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Creating ringtones with GarageBand

When introducing you to GarageBand in our last lesson, I claimed that nonmusicians could find uses for Apple’s audio and music application. I can hardly blame some of you for responding with a hearty “Prove it, buddy.” And so I shall, by outlining how to craft a ringtone from one of your favorite tunes.

Choosing a track

Launch GarageBand. In the Project chooser select Ringtone and click the Choose button. The main GarageBand window will open. Inside you’ll find a single track called Audio 1. The Cycle button will be engaged, and the ruler will bear a yellow bar that stretches for 20 measures. (That yellow color denotes the length of the cycled section.) To the right, the Loops pane appears by default.

In the display (which currently shows bars, beats, divisions, and ticks), click the Note/Metronome icon and choose Time from the pop-up menu. Then drag on the right side of the yellow cycle bar so that it ends at 0:40. You do this because you can make ringtones no longer than 40 seconds; creating a cycle bar of that length shows you how much audio you have to work with.

choose time gb

Choose the ‘Time’ setting for GarageBand’s ruler.

In the control bar click the Media Browser button (the last button in the control bar). In the top portion of the resulting pane, select iTunes. GarageBand will set about loading a list of your iTunes library’s playlists, and will display the contents of a selected playlist in the bottom half of the Media Browser pane.

itunes in gb

GarageBand lets you use tracks in your iTunes library as ringtones.

You can sort the resulting list by track name, artist, or time by clicking the appropriate column heading. You can also narrow the list by using the Search field at the bottom of the pane, where you can search by All, Artist, Album, Composer, or Song. To preview a track, just select it and then click the Play button that appears to the left of the Search field (or double-click the track). When you’ve found the correct track, drag it from the list to the workspace, to the right of Audio 1. The resulting track is brown with a white waveform.

Click Play in the control bar, and you’ll hear the track. (If you additionally hear a ticking sound, click the purple Metronome button to turn it off.)

Editing the track

If all you want to do is use the first 40 seconds of the track as a ringtone, you’re close to being done. You can simply split the track and delete everything after the first 40 seconds. The resulting ringtone, however, may not contain the part of the song that you really want to hear. And even if it does, when it loops on your phone (because these ringtones keep “ringing” until you answer or the call goes to voicemail) it may do so at a musically awkward place.

The best ringtones are those that are edited within an inch of their digital lives. And it’s not difficult to do, though you have a couple of ways to approach the task.

trim ringtone

Trimming the front end of a ringtone.

The first method is to trim the beginning or the end of the track by dragging its bottom edge toward the center of the track (a Trim icon will appear as you hover your cursor over the track’s bottom corner). Play the track to the point where you want the ringtone to start—when the vocalist comes in, for instance. Then click the track’s bottom-left corner and drag it to the right, to that point. A readout will show you the edge’s time position as well as the overall length of the track. Now click somewhere in the middle of the track and drag it to the left so that it starts at 0:00. Then drag the right edge of the track to the left so that it ends somewhere before the 0:40 mark.

Alternatively, you can move the playhead to the point where you want the ringtone to begin, click the track in the workflow pane, and choose Edit > Split Regions at Playhead (or press Command-T). Click the portion that you don’t want to keep (the stuff to the left of the split) and press Delete. Move the playhead where you’d like the ringtone to end, click the track, and once again split the track. Delete the material to the right of the split, and drag the remaining track to the 0:00 mark. Complete the job by dragging the right edge of the cycle bar so that it aligns with the end of your track.

The helpful thing about cycling being turned on is that you’ll hear how the ringtone will loop on your phone. If you find that the transition between the end of the track and the beginning sounds abrupt or there’s too much silence between them, adjust the track’s length—adding or subtracting content from the end and getting rid of any silence at the beginning. If you can get a sense of where the track’s beats fall, try to end the track so that it plays the last measure’s entire complement of beats—most songs have four beats per measure.

Exporting the ringtone

Now that you’ve created the perfect ringtone, it’s time to send it to iTunes. Just choose Share > Ringtone to iTunes. GarageBand will save the ringtone as an M4R file, iTunes will launch, and the ringtone will appear under iTunes’ Tones heading in the Library pane.

ringtone to itunes

Sending your completed ringtone to iTunes.

If your iPhone isn’t configured to sync wirelessly, connect it to your Mac using the sync cable. Drag your ringtone to the iPhone’s Tones entry and then click the Sync button that appears at the bottom of the iTunes window. The ringtone will be copied to your phone.

To use your creation as a ringtone, on the iPhone tap Settings > Sounds > Ringtone. You’ll find it at the top of the list of ringtones. Tap it, and it will be the sound your phone plays when a call comes in. Of course you needn’t use it only for ringtones: On the iPhone you can choose it as an alert sound as well.

And that’s it. You, the person who claims to lack any skill for making music, have found a practical use for GarageBand. You’ve additionally learned something about creating and editing tracks. We’ll use those skills in our next lesson when you create a musical work based entirely on GarageBand’s bundled loops.

(This isn’t the only path for creating ringtones. You can use GarageBand for iOS to do the same thing. Check out my how-to video to learn the steps.)

Next week: Getting loopy with GarageBand

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