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How to Customize Your Phone with MP3 Ringtones

Michael Kwan
MP3 Cellphone Ringtones

MP3 ringtones have largely become the norm when it comes to most modern cell phones, but that doesn't mean that you are restricted solely to the ringtones that come pre-installed on your device. You can easily express yourself with a customized ringtone instead.

Customized Ringtones

When MP3 ringtones first hit the scene only a select number of handsets were compatible with them. As support for these ringtones grew, so did the market for companies that sold custom ringtones. Many in the music industry heralded ringtones as a way to improve waning sales.

While these services and online stores certainly still exist, there is an increasing movement toward custom ringtones that consumers can create themselves. These ringtones can be snippets of actual songs, sound effects, excerpts from TV shows or movies, or just about any other sound imaginable. People use Santa ringtones for Christmas, scary ones for Halloween, and popular songs throughout the year. Generally speaking, if you have access to the internal memory on your cell phone or smartphone, there's a good chance that your device supports custom MP3 ringtones. Check with your manufacturer or carrier of choice to confirm.

However, the exact method for getting custom ringtones on your phone will vary by platform. Two of the most popular types of phones today are the Apple iPhone and Google Android devices like those from HTC and Samsung.

Custom MP3 Ringtones for Android Smartphones

Realistically, you can use any of the MP3 files in your existing music library as a ringtone on your Android smartphone, but it may be better to create a shorter 30-second snippet instead, especially if you plan on having multiple ringtones saved on your phone.

  1. Find and download the source MP3 file that you would like to use. If you already have a song in mind and you have it on your computer, you are ready for the next step.
  2. Cut the MP3 file down to the 30-second segment you'd like to use as your ringtone.
    1. If you are using a Mac, your computer should already come pre-installed with GarageBand. This is one of the easiest ways to snip your MP3 file.
    2. If you are using a Windows computer, a popular free program is called Audacity. Open the chosen MP3 file in this program, highlight the section you'd like, then go to the file menu and choose "Export Selection as MP3."
  3. Plug your Android phone into your computer using the provided USB cable. Choose USB mass storage if a window pops up asking what you would like to do. Alternatively, you can use other methods like sending the file to yourself via e-mail or using Bluetooth.
  4. Navigate through your phone's memory the same way you would an external hard drive. Create a "Ringtones" folder if one does not already exist.
  5. Copy your exported ringtone MP3 file into this folder.
  6. Eject your phone from your computer.
  7. Open the Settings menu on your Android phone.
  8. Choose "Sound."
  9. Choose the "Device ringtone" option and find the ringtone file that you saved.

iPhone Ringtones

Much like Google Android, the easiest way to create a custom ringtone for an iPhone on a Mac is to use GarageBand. The difference is that there is an option available in GarageBand to create the ringtone snippet and send it directly to iTunes. Once it is there, you can sync your iPhone to iTunes and the new ringtone should be available in your list of ringtones on your phone. The process is a little more involved if you have a Windows PC, since the iPhone doesn't technically use MP3 ringtones. It accepts M4A/M4R format instead, which is Apple's proprietary extension for iPhone ringtones.

  1. It is possible to create to create custom ringtones from directly within iTunes. First, find the music file in your iTunes library that you would like to snip into a ringtone file.
  2. Right-click on the song and select "Get Info."
  3. In the resulting pop-up window, go to the Options tab.
  4. Set the Start Time and Stop Time, remembering that your ringtone can be no longer than 40 seconds. The checkboxes next to Start Time and Stop Time should be ticked. Click OK.
  5. Back in the main iTunes window, choose Advanced from the menu bar, ensuring that your selected file is still highlighted.
  6. Click on Create AAC version.
  7. The shortened version will appear in the iTunes library beneath the source file. Drag and drop the new file onto your desktop.
  8. Go back to the original file and uncheck the Start Time and Stop Time tickboxes in the Options tab.
  9. Change the extension name on the new ringtone file, which should now be on your desktop, from .m4a to .m4r.
  10. If you cannot do step #9, go to the Control Panel on your computer, choose Appearance and Personalization, and then select Folder Options. Under the "View" tab, uncheck the box to "hide extensions for known file types."
  11. Back in iTunes, delete the custom version of your ringtone file from your iTunes library.
  12. Drag and drop your new .m4r file from the desktop into the "Library" sub-heading in the left sidebar of iTunes.
  13. The new ringtone should now appear in the Ringtones sub-heading of the iTunes library.
  14. Connect your iPhone to your computer and sync with iTunes, ensuring that the ringtones are also set to sync. Then, eject your iPhone.
  15. On your iPhone, go to Settings, then Sounds, then Ringtones. From there, you'll be able to see your new MP3 ringtones in the list of available sounds.

Things to Keep in Mind

MP3 ringtones can be a nice alternative to that tinny version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy that came with your phone. It is best, though, to keep a few things in mind when doing your ringtone shopping.


Because the music industry hitched their wagon to the ringtone star, the prices for ringtones went up and up, and for that, the industry is now experiencing a backlash. It is possible to find reasonably priced MP3 ringtones out there. When you are looking into pricing, remember you are paying for about a 20 second clip of music and that probably shouldn't cost more than the entire song downloaded from some other site. That is why it is oftentimes better to use one of the methods above to create your own custom MP3 ringtones instead.

Shady Characters

When something appears as often in a pop-up ad as ringtones do, it is a fair bet that there are some people out there praying on other people's naiveté. This is a problem - you sign up for a free ringtone and suddenly, you have a lifetime subscription to a service that is billing you $20 a month, sending you a barrage of unwanted text messages and for which you have no idea of how to unsubscribe. Before you sign up for any service, even a free trial, make sure there is a customer service center, an unsubscribe procedure, that they will not be selling your number to marketers, and that there are no hidden fees. And of course, before you give your credit card number out, make sure the site is secure and the people legit. This is another reason why creating your own ringtones is safer and generally more desirable.

A Digital Way to Personalize Your Phone

There are many ways to customize your cell phone that will help you stand out from the crowd. You can use a fun cell phone case, for example, but having custom MP3 ringtones is perhaps one of the best ways to make sure your phone is different from everyone else's. If you use a unique or unusual track as your ringtone, you'll always know immediately when it's your phone that's ringing.

How to Customize Your Phone with MP3 Ringtones