!

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

MOBILE DJ

Why just create ringtones within your phone when you can make music on the move? For instance, some Siemens mobiles include Steinberg Cubasis Mobile Synthesiser for composing melodies using variations of drum, bass, chord and melody tracks. Alternatively, some Sony Ericsson phones such as the new K700i include MusicDJ. Yes, you can create music and ringtones using samples downloaded from the company's site, but you can also send remixes back and forth with friends who own similarly-equipped phones. Imagine using Bluetooth or infrared to wirelessly send each other remixes while you're down the pub, without having to spend a single cent.

Sony Ericcson's MusicDJ: a great way to create and share your own ringtone compositions for free.

THE SOUND OF THINGS TO COME

Of course, some phones can also playback MP3s or record audio clips for use as ringtones. What we're going to see more of in Australia though, is pay-to-download True Tones (audio samples of Top 40 songs). These are booming offshore, but there's already software that enables even novice PC users to create their own True Tones. The cost-saving $US14.95 Xingtone (www.xingtone.com) or ToneThis (www.tonethis.com) both allow you to record a clip from your favourite MP3 or audio CD, trim and equalise it and have it sent to your phone via the Internet. Interestingly, Walt Disney's Hollywood Records partnered with Xingtone to promote pop artists like Hilary Duff, and some US labels even bundle a special version of Xingtone with albums. The catch? Neither service is available locally, but both Web sites have an international carrier beta test sign-up page.

DANNY ALLEN has been with PC World since 1999, and has both authored and contributed to several books during this time. A self-confessed insomniac, he produces electronic music into the wee hours, organises events and harbours a ruinous obsession with audio/visual gadgets.

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