Why Do Music Ringtones Suck So Bad?

Sorry for the belligerent title. But you know it, I know it, and everyone you know knows it, except maybe those 11-year-old-girls at the mall who smell like strawberry lip-smacker and buy Live Strong-knock-off rubber bracelets that say “I’m Rad” at Wet Seal, that music-based ringtones are so very lame.

I’ve used them. I confess. At a time when there were no other options, before phones networked with PCs. And yet, like most others, I can honestly say – the following is always true:

  • If you liked the song before you made it into a ringtone, you come to dislike it after it’s a ringtone.
  • No matter how cool or witty the song choice may have seemed when you assigned it, all humor and hipness mysteriously evaporates into embarrassment the instant it rings in public.
  • You only hear the first 6 seconds of the song, which on repetition generates a kind of pavlovian annoyance for you and everyone around you in ear-shot.
  • You realize that at some point you actually started answering your phone to make it stop ringing – not to have a conversation with the caller.
  • You either a) start apologizing to the nearest ears every time your phone rings, or b) try to ignore their stares and honestly pretend like you didn’t notice them there.
  • Having been interrupted or annoyed by your ringtone, associates start cracking jokes and making fun of it, so you get pretty good at telling the story of why you chose that song, via one of two tactics, either you try to make the song sound emotionally meaningful to you, or you try to paint yourself as a fun, free-spirit who is just so fun and, well, free-spirited that having a silly song on your phone is just a sign of how fun and free-spirited you are. No matter your story-tactic, ultimately you’re just hoping your sincerity will convince these people to no longer think of you as somewhat dim and immature.
  • You find yourself changing the song choice often in an ultimately futile effort to find one that does not result in all of the above. Through this process you spend a lot of money.
  • You occasionally have to remind yourself that everyone else uses music ringtones, so yeah, it’s totally cool and there’s nothing wrong with you doing it too. At some point you realize that you’re reminding yourself of this more often than you would if it were true.
  • And finally, as music alone, the song sounds like crap on the phone’s scratchy, tiny, treble speaker.

Did I miss anything?

Are we so desperate for customization that we swallow any half-baked business plan the carriers spoon feed us?

Maybe not. Some people use online tools to side-step the carriers and convert their songs into ringtones – on purpose. Which must mean that those users actually want music-based ringtones. We think the more sophisticated of those users are just too busy to explore the landscape enough to find cooler alternatives.

There are even music-based ringtone hawkers on the net who write custom songs – specifically to be used as ringtones. With lyrics and everything. I’ve never met anyone who actually uses such a thing, but assume someone does.

Then you have the adults among us, the sophisticated, mature set, who choose “classical” music as ringtones. As though somehow appreciation of these classic sonnets by kings over the centuries makes their beepy midi better than the latest Baby Mozart puppet show. Spare me.

Yes, music has a place on a phone, in a media player app.  And someday users across the globe, who have insanely stylish alerts, will look back at this time in history and softly chuckle at the music-based ringtone users of today.

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