Sunday, October 27, 2013

If You Don't Answer, I'll Just Ring It Off the Wall

[Image credit: "Hanging on the Telephone" by Aitch]
It occurred to me that I have been devoting all of my recent blog bandwidth to opinionizin' and have neglected one of my core missions, to offer advice on maximizing the value of your weightless digital music library. So let's talk ringtones.

Just as custom Walk-Up music in Major League Baseball parks herald a particular player's plate or bullpen appearance, custom ringtones allow you to announce the arrival of a call from a specific contact with a unique sound effect. All modern phones come with a standard ringtone library; most will allow you to upload sound files to create new ones. And for-purchase ringtones based on hit songs is big business.

But you know all this. What you may not know is that you can harvest music from your legally-purchased weightless digital library to create unlimited free custom ringtones, without having to worry about copyright or ownership rights.

What makes a good ringtone?
  • It should be personalized, an artist or a song that reminds you of the caller.
  • It should have energy. The caller is important to you.
  • It should be an instrumental passage, preferably the introductory or bridge bars of the song sometimes called a vamp. Vocals just complicate editing.
My preference is for a ringtone to be short — 10-15 seconds — so that it repeats, like a conventional phone ringing. Thus a "good" ringtone is judged on how it sounds played in loop mode. To achieve seamless looping, there need to be compatible zero crossings (ascending or descending) at the beginning and end of the selected passage, so that there is no sound hiccup when it repeats. The editing process to extract a ringtone from a longer work is exactly the same as the steps taken to remove a scratch or pop, only you save what you extract instead of what you join. [Instructions here.] Finally, I like to choose the endpoint to be a transition where you as a listener expect the musical pattern to change but instead it loops back to the beginning.

Some examples I recently created (click links for sound):
  • My ringtone for my wife. We like Moby and Ellen likes the Bourne movies. (Let's not kid ourselves, she likes Matt Damon.) So a natural fit would be a passage from the Bourne theme, Extreme Ways.
  • Ellen's ringtone for me. No-brainer. David Byrne is one of my musical heroes, so we picked a passage from I Zimbra by Talking Heads.
  • My ringtone for my mother. No one knows Mom's musical tastes better than I, having made high-res digital transfers of all her cassettes to fill her iPod. But not a lot of her music meets the criteria above. I settled on the opening of Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary, as played by The Canadian Brass.
  • Ellen's ringtone for her father. Had to be jazz. Many choices, including "Harvard Blues" by Duke Ellington (Tony is an alum). But, in the end we settled on the iconic piano vamp from Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Be creative. Have fun.

            Physical-to-Digital Restoration #61            

Artist: Talking Heads
Title: Fear of Music
Genre: Alternative
Year: 1979

Fear of Music is the third studio album by Talking Heads. The album reached number 21 on the Billboard 200 in the United States and peaked at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart. Three songs were released as singles between 1979 and 1980: "Life During Wartime," "I Zimbra," and "Cities." I loved the original radio promo for the album, a robotic monotone voice repeating "The Talking Heads have a new album, it's called Fear of Music," over and over. It would be worth violating my "instrumental" rule to have this as a ringtone.

© 2013 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.