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IOS 5 – How to Make Custom SMS Text, & Twitter Ringtones

Now that the iPad, iPad2 and iPod Touch have joined the iMessage family – and that Twitter has become a firm third party addition to the iOS5 family, there are suddenly a bunch more “ringtone” opportunities for text, mail, reminders, twitter, alerts, etc, etc … and while Apple gives you a bevy (more than 30 to pick from now), frankly, most are weak (or weird) and the other problem – if you live in an area where about 50% of the people also carry iPhones, you need a new sound so it’s not a Pavlovian self grope every time we hear that familiar tinkle-bleep. 🙂

There is ONE weird import anomaly that perhaps is just affecting me but maybe not – if you have your file converted to .m4r, just skip to the bottom to read about getting it into iTunes and hopefully, your ‘installs’ are smoother than mine.

Now the most expensive and easiest thing to do is buy ringtones from Apple through iTunes. BUT you have to pay “twice.” You must first buy the track, then highlight it in your iTunes playlist after it is finished downloading – then in iTunes, select STORE>MAKE RINGTONE. At the bottom of iTunes, you will see this menu, the song will load in the “loading” area. Then just drag the active bar around to select the portion of the song you want as a ringtone.

For the phone call ringtone itself, you will want something no more than 40 seconds* – anything between 25-35 seconds is about right. Then if you are satisfied, select BUY.

*Technically 40.04 seconds and NOT a millisecond more – LITERALLY. REALLY!

Yes, you will pay $.69-$1.29 AGAIN for the EXACT SAME SONG – only this time, you are ONLY buying 35-seconds of the song YOU JUST BOUGHT again but it is relatively straightforward and easy.

The other down side is there’s no real editing – you simply slide the timeline scrollbar to the portion of the song you want (from 1-second to 39-seconds). Some songs naturally have a nice 30-35 seconds bridge/chorus/intro that is perfect for a ringtone but some-many do not so keep that in mind – listen to your selection to make sure it’s exactly what you want. Listen to the beginning and end that it sounds ok and doesn’t start or end abruptly or not cleanly. You can toggle FADE IN & FADE OUT.

Now the new text-alert-alarm-reminder ringtone is an even worse deal because you HAVE TO BUY THE TRACK AGAIN ALSO. I’m presuming you don’t want the same phone ringtone for all your other audio functions of the phone but yes, you could pay as much as $1.29 for a 5-second clip. You have the music industry to thank.

Also keep in mind, the best “You have a new” TEXT TONE seems to be around 5-seconds but it’s entirely up to you. It can be as long as 39-seconds but frankly, unless you only get 1-text a day, it’s WAY TOO LONG.

But 5-seconds might be too short for an alert-calendar or other reminders so you might want to set those at a 10-seconds?

So, again, if you don’t mind spending money for buying a music track AND every 5-second or 10-second or 39-second tone you want, iTunes can be the simplest way. There’s no other software to think about and you it’s $5-$9 and done. (presuming you have to buy 3 tracks and 3 separate ringtones above & beyond that).

And if you randomly select a track in your playlist, you get this error message:


If you have a Mac, GarageBand is free if you know your way around the software, just drag any “unlocked” mp3 or iTunes AAC track into the editing window. Clip, save and EXPORT as RINGTONE. Garageband is not exactly simple to understand so unless you know your way around the software, the one advantage is it’s free if you want to fiddle around with it. You can save ALL the ringtones you want of any length of any song you have.


iMovie is also free with every Mac so like Garageband, it’s kludgy but it’s free and if you know your way around the software, you can easily import an audio track, clip it and export it as an audio file.


iTunes will actually let you export a portion of a track. Again, this works if you do not need to edit a track or fiddle with a FADE IN or FADE OUT. Highlight your track in iTunes, go to FILE>GET INFO and this window will pop up:

Select the OPTIONS tab and then select the START & STOP time. You of course have to listen to your track closely and note the start & stop times. Note that you can go to HUNDREDTHS of seconds so you might have to tweak it. Again, this is time consuming but it’s free and you have the software.

Then in PREFERENCES, make sure you have the conversion set to AAC …

Then go back to iTunes and select ADVANCED>CREATE AAC VERSION.

You will now have a 5-39 second audio clip in .mp4 format.

You are almost there. 🙂

You can now change the SUFFIX from .mp4 to .m4r manually and you should be set. If it’s not appearing on your iPhone after syncing or manually adding, try doing a hard reset of your iPhone by actually powering it down and then starting it back up.

For Mac users, you can download the free Make iPhone Ringtone courtesy of Rogue Amoeba.

Download the MAKEIPHONERINGTONE app. That is the direct link to the app – Rogue’s blog notes are here.

