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when my nanna calls me, i hear ozzy osbourne
i hear singing and there's no one there
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

It's happened to all of us, at one point or another.

You're sitting on a bus, or in a restaurant, or a movie theater, or in the office -- somewhere in public, really, is what I'm getting at -- and all of a sudden someone's cell phone starts ringing. But it's not a ringing noise, no sir. It's a full-on CD-quality recording suddenly playing, like a phantom radio, for everyone in the vicinity.

Maybe Jim's phone is blaring Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" so he knows it's his dad calling him. Maybe Doug wants everyone to grin as they hear the theme song to "The Greatest American Hero" every time he gets a text message. Maybe Mandy's got Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" playing for the world to enjoy as she tries to decide if she wants to answer the fifth call from the girl she kissed.

Point is, ring tones are no longer just "Bee bee dee bee boo" or even "Be-ba-de, ba-de-de-ba"; they're now " They see me rollin'/They hatin'/Patrollin' and tryna catch me ridin' dirty..." etc. Even though I've totally embraced this technology, I'm not entirely convinced it's a good thing.

The reason I bring it up in the first place is that fate recently contrived to equip me with a new cell phone at the same time as I was forced, through my own stupidity, to have to reformat my computer's hard drive.

(Before my creditors get up in arms, the new phone wound up being free with rebates; it was one of those deals where you get $150 towards an update from Sprint things. Your money's coming; I promise.)

Now, these two things might, at first blush, seem mostly unrelated. Especially given the brilliantly conceived introductory paragraphs.

That is until I admit that I create all my own ring tones. I edit the MP3 files into something usable, and I upload them to my phone. Which means, among other things, that if I have a unique ring tone for you, I probably gave it at least a small amount of thought before I made the assignment.

It also means that when I got my new phone within days of wiping my hard drive, I lost said ring tones. Every one. And some of them were really spot-on when it came to their subjects.

Before I go any further into what makes a good personalized ring tone for someone, I'd like to mention that I've never been a fan of that technology that lets you determine what other people hear when you call them. I think that's just a conceit. Personalizing your outgoing ring has the same sort of feel, in my mind, as giving someone a T-shirt with your photo on it. No matter how much you may love the song, I don't want to hear "Wind Beneath My Wings" every time you call me.

Plus, and this just makes sense, if you dictate to me what your ring tone is, I can't pick one for you myself which, as I mentioned above, is something I very much enjoy doing.

Yes, mom, I need to get out more.

Anyway, since the cell phone companies seem to be making money selling ring tones, I figure I can't be the only one out there assigning songs to friends and family members.

In fact, maybe this column's got you geared up to do it. Maybe you're thinking, "Hey, wouldn't everyone love it if I made Uncle Eustace's ring tone 'Dancing Queen' because he's in a wheelchair and my family loves irony."

(Hint: he might say he appreciates it and laughs when you play it for him, but I know he cries himself to sleep. Look for rust stains in the spokes.)

"But," I can hear you all asking me in unison, "Surely there must be something I can do."

Well, yeah. There are three pretty simple rules to which I adhere that you really should follow. Trust me; I’d be a professional at this if there were such a thing.

1) Remember that others will be hearing the ring. This is of paramount importance, people. Not only does it mean that maybe you shouldn't go with a clip from "The Aristocrats" if you ever plan on appearing with your phone in public, but it also means that you're really playing to an audience with your selections. Try not to be too esoteric, is what I'm saying. People will enjoy a "Walk This Way" a lot more than they'd enjoy a "White Feather."

(Marillion, if you were curious.)

2) It's perfectly acceptable to go with a subject's favorite song. This rule is allowed to countermand the "esoteric" portion of the above rule, by the way. I've had one friend whose ring tone was "We Built This City" by Starship and another whose was "Konstantine" by Something Corporate. If you know someone well enough to know his or her favorite song, feel free to use it.

This is also true if you have a couple listed together on your phone and you happen to know their song. I could, for example, have my parents' ring be "Helplessly Hoping." I don't. But I could.

3) If you're not going the favorite song route, try to make it something fitting. I can't stress this enough. You're going to want something you can associate with this person. For example, my current ring tone for my parents happens to be "Surrender" by Cheap Trick, because the chorus is "Mommy's all right/Daddy's all right/They just seem a little weird..." Fitting, I'd say. Especially if you know my parents.

As another example, I assigned the ring tone for when I get calls without i.d. to play "Who Are You," by the Who. Seemed not only appropriate, but makes me as cool as the TV show "CSI."

And I picked "Informer" for my brother because he's a narc.

Regardless, I'm sure you get the idea. So go, do, be. Remember, you're not just playing music for you; you're playing music for total strangers who are likely to hate you if you don't answer soon.

And no one, not even your high school principal, can take that away from you.

No, seriously, stop listening to your ringer and answer the damned phone. That's just rude, yo.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer


these things make life easier?
by adam kraemer
topic: tech
published: 12.8.04

just a minute!
with all this time-saving technology, why do i feel like i'm always falling behind?
by adam kraemer
topic: tech
published: 8.17.07


juli mccarthy
8.8.08 @ 2:52a

Marillion's "White Feather" is the ringtone I have assigned to my friend Shana. No lie. Her husband rings to "Market Square Heroes" and another friend to "Sugar Mice."

adam kraemer
8.8.08 @ 10:56a

Wow. What were the *bleep*ing odds of that? I feel like I'd only assign Sugar Mice to someone who was an absentee dad.

Actually, I've found that uploading the mp3 files takes up a lot of space. Anyone know of a smaller file format that's still compatible with 3G phones? The Qualcomm format has horrible conversion sound quality.


juli mccarthy
8.8.08 @ 1:27p

Not a clue about files, I just put 'em on a SD card.

My Sugar Mice assignee isn't an absentee dad, but it's appropriate for other reasons. And I defy the odds all kinds of ways *wink*

adam kraemer
8.8.08 @ 4:41p

Well, I was thinking about testing a WAV file to see. I figure if I make it mono, it might be smaller but still useable as a ring tone. Or it might not work at all.

juli mccarthy
8.8.08 @ 5:20p

Maybe a midi file? WAVs are huge, aren't they?

emily odom
8.8.08 @ 8:58p

After trying out different ringers for quite some time, I really think I've found perfection with "Keep They Heads Ringing" by Dr. Dre. Something about ring-ding-dong, ring-a-ding-ding-ding-dong being gantsa rapped out of a suburban white girl's phone seems to amuse those around me, too.

beth clement
8.9.08 @ 11:44a

Well, my husband just got "Hot For Teacher" as the ringtone for my ringtone. I have "So Happy Together" for his ringtone. I need a Martha Stewart clip for my mother (to know her is to love her!).
I'm just a geeky kid for my general ringtone, it's the Harry Potter theme. My husband got sick and tired of watching me bounce up and down in the movies anytime that would start for a preview.

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