How to create both free and paid custom iPhone ringtones
The ringtone you choose to use for your iPhone can be a very personal choice for many. Some like to hear a favorite song every time their phone rings while others prefer more traditional ring sounds. Whatever your preference is, know that you’re not limited to the 25 ringtones that are on the iPhone out of the box – you can add many more and even set a specific ringtone for each contact in your Contacts list so that you know who’s calling without even needing to look at your iPhone. There are a number of ways to get custom ringtones. Some are easy yet expensive while others are a bit more complicated and cheap or even free. We’re going to cover a few options along this spectrum. First, we’ll start out with the easiest yet most expensive way: buying prepared ringtones through iTunes.
Updated: February 18th, 2015
Buying ringtones through iTunes on your iPhone
The most straightforward way to purchase a prepared ringtone through iTunes and get it onto your iPhone to use right away is to buy one through the iTunes app right on your iPhone. First, you’ll need to find the ringtones section. Open the iTunes Store and tap on the Genres option on the top left.
Select ‘Tones’ and you’ll see the Ringtones storefront.
Once you find a ringtone you like (you can preview a ringtone by tapping on it once), you tap on the price tag on the right to buy it. Ringtones retail for $1.29.
Next, you’ll see a pop-up menu asking if you want to set the ringtone as your default ringtone or assign it to a specific contact – choosing to make it your default ringtone is the quickest option and next you’ll be asked to enter your iTunes account password. The ringtone will automatically download. After this, the purchased ringtone will be in the Settings/Sound menu under a new Purchased category at the top.
Like we said, this is the fastest and easiest method to get a ringtone onto your phone, especially if you’re away from your computer. On the negative side, you have a limited selection of ringtones from which to choose (there are few “normal” sounding ringtones) and you just paid $1.29 for the ringtone and the convenience of buying it and getting to use it right away.
A quick heads up in case you set up your ringtone purchased with this method as your default ringtone – the next time you sync your iPhone with your computer, the new ringtone will be moved to the Custom Ringtones category on your iPhone so it may look like it’s disappeared and you’ll probably need to re-select it as your default ringtone again after syncing.
Buying ringtones through iTunes on your computer
Buying a ringtone through iTunes on your computer offers a bit more choice and customization, though it will cost you a bit more money since you first need to buy the song or sound you want to use as a ringtone, and then you’ll need to pay again to trim it and convert it to a ringtone file that can be synced to your iPhone. Yes, that’s 2 steps and you pay twice – up to $1.29 for the song itself and then another $.99 to convert it to a ringtone. This is definitely not a good option for the budget-minded. However, this method offers you more customizability than purchasing a ringtone using the iTunes app on your iPhone since you can choose which section of the song is used.
Since this method only works with songs you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store and only certain songs can be used to create ringtones, you’ll first need to identify which songs are eligible for conversion. To do this, you will first need to enable the ringtone indicator – a small icon of a bell – in your iTunes library. To do this, go to the View menu and choose View Options and check the box next to Ringtone.
You’ll then see the ringtone indicator symbol next to songs that can be used as ringtones in your iTunes library.
Clicking on that icon for a specific song will bring up a ringtone creation tool at the bottom of the iTunes window that looks like this:
The highlighted section in blue can be moved around to choose what section of the song you’d like to use the ringtone and it automatically limits the length of the ringtone to a maximum of 30 seconds. Note that the default length of the ringtone when the tool first appears is 15 seconds, so you’ll need to expand the blue section by dragging the lower right hand corner to the right to extend the section length to anywhere up 30 seconds based on how long you want it to be.
There are settings to choose the length of the gap for the ringtone and preview it so you can hear how it sounds. Clicking Buy will complete the purchase and the new ringtone file will automatically be moved to the Ringtone section of your iTunes library and will be transferred to your iPhone the next time you sync.
Creating ringtones using iTunes and Finder/Windows Explorer for free
If you’re willing to invest a little more time in creating your ringtones in order to get them for free, there’s a way to do it without any 3rd party software using just iTunes on your Mac or PC and the built-in file management system of your computer’s operating system. First, you’ll need to start with a song that has no DRM protection, listen to it and pick a 30-second or less section of the song to use, and follow these instructions:
1. After you’ve identified which 30-second (or less) part of your selected song you’d like to use as a ringtone, right-click on the song in iTunes to bring up the contextual menu and choose Get Info.