It could not be simpler to use, drag your MP4 files to the open window, it makes .M4R files which IOS devices recognize as “ringtones.”

If you want more precise audio editing software, Rogue Amoeba has FISSION for Mac users. There are freeware options, of course, chime in if you have a favorite.

Ultimately, you need an app that convert ALL the myriad of audio file formats to .M4R so your iPhone/iPad & iPod knows it’s a ringtone.

Here is the one oddity I ran into. I dragged the files to my iTunes library and all the files were placed in the RINGTONES library playlist. Perhaps it’s because my audio-video are not set to sync but manual. As you know, any RINGTONE you add is also added to the MAIN “MUSIC” playlist. The iPhone refused to accept the ringtones unless I dragged them NOT from the MAIN music playlist but from the RINGTONES library playlist to my device. So, maybe you are not having this problem but if you are – try from the RINGTONES library to your device versus from the (main) Music library playlist.

Again, keep in mind that for most people, it’s much more natural and probably less annoying if you keep most alert ringtones short – about 2-5 seconds, some you might stretch to 10-seconds but your iPhone will play the alert in its entirety so keep that in mind.

Good luck!


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18 October 2011 Apple, Design 13 Comments


  • jefferson5436 says:

    ISSUE: I followed all of these steps to create my own custom text tone through iTunes and I am still not hearing the custom tone when I receive messages. When I go to set the tone in my iPhone 3gs (Settings>Sounds>Text Tone) I see 2 categories of tones: alert tones and ringtones (it’s my understanding that both ringtones and alert tones have the same extension (.m4r)). My custom alert tones that I created following your steps DO APPEAR, but under ringtones. If I select a custom tone I created from within “Settings,” under the ringtones category, I can hear it play and see a check mark by it. But then whenever I receive texts I still only hear the tri-tone alert (even though there is not a check mark next to tri-tone). Note: all of the custom tones I created (8 tones in total) are between 3 and 10 seconds long, and the issue is the same if I were to check any one of them.

    What is going on and how can this be fixed so I can hear these custom tone when I actually receive texts? Thank you

    Spec notes: This is an iPhone 3gs and I just updated to iOS-5. Also, my longer custom RINGTONES are about 30 seconds long and those work fine when I receive incoming calls, I have just not been able to receive the custom text alerts.

    (MET; Hopefully it’s just a small OS anomaly – try doing a complete shut off and restart. Press down the power button until the SLIDE TO POWER OFF shows up – power off and then restart and take a look … and yes, all tones show up under “ringtones.”).

  • Piston Car Hunter says:

    I found that you can also just rename the AAC encoded (.m4a) file to .m4r, and reimport it into iTunes, in order to have it recognized as a Ringtone.

  • flarf says:

    Thanks everyone for an entertaining morning – this site is about so much more than Cars – I’m not your typical collector – 50+ woman who’s husband and teenage son tolerate but do NOT share her passion. I’m constantly showing them links from this site that they love, and remind them where the info came from. (Drunk guy in bodega set to silent era film music is still top of the list). You guys rock! (Web masters and followers alike)

  • 5oclockshadow says:

    I like to go in and change my wife’s ringtone sometimes to a karaoke version with me singing the song instead. Other times, it will be along the lines of “Hey! I’m ringing here! Ring! Ring! Ring!” or something equally embarassing. 🙂

  • slicepie says:

    What ever happened to the good old days when you could just message the tone to your phone and save it as a ringtone?

  • Stig McQueen says:

    I switched from Blackberry to iPhone last Friday, and almost took it back on Saturday when I found that there was no apparent way to transfer my distinctive ringtones. After searching the web, I finally found the same process that Met describes here. It took me a total of about an hour’s worth of trial and error, but not only do I have my ringtones back, I also know how to do something on the iPhone that 15-year-old Stigette doesn’t! She who posted on her Facebook page that “My dad just got an iPhone; guess I’ll be up all night showing him how to use it!” Just ’cause I taught her everything she knows doesn’t mean I taught her everything I know!

  • toffman says:

    For the iTunes method, you don’t actually need the MakeIphoneRingtone app. Just find the .m4a file that iTunes creates and then rename it .m4r and drag it back into iTunes. It’ll automatically put it in the ringtone folder.

  • PirateDad says:

    Am I the only one who does not have one of these?? Or even a cell phone?? My daughter’s 12 and 13 year friends all have cell phones ‘cuz they NEED them’

    I own my own business, have two young children and do not NEED a cell phone. It has been 3 years for me being wireless so to speak and the only thing I am missing is those HUGE monthly bills!

  • LUCA says:

    can you translate in italian?…no eh..

  • MackDaddy says:

    Slick! 😎

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