Ringtones: Who’s Calling?

Don’t you just love ringtones? Not really? Well, you should reconsider because ringtones are almost an essential part of having a cell phone. Ringtones are a phone’s way of telling you who is calling.

What Are Ringtones?

A ringtone can be a song or a sound, such as chimes, a car honking, animal sounds, an old fashioned phone ringing, a recording of someone’s voice or other melodic or silly sound. You can choose a default ringtone that rings for everyone and special ringtones for those extra important callers.

Ringtones generally don’t ring and they aren’t tones. It’s the sound a phone makes when someone calls or texts you. Almost all cell phones have the option of setting ringtones for individual callers. You don’t need a smartphone to set ringtones.

Why Should I Use Ringtones?

Ringtones alert you to when important calls are coming in. You probably have Caller ID on your cell phone so you can read who is calling. But ringtones have many advantages over Caller ID. Ringtones are:

  • Faster. No matter how quickly you read, a ringtone is a faster way of notifying you than Caller ID.
  • Less distracting. Keep your eyes where they are, your ears will tell you who is calling.
  • More versatile. You know who is calling even if your cell phone is in a different room.
  • Unique. You will know immediately if yours is the phone that is ringing.

Ringtones alert you to important callers. Waiting to hear about a job interview? Set a special ringtone so you have a few extra seconds to compose yourself before answering the phone. Want to make sure you don’t miss calls from your kids? Give them a special ringtone. Do you have a colleague at work who drives you crazy with unnecessary calls? A special ringtone for him will alert you to let the call go to voicemail.

Great, How Do I Get Ringtones?

Each cell phone comes with standard ringtones, you can generally find them in the Settings section of your phone. Listen to all of them to decide which ones work best for you and your contacts.

If you want to have fun, you can jazz up your phone with custom ringtones. How you get custom ringtones will depend on your phone. If you don’t have a smartphone, you may want to use a download service for a wide selection of ringtones. Here is an article that reviews the top 10 ringtone download services with advice on how to choose one: Ringtone Download Services Review.

You should also check out the Zedge website where you can download thousands of free ringtones, including the themes from Angry Birds and Looney Tunes!

If you have an Android phone, you should check out the Zedge app which is free in the Android Market. Zedge has hundreds of thousands of ringtones available for free. You’re sure to find the songs and sounds you want in the Zedge app.

If you have an iPhone, you can purchase ringtones from iTunes or make your own. Making your own ringtones requires several steps, but it might be worth it to have the custom ringtone you want. An advantage of creating your own ringtone is that you can start the ringtone from the middle of the song, you don’t have to start from the beginning of the song.

Creating Ringtones for the iPhone

The two ways I make ringtones are through instructions from a handy website and with an app. Both involve jumping through some hoops so do this if you have a few minutes and are feeling adventurous.

The first is a website that explains step by step how to make a ringtone from songs you have in iTunes: iPhone Ringtones: Create FREE iPhone ringtones using iTunes 8. The post is from 2008 but the instructions still work. I have used these instructions to make about a dozen different ringtones. For example, when I created the Papa Don’t Preach ringtone for my father, I wanted the ringtone to start with the word “Papa” instead of the long introduction to the song. Using the website instructions, I was able to create a ringtone that starts with “Papa” so I know immediately when my father is calling.

Dring App

The other method I use is an app called Dring. Dring is available in the iTunes App Store for $1.99. The apps allows you to select which part of the song to use as a ringtone.

Why did I buy an app when I could just use the instructions on the website for free? I created a Mad Men theme ringtone with the website instructions, but it wouldn’t appear on my iPhone for some unknown reason. The ringtone appeared in the Ringtone section of my iTunes, but it wouldn’t show up on my phone. When I used Dring, the ringtone worked perfectly. The app costs a little more than buying one ringtone from the iTunes Store, plus the app allows you to customize your ringtones, unlike purchasing a ringtone from iTunes or another website.

Ringtone Advice

1. Choose your ringtones wisely. Just because a song is your favorite doesn’t mean it will make a good ringtone. You want a song that will get your attention and that you won’t mind hearing over and over again.

2. Don’t go overboard. If you have too many ringtones for different people you won’t be able to keep track of which tones are for which callers.


3. Try to associate ringtones with the person they are matched with. For my oldest daughter, I use a song with her name in the title. For my father I use the Papa Don’t Preach ringtone I created (though I value his advice tremendously, the song gets my immediate attention). For my husband I use the Mad Men ringtone I created since it’s his favorite show. A friend of mine has a recording of her daughter saying, “Mom, pick up the phone!” You get the idea.

