How to Set a Song as a Ringtone on iPhone: Make Custom Tones


Paying Apple for a ringtone that’s part of a song you already own grates with a lot of people. Thankfully you can make that ringtone in just a minute, or maybe two.

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll see exactly how to take any part of a song – or any audio file – and make it your iPhone ringtone.

The process is totally free, but it does require you to use iTunes. 

That’s the bad news, yes, you can’t use an app on your phone. Apple doesn’t allow apps to write ringtones into the special folder where they must live, so ignore those apps which say they can make ringtones. In truth, they can’t.

And yes, the process of making a ringtone in iTunes is far more labourious than it should be.

But if you’re determined to turn that catchy riff into your ringtone, here’s how to do it.

Prepare your song

Before you start, the song you want to use must be in your iTunes library on your computer.

If it isn’t, you can import any MP3 or AAC file into iTunes, and you might also like to use the Voice Memos app on your iPhone to record real-world sounds or people’s voices to turn into ringtones.

Make sure you have the latest version (12.10.8 when this article was last updated), then launch iTunes by double-clicking its shortcut or by finding it in the Start menu.

From the Library, click on the album which contains the song, then right-click on the song you want to use and select Song Info.

Choose timings

In the separate window that opens, click on the Options tab and then tick the Start and Stop boxes. Type in the times at which you want the ringtone to start and stop.

To know these figures, you’ll have to listen to the track first and note down the time you want it to start. The stop time must be within 30 seconds, as that’s the maximum length for a ringtone.

Top tip: If you want to be really precise about when you ringtone starts, use a decimal point. For example, if the section of music starts between 44 and 45 seconds, try entering 0:44.5 in the Start Time box. You can even specify the start and stop time in thousandths of a second, so you could type 0:44.652

Click OK to dismiss the window.

Create AAC version

You now have to select the song again by clicking once on it. Then go to the File menu, choose Convert, then Create AAC version.

Rather than appearing as a duplicate track in the album, it will appear as a new album in your Library with a single song in it.

If you see ‘Create MP3 version’ or something else, the fix is in the next step.

Note: Apple has moved the ‘Create AAC version’ option in iTunes 12.4 (and later). Previously, you could just right-click on the song to convert it to AAC.

AAC Encoder

If you don’t see an option to Create AAC version, it’s because your CD rip settings aren’t set correctly. To change this, click the Edit menu and choose Preferences…

Now click Import Settings… next to ‘When you insert a CD’ and choose AAC Encoder from the Import using: menu.

Start & stop times

As a matter of housekeeping, click on the original album from which you chose the song and right-click on that song. Click Song info and then click the Options tab.

Now untick the start and stop times to return them to their original times then click OK.

Otherwise, when you play that track in future, it will only play the section between your start and stop times. And you don’t want that to happen, I presume.

Find the file

Now, return to the duplicate album which contains the newly created song that you’re going to use as a ringtone.

Right-click on that song and click Show in Windows Explorer. If you’re on a Mac, the option is called Show in Finder.

This is so that you can change the file’s extension (and therefore its type), which we’ll do in the next step.

Change extension

The file should now be highlighted in the window which opens up, and it should be called something.m4a (where ‘something’ is the name of your song.

If you can’t see the .m4a part (i.e. you see only ‘Dancing Queen’ and not ‘Dancing Queen.m4a‘), it’s because Windows is set to hide the extensions. Here’s how to show the file extension for editing. 

Once you can see the m4a part, right-click on the file and choose Rename. Now change the extension from .m4a to .m4r and press Return, Enter or just click in some white space.

Click Yes when asked if you want to change the extension.

NOTE: As this is a step which trips up a lot of people, know that if file extensions are hidden you cannot simply add .m4r when renaming the file. All you would achieve is changing your file from ‘Dancing Queen.m4a’ to ‘Dancing Queen.m4r.m4a’.

This will not work!

Import & sync ringtone

Apple cut the bloat out of iTunes in version 12.7, removing the App Store and various other things including Tones, which was where you could you easily see all your ringtones.

However, you can still sync your new ringtones with your iPhone.

To do it, connect your phone to your PC or laptop with its USB cable. If using Windows 10, tap ‘Trust this computer’ if necessary (you may need to unplug and re-plug the USB cable if this message doesn’t show up). Then key in your phone’s passcode and wait until your phone icon appears in iTunes. 

You might see a message asking ‘Do you want to allow this computer to access information on “Xxxx’s iPhone”?’ so click the Continue button to allow this access.

Look for your phone in the left-hand column under Devices. Click on it and the list should expand so you can see a Tones section. Click on that and you’ll see any custom tones appear on the right (if you don’t have any, that list will be blank).

Switch to your File Explorer Window – or Finder on a Mac – where your ringtone should still be highlighted (or refer to the Find the File step earlier).

Right-click on it and copy it (or hit Ctrl+C on your keyboard – Command+C on a Mac).

Go back to iTunes, click on Tones if this section isn’t already selected and hit Ctrl+V (Command+V on Mac) to paste the tone.

What should happen is that the tone should appear in the list of tones and be quickly synced to your iPhone.

Note: you can no longer drag and drop tones from an Explorer window to iTunes.

Mac users: Sometimes ringtones simply won’t show up in the Tones section. There are two things to try here:

1- Delete the ringtone ‘song’ entry in your iTunes Music library (don’t delete the actual file on your hard drive – choose to keep it when prompted). Then double-click on the .m4r file in Finder and it should show up in Tones.

2- If that doesn’t work, try moving the .m4r file outside of your iTunes folder on your hard drive (such as to the desktop). Then double-click on it. 

Extra Housekeeping

You don’t need to delete the AAC version of the song from your iTunes music library, but you should do so as a housekeeping task since the file won’t play and your Library will quickly get messy if you make lots of ringtones.

Select your ringtone

Now that the new tone is on your phone, all you need to do set it as your ringtone.

To do this, open the Settings app on your iPhone, then tap Sounds (also called Sounds & Haptics), then Ringtone.

Your custom tones will appear at the top of the list, above the default Ringtones. Just tap on one to make it your ringtone.

The fun doesn’t stop there, as you can use your custom tones for other things such as text message alerts.

Custom alert tones

If you want have a custom tone for text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, new voicemails, reminder alerts or anything else, it’s exactly the same process as for a ringtone.

The only difference is that you’ll need to select the appropriate section under ‘Sounds & Haptics’ on your iPhone.

Just tap on the type you want, Text Tone for example, and you’ll see the Alert Tones list.

Scroll down past these, and you will see your Ringtones list. Your custom tones will again be at the top of this section.

It’s not a great idea to use a 30-second song as a text message alert, though. And, in case you’re wondering, there’s no difference between a ‘song’ and a sound effect in iTunes, so you don’t have to use part of a song from your music library as your custom alert tone.

All you need is a sound effect in a format iTunes can import (usually MP3), and it will be treated it just like any other song. Then, repeat the same process as for a ringtone to create and sync the sound effect to your iPhone, then select it as we’ve shown.

Finally, did you know: you can also create custom vibrations? Here’s how to set personalised vibration patterns directly on your iPhone.

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