2. Go to the Options tab and enter the Start Time and Stop Time based on the portion of the song you want to use as a ringtone.
3. Click OK after entering the Start Time and Stop time.
4. Right click to go to the Get Info contextual menu for that song again and choose “Create AAC version” this time. A duplicate of your song will be created, but it will only be of the portion you selected in Step 2.
5. Delete the newly-created file in iTunes by pressing the delete key or choosing Delete in the contextual menu after right-clicking on it. In the resulting warning message, be sure to choose “Keep File.”
6. Find the file on your hard drive. Mac users will need to start in the Home folder with the following path: /Users/your-user-name-here/Music/iTunes and Windows users will need to look on the C: drive using this path: C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Music. The newly-created song file will be in a folder there named for the song’s artist.
7. Change the file extension from .m4a to .m4r by clicking twice slowly to highlight the file name (for Mac users) or right-clicking and choosing Rename in the contextual menu (for PC users). You may see a warning message pop up asking to confirm if you really want to make this change – choose OK or its equivalent to confirm the change.
8. Once the file extension has been changed, just double-click on it to open it and iTunes will automatically come to the front and place it in your Ringtones folder in your Music Library, and it will be transferred to your iPhone the next time you sync it.
3rd-party software for creating custom ringtones
There are many 3rd-party software options for both Mac and PC users to create ringtones that offer an easier process than the one just described above. Mac users can use iToner ($15 with a 30-day free trial). Both Mac and PC versions of Purple Ghost’s iRingtunes X ($15 with a trial period that allows the creation of 3 ringtones) or Xilisoft’s iPhone Ringtone Maker ($14.95 with trial period limiting ringtones created to 10 seconds in length) are also options. PC users also have a free option with iRinger (donations welcome).
Assigning a ringtone to a specific contact
If you like to use custom ringtones to know who’s calling you without even needing to look at your iPhone first, it’s very easy to assign a different ringtone to specific contacts. First, find the contact for which you want to designate a special ringtone. Tap on ‘Edit’ and then tap on the “ringtone” line.
This will bring you to a screen where you can choose from your entire list of available ringtones. Choose the one you want from this list – a check mark will appear next to the selected ringtone and it will play for you as well. Once you’ve made your choice, click on Done at the top right.
It’ll go back to the contact view and you’ll see your selected ringtone in the ringtone field. That’s it! Repeat as needed for each contact for which you want a specific ringtone.
How to create free custom ringtones using GarageBand
First things first. Scour your iTunes library for songs that would make good ringtones. We’ll leave that up to you to get creative with your selections. Drag them out of iTunes and onto your desktop. Don’t worry, they’ll remain in iTunes. These are merely copies, but we’ll put them there for easy access.
Open up GarageBand. At the prompt, select ‘New Project’ and name your ringtone. While not completely necessary, I like to delete the existing track. Click on the Track and then proceed to Track > Delete Track from the menus.
Next up, drag the song you’d like to use to create your ringtone and drop it at the front of the timeline.
- Click on the metronome to turn it off.
- Select the ‘Loop Region’ button and you’ll notice the yellow line at the top.
- Drag the yellow line left to right until you are happy with the length of your ringtone. Sometimes a good shorter riff will work great as ringtone.
- Press the Play button to preview your masterpiece. Make any adjustments until you are ready to rock.
- Go to Share > Send Ringtone to iTunes. GarageBand will now process and place your completed ringtone into iTunes under ‘Tones’.
That’s it. To use your newly created ringtone, connect your iPhone to your Mac. With the iPhone selected in iTunes, select the Tones tab. Make sure the Sync Tones is selected, with your choice of either All Tones or Selected Tones. If you choose ‘Selected Tones’, then make sure your newly created ringtone is checked and hit ‘Apply’.
Have fun with it and get creative! Being completely free, you can go crazy experimenting with what sounds good. What are some of your favorites? Crazy Train or do you prefer some Lady Gaga. Let me know in the comments.
How to create custom free iPhone ringtones using Garageband is part of our continuing series of iPhone How-To guides, tips and tricks. If you need iPhone help, please consider joining our iPhone forums. Membership is free and it’s easy to ask questions and find iPhone help.
Note: In this video and tutorial, we used GarageBand from iLife 11’. While some things might be slightly different, the overall process should work.