Making your own iPhone Ringtones in iTunes for free

On June 27, 2010, in Apple, iPhone, by John Giaconia

Ever wondered about making your own ringtones in iTunes, but didn’t want to re-buy a song you already own just to convert it to a ringtone?

Personally, I’m a huge fan of iTunes.  It was literally the first Apple product I ever used and liked.  The first time I used it was when I was working for the geeksquad and a client wanted to burn MIDI files to a CD.  I discovered that iTunes could do it, so we downloaded it, played around with it, and I was hooked.  Eventually I got an iPod and that was enough momentum to bring me over to the light side.

So, here’s what to do to take an MP3 and convert it into an iPhone ringtone with iTunes.  (You can also create free ringtones with other programs that ship with OSX, like Garage band, but since that doesn’t exist on Windows, I’m going to stick with iTunes.) Here’s what the properties looks like for a finished ringtone (note that file sizes and quality will be different for different versions of iTunes, since now iTunes handles quaility automatically for Apple Lossless Files.)

Step 1. If you don’t already have a playlist to use for chopping up mp3’s create a new playlist. I call mine “Chop” and that’s about the only thing I use it for. From the file menu, select New Playlist.

A playlist named ‘untitled playlist’ will be added to your collection, and automatically will be selected for rename so you can just begin typing and then give it a name.  This playlist will be where to dump songs that you want to convert into a ringtone.

Step 2. Drag and drop the song file you want to convert from your music collection into your new playlist.  Then click on the Playlist to see only the songs in the playlist.

Step 3. Make sure you are looking at your chop playlist.  You’ll need to listen to the song a couple times to narrow down the 30 second chunk that you want.  Once you figure out where in the song you want the ringtone to start, take note of the minutes and seconds into the song you you are.  Once you know how far into your song the good part begins, we need to tell iTunes that’s where it should start playing this song.  Let’s call this your ‘start time.’ So, we need to change the properties for this file.  Right click on your song and select “Get Info”

Step 4. This should only change how the song plays when played inside of this playlist.  Inside the properties window, go to the Options tab. On this tab you’ll see Start and Stop times.  Check the boxes next to both and put the minutes and seconds of the ‘start time’ we got in step 3.  Then, add 30 seconds to your start time, and that’ll give you your stop time.  Click OK and now that you’re back looking at your playlist in iTunes double click the song to play it again.  Chances are your guess wasn’t exact and you’ll need to add or subtract tenths or hundredths of a second from your estimated start time.

…after testing different starting times, I’ve ended up with 1:52.85 as the perfect start time for this song. This will only change how the song plays when played inside of this playlist.

Step 5. You’ve just done the hardest part and now you’re almost there.  You need to tell iTunes to convert this song to the ringtone format.  Go into Preferences for iTunes.  On OSX this is under the iTunes menu item, in Windows I think it is inside the File menu.  Make sure you are in the “General” Tab (it’s the first tab on the left) and click the “Import Settings…” button.

…and choose the Apple Lossless Encoder.  This will encode songs as .m4a files which are identical to .m4r files in every way that matters.  Then hit OK.

Step 6. Right click on your file again, but this time choose “Create Apple Lossless Version.”

It should take about a second and then it will make the typical happy sound it makes after it finishes ripping a CD.  Now go back to your full music collection and find the 30 secondversion of your file.  It will be right below the full length one.  Note it won’t show up in the chop playlist because you haven’t added this version of the song to your playlist yet.  Once you find it, right click on it and in OSX select “Show in Finder”  (I think in windows it should say “Show in Explorer.”)  Now that you’re staring at the file on your filesystem rather than the song in iTunes, go ahead and rename the extension to m4r (be sure you are doing it to the version you just created not the full version of the song.)  It will probably warn you about changing the extension and tell it to go ahead and change the extension.  Keep the finder/explorer window open so you can return to the .m4r file in a second but switch back to iTunes and delete the 30 second version of the song.  When it asks if you want to delete the file too, or just remove it from iTunes, tell it to just remove it from iTunes. You don’t want to trash the file you just made. Now, return to your .m4r fle in finder/explorer and double click it.  It should immediately begin playing and be added to your Ringtones section in iTunes.

It should also now show up in your list of Ringtones to Sync once your iPhone is connected.

Sync your iPhone with iTunes and it should now be available as a ringtone! Don’t forget to go back to the original file and uncheck the start and end times.

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