If you’re the kind of person who isn’t content to stick with the ringtones that your phone manufacturer provides, you know what a consequential choice your ringtone can be. That you select it from millions of possibilities and that it spontaneously and repeatedly shares a piece of yourself with people who are nearby makes it among the most revealing of personal choices. Here’s how I pick one.
The first criterion is that I won’t get tired of hearing it repeatedly. When Windows 3.1 first came out and made multimedia a standard part of the PC experience, one of the first things people did was customize their sound schemes. (Remember the Microsoft SoundBits product line?) As my Windows shutdown sound, I picked Porky Pig stuttering, “That’s all, folks!” It was cute at first, but I was developing system software and restarting Windows fifty times a day. It got old in a hurry.
I also want a sound whose essence can be captured in a few seconds. The point of a ringtone is to alert me that my phone is ringing, so I don’t want to be thinking about — or having people around me wondering — what that strange sound is and what it means. Because it has to be edited to less than thirty seconds and might have to repeat in the middle, it has to be cuttable and loopable.
The above criteria favor shorter, catchier melodies over more complex ones. They also tend to favor instrumentals over vocal tracks, though this can be managed with proper editing. I edit my own ringtones with mp3DirectCut and end up listening to the sound over and over, so I get a sense if it’s going to meet these criteria.
Since the ringtone often plays when you’re not expecting it, it shouldn’t have a jarring opening. I learned this a couple of years ago during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when I experimented with using the New York Rangers goal song as my ringtone. You can listen for yourself, but suffice it to say it begins with the sound of a foghorn and quickly transitions to the musical equivalent of a hockey riot.
While I try not overthink the symbolism of the sound, I do avoid ringtones that might come across as if I’m trying to associate myself with a heroic character. Or songs that are too popular or iconic. For this reason I wouldn’t choose songs like the themes from Batman, Secret Agent, or Mission Impossible, even though sonically they work well.
Finally, and foremost, it has to be a sound that makes me happy when I hear it.
Hearing Two Time repeatedly on Episodes, often to humorous effect, set me in the directions of 1960’s/70’s instrumentals. I listened to a bunch of TV theme songs and also some Herb Alpert tracks. There were a number of good options, but ultimately this one stood out:
We’ll see how long it lasts.