4. Don’t choose embarrassing ringtones. You never know when a ringtone will sound (we all forget to put our phones on silent sometimes) and you don’t want to be embarrassed. An EMT worker once had the Funeral March set as the ringtone for his ex-wife. He was on duty trying to resuscitate a heart attack victim when the patient’s wife asked if her husband was going to survive. Just then the EMT’s ex-wife called and the Funeral March started playing. Ouch.

Here is another example of a ringtone playing at the wrong time:

Don’t let these examples scare you off of ringtones. Used wisely, ringtones can be a useful tech tool!

Bottom Line

Use ringtones to alert you to important calls (or calls to be avoided). You can use the ringtones that come with your phone or get special ringtones that you buy or create. By using ringtones you will know immediately who is calling and whether you want to take the call.

Do you use ringtones to identify your callers? Have you ever been embarrassed by a ringtone? Let us know in the Comments section below!


* Image by Chris Messina

** Image by Richard Cornish

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  1. Kathy Do says

    I enjoy ringtones, but sometimes have I trouble getting the exact ringtone I want. For example, I decided to download a Christmas song as my ringtone during the holidays. I chose the Johnny Mathis version of Oh Holy Night. I found it on Sony Musicbox, previewed it to determine if I liked the portion of the song on the ringtone, and then I ordered it at a cost of about $3. I then discovered that my ringtone was a different section of the song than I heard on the preview, one I did not like nearly as much. But I had already ordered it, so it was too late to change it. On the same subject, I have always thought that the intro to the song Take on Me from Aha would make a great ringtone. But I’m looking for a specific part of the intro that starts about 16 seconds into the piece and lasts about 20 seconds. (I’m not being super-picky. Listen to it and you’ll understand!) So my question is, how do I download a specific portion of a song?

    • says

      Hi Kathy, Welcome back to The Wonder of Tech! You’re right, that can be so frustrating when you hear a sample of a ringtone, purchase it and then discover the sample doesn’t match the ringtone.

      Your question is the perfect illustration of why someone would want to create their own ringtones. If you have the Take Me On song on your computer and use an iPhone, you can check out the website I linked to. That will allow you to create a ringtone exactly the way you want to, from beginning to end.

      If you have another sort of phone, here is a link to a Google search listing other sites that walk you through how to create custom ringtones. Google search: Creating Ringtones. Here is a link to a YouTube search that lists videos explaining how to make ringtones for different phones: YouTube search: Creating Ringtones.

      Ringtone creation generally involves sliding two bars to mark where in the song you want the ringtone to begin and end. After you set the bars, you can hear a sample of what your ringtone will sound like. You can keep changing it until you get just the ringtone you want!

      I hope this helps. Let us know if you are successful. :-)

  2. says

    lolz!! Awesome post Carolyn! Is the EMT worker anecdote true? :D

    Here’s what I’ll be doing next:
    My smartphone>Android market>Zedge app>Install.

    Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Urooj, Welcome back to The Wonder of Tech! So nice to have you visit again.

      Yes, the EMT worker’s story is true. :-)

      I have an iPhone so I can’t get the Zedge app, but I just downloaded the Angry Birds theme ringtone from Zedge’s website. I think you’ll really enjoy Zedge!

      Thanks for your visit, comment and tweet!

  3. says

    I’m quite into technology – I did study electronics but cell phones have never really interested me. It was still an interesting blog though. My cell phone rang yesterday and again today by a strange coincidence. They are trying to sell me something; I like caller display. That is the 3rd time it’s rang in the 2 years I had had it! lol

    I have done a Neodigital Blog today; I wasn’t inspired to write and so used pictures!

    • says

      Hi Mike, Welcome back to The Wonder of Tech! I could see where you might not need ringtones if your phone only rings three times in two years, but I’m glad you enjoyed the post anyway.

      I really enjoyed your blog post today. Thanks for giving instructions on how you took each photo. For those who are interested, Mike’s blog post can be found here: NeoDigital Art.

      Thanks for your visit and your comment!

