Apple’s iOS devices come preloaded with a handful of alert sounds that you can use for ringtones and, as of iOS 5, for text messages, voicemails, reminders, and more. But maybe you want something more distinctive: a snippet of your favorite song, a clip from a classic movie, the whoosh of a materializing TARDIS?

No problem. Using GarageBand on your Mac, you can quickly turn any sound file into an alert sound for your iOS device; then you won’t have to check your phone every time you hear one of those default iPhone ringtones in a crowded café. Follow along with this week’s Macworld video tip to see how.

Download Macworld Video #160

• Format: MPEG-4/H.264

• Resolution: 480 x 272 (iPhone & iPod compatible)

• Size: 6.9 MB

• Length: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Show notes

Prefer step-by-step written instructions for creating that ringtone? We can help you out there.

While I use GarageBand, because it’s installed on every Mac by default, you can use any other audio editor to much the same effect. Rogue Amoeba's Fission, for example, also has a built-in save as ringtone feature.

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Show transcript

Hi, I’m Macworld senior associate editor Dan Moren, and I’m here with this week’s video tip. I’m going to show you how to make a custom alert tone for your iPhone from music from your iTunes library.

So to start off, let’s drag the file that we want onto our desktop to make a copy of it, that way we don’t mess with the original.

We’re going to need an audio editor; I’ll use GarageBand, because it’s included with pretty much every Mac, but you can use any other editor that you like.

GarageBand has an example ringtone project that I’m going to start from. I’ll give mine a creative name here, and I’ll open it up. And the first thing I’m going to do is delete all the existing track information by selecting it, going to the Edit menu, and choosing delete. And then I’m going to drag in that file that I created on my desktop, so I can trim it down to the appropriate length.

Now, you probably don’t want a full four minute and 30-second ringtone, so let’s choose a selection of about 15 seconds. I’m going to pick a bit from the refrain of this song. So I’m going to go to the portion I want to cut out, I’m going to move my playhead there, and then, to trim it appropriately, I’ll go to the Edit menu and choose the Split command. And then, as before, I’ll click on that and delete it—I can just hit the Delete key.

I’ll drag it all the way up to the front, and I’ll repeat the process; I can also use the Command-T shortcut to do the split and once again hit the Delete key to remove the extraneous information.

That sounds pretty good, but I could really use a fade in and a fade out. So I’ll click that downward triangle and then use the rubber band controls to make sort of a plateau by dragging the volume level down at the beginning and end of the song.

And then when I’m done, all I need to do is go to the Share menu and choose Send Ringtone to iTunes. GarageBand will once again do the heavy lifting for me, move it over to the Ringtones section, and there we go, it’s all ready to go.

Now of course the important part is getting it onto your iPhone, so when you get ready sync with iTunes, what you’re going to want to do is check the Ringtones section of your device information, make sure that All ringtones is selected, and then hit the Sync button. iTunes will copy over your newly created ringtone and voilà, you will see it appear in the Sounds section of the Settings app.

Now iOS 5 lets you assign ringtones to a variety of events, everything from text messages to new voicemail, so all you need to do is rinse and repeat the whole process for all your additional tones. Thanks for watching!

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