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How to Get Free Custom Ringtones on Your iPhone

written by: Michael Dougherty•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 8/31/2009

Learn how to make custom ringtones for your iPhone using popular software or with a completely free method that only requires iTunes. We'll show you how to take the music you already own and turn it into iPhone ringtones.

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    How to Make Ringtones for the iPhone

    When the iPhone first came out everyone was surprised that there wasn't a mechanism for installing custom ringtones. Well, thankfully that didn't last and it wasn't long before a software update added the ability for iTunes to save and sync ringtones to iPhones.

    Not surprisingly, Apple wants a piece of that lucrative ringtone market. The incredibly successful iTunes Music Store is a perfect venue for selling and distributing ringtones to iPhone users since iPhones already use iTunes as their synching software. And if you don't mind paying $2 (ok, technically $1.98) per ringtone, the iTunes Music Store is your easiest route to custom ringtones.

    But the iTunes Music Store isn't the only way to get custom ring tones onto your iPhone. For people who want to make ringtones from music they already own, or from music they have created themselves, or for people who may object to the fact that a 30-second snippet of a song costs twice as much as the entire song from the iTunes Music Store, there are other options.

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    Commercial iPhone Ringtone Programs

    It didn't take long at all for the Mac developer community to recognize this glaring need, and there are several good commercial products that will allow users to create custom ringtones from their existing music collection.

    My favorite program to do this is Fission from the good people at Rogue Amoeba. If you've been doing any kind of audio work on your Mac, you're familiar with Rogue's great line-up of Mac audio software. Their Audio Hi-Jack Pro has won many awards and is the "must-have" application for people who use their Macs to record things. Fission is a simple-to-use audio editing application that can create the 30 second snippets of songs you need to make ringtones with. Rogue Amoeba also provides a free helper app called MakeiPhoneRingtone, that will work in conjunction with Fission (or any audio editing program that can save files in the AAC format) to turn your 30 second AAC audio snippets into actual iPhone ringtones. Fission costs $32, but if you do any amount of audio editing, you'll find it a worthwhile investment.

    Another similar solution is available from Ambrosia Software, using a combination of their WireTap Studio audio editor and their iPhone ringtone program iToner. This is a more expensive solution at $69 for WireTap Studio and $15 for iToner, though WireTap Studio offers more functionality than Fission.

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    Make Your Own Custom Ringtones for Free with iTunes

    But for those who don't mind changing a few settings in iTunes and following a reasonably short and easy process, the ability to make custom ringtones from your existing music is currently built right into iTunes. That's right, although it's far from obvious how to accomplish this, the current version of iTunes (7.6.2 as of this writing) will allow you to save short snippets of your songs as AAC ringtone files that can be played on your iPhone.

    This works because the requirements for iPhone ringtones are really pretty straightforward. An iPhone ringtone just needs to be an audio file in AAC format that is no more than 30 seconds long and uses the file extension ".m4r". When a file like this is placed in iTunes, it gets automatically categorized as a Ringtone and will get added to your iPhone the next time a sync is performed.

    There's no guarantee that a future iPhone or iTunes software update won't disable this process in some way, but for now here's how users with iTunes 7.6.2 and iPhone 1.1.4 can create their own custom ringtones for free. (Thanks to Ed Zachary for first publishing this info). 

    1. Make sure your iTunes preferences are set to "Keep iTunes music folder organized" and "Copy files to iTunes music folder when adding to library" under the Advanced Preferences tab.

    2. Make sure your iTunes import format is set to AAC (you may have this set to MP3). Set this under the Importing section of the iTunes Advanced Preferences tab.

    3. Find a song in your collection that you'd like to make a ringtone from. This can be music that you ripped from your own CDs, bought from the iTunes Music Store, downloaded from the internet, or any other music that has made its way into your iTunes library.

    4. Ctrl-click on the song title in iTunes and select Get Info, then select the Options tab.

    5. Now we're going to make the snippet. If you want the first 30 seconds of the song, click on the "Start Time" box and leave "0:00" as the value. Then click on the "Stop Time" box and put "0:30" there. You don't need to start at the beginning of the song, you can use whatever values you want here to pick the timing of the snippet that you want (just make sure and keep the total time of the snippet to no more than 30 seconds).

    6. Click OK to close the Get Info dialog box and Ctrl-click on the song again in iTunes and this time select "Convert Selection to AAC". Once you do that you should get a second version of the song in your iTunes library that is just the 30 second snippet. It's a good idea to rename this file at this time to something that will make it easy to find in your iTunes library, I find it helpful to append the word "ringtone" onto the end of the song name. Now remove the snippet from your iTunes library (so we can re-import it as a ringtone) by Ctrl-clicking on it and selecting Delete, but making sure to choose Keep File and not Move to Trash in the following dialog box.

    7. Now quit iTunes and go to the Finder and locate the file, which should be in Home>Music>iTunes>iTunes Music, and rename the .m4a extension to .m4r. (Alternately you could use Rogue Amobea's free MakeiPhoneRingtone at this point and just drag the file onto their helper app).

    8. All we have to do now is import the newly named file into iTunes. Just double-click on the file or drag it into the iTunes Ringtones folder and launch iTunes and it should now show up in iTunes' Ringtone section. Plug in your iPhone, let it sync and your new Ringtone will be added to the choices on your iPhone.

    Once you're done making ringtones remember to go back and change your Import preference if you normally import your music as MP3s, and you'll also want to go back and change the original songs you used in your iTunes library back to their full length by unchecking that Stop box in the Options section of it's Advanced Preferences.

    It sounds like a lot of steps, but it really goes pretty quickly once you get the hang of it. It's fun to pick different sections of songs to use by setting the Start time appropriately. Whether you like the free DIY method or prefer to use one of the available helper applications, it's now easy to get custom ringtones on your iPhone.