  4. says

    I’m kind of boring when it comes to ringtones. I have the standard ringtone on my iphone. And no matter who’s calling me, they get the same “boring” ringtone. The only reason why I need a new one is that everybody seems to be using the same ringtone as me, so when I’m among other people, I don’t know if it’s my phone ringing :)

    • says

      Hi Jens, Welcome back to The Wonder of Tech! You’re right, most people with iPhones use either the Marimba or Piano Riff ringtone. I’ve been at gatherings where one of those ringtones sounded and half the people had to check their phones!

      I think you’ll enjoy exploring all of the fun ringtones you can get! Thanks for your visit comment and tweet! :-)

  5. says

    Hi Carolyn,

    Its just awesome that you wrote on ringtones a topic that is very difficult to write upon.

    I remember I had a strong Beethoven tone for my wife’s call. People were put to attention whenever she used to call. Once she heard it and got it changed to normal tring tring ring tone . Hahhaha!!!!

    One of my company’s employee has a small child gigling ringtone which plays up at the most awkward moments :).

    I try to keep the ringtones as simple as possible because if I am in a meeting and the phone rings up with particular tone, I will be embarrassed as hell :).

    The variations that you talked about in the ringtones is very useful to instantly determine who is calling and getting prepared for the right response. But it is also correct to keep the variations at a minimum otherwise it will be difficult to keep track of . I loved your post.
    Best regards,Ashvini
    Ashvini recently published this awesome post..Rising suicides among school children because of pressure is worrisomeMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Ashvini, Welcome to The Wonder of Tech!

      You bring up a great point. Does a person have to like the ringtone you choose for them? You think they won’t know, but someday they might find out. They may not get to choose which ringtone you use for them, but your wife certainly exercised her veto power. I think people should have veto power over ringtone other people use for them, don’t you? But I think you may want a special ringtone when you know when she is calling, right?

      I completely agree about the embarrassing ringtones. A ringtone of a child laughing would be embarrassing in a meeting, even if it were your own child.

      Thanks so much Ashvini, for stopping by and for your excellent comment! :-)

      • says

        Hi Carolyn,

        Completely agree about letting people know about the ringtones associated with them.
        Sometimes though people are just a little bit naughty or childish and keep these tones to themselves. However the risk of exposure is still there.
        Now my wife is so busy , she does not call when she is in office . So I guess normal tone is fine :))) hehhe!!.

        I love this conversation and your blog.

        Best regards,
        Ashvini recently published this awesome post..Rising suicides among school children because of pressure is worrisomeMy Profile

        • says

          Hi Ashvini, I’m glad you enjoy this conversation, I do too! I think it’s a good idea not to have ringtones you wouldn’t want others to hear, kind of like the advice, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t mean to imply that your ringtone for your wife was unkind, but since she didn’t like it, you were wise to choose the default ringtone for her. Having the default ringtone works especially well because she doesn’t call you on her mobile phone.

          When I heard the story about the EMT, I thought that he was going to say that his ex-wife heard the ringtone and got upset with him, but his story was actually much worse!

  6. Samantha Bangayan says

    This is such a thorough post, Carolyn! Thank you! You gave such great examples and anecdotes to underline your points too. =)

    I’ve actually never even considered using different ringtones for different people, but I know that it’s possible with my phone. Great point that it’s much safer to depend on ringtones to identify the caller rather than caller ID, especially if you’re driving.

    My favorite tip is when you mentioned that your friend uses a recording of her daughter! What a great idea! =)

    Thanks for the stellar advice! I’ve +1-ed it and will tweet this as well! =)

    • says

      Hi Samantha, Welcome back to The Wonder of Tech! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s true nearly all mobile phones have ringtone choices, I haven’t seen a mobile phone that doesn’t have ringtone choices in about 15 years. I know a lot of readers don’t have smartphones, but this advice is for anyone with a mobile phone.

      Thanks so much, Samantha, for your visit, kind comment, +1 and tweet! :-)

  7. The Little Mermaid says

    Hi! This is a great post about ringtones! I do use custom ringtones for important people like my mom :), my dad and my friends but I rarely receive calls I mostly text. I found this really awesome website called Mosquito Ringtones where you can download free ringtones that have such high decibels that people over a certain age group can’t hear them! It’s great if you are in class and you don’t want your teacher to hear your cell phone going off! http://www.freemosquitoringtones.org/

    • says

      Welcome to The Wonder of Tech, Little Mermaid. That is an interesting site that’s a combination of ringtones and hearing test. But what good does the ringtone do if you can’t answer the phone? Just wondering…

      Thanks for your visit and your wonderful comment!