Totally True Tune Tales: Ring Ring Ring Ring Ring Ring Ring

Well, there’s that crazy frog thing.

And there’s a whole lot of 50 Cent.

Kumar had the sound of someone taking a bong hit.

Yep. Ringtones. Welcome to the world of cell.

Remember once upon a time when you would call a cell phone and it would just ring? I’m sorry if perhaps I’m dating myself, what with being the ancient old codger that I am, but it’s true: in the molden olden days, phones simply rang. Some might have choices between three rings, but all they did was ring.

Nokia had its own ring. The Nokia ring was the cool ring. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

The next graduate of rings came the programmable phone rings. In front of you was a makeshift piano keyboard, and you could pick out notes and add rests to create whatever ring your little heart desired. Some base models still only have this as its fanciest option; for someone I work with, I programmed “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Frere Jacques” for choices. One can still search online and find someone who already picked out the notes to whatever song one would like to punch in note by note. Majordomo lists would be flooded by fanboys who sought to perfect their bleepy-bloopy renditions of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” or Dream Theater’s “Ytse Jam.” Fun, cool, quick, dirty, geeky.

After that? Midi. Soon followed by the super-sexy sounds of polyphonic midi, baby. Not to be satisfied with simple beeps, the technology of multiple-instrument bleepage was ported to the cellular phone. The result sounded quite a bit like Muzak for most songs, but if you wanted the Super Mario Brothers theme on your phone, you could snag it dead-on. This was the real beginning of widespread ringtone mania, with sites converging to charge people for the privilege of using their beeps as well as entire networks like Verizon creating their own little subsystem of participating software partners to charge their users per ringtone, only able to be acquired strictly through them.

Style. It’s all style, it all has to be marketed and a pricetag placed on top.

Still, even the most complex of polyphonic tones still sounded cheesy as hell, and phone manufacturers gave the people what they wanted: real audio ringtones. Regardless of storage format, these phones particularly began gobbling up the scene along with color screens and camera additions. Your phone wasn’t just a phone anymore. It was a piece of you. And so accordingly, people rushed to match these styles to their personalities. Along with that came widespread common purchases of ringtones.

The commercials cycle day and night (particularly night) on most cable stations. “Text 24A to 44044 on your phone for ‘American Idiot’ by Green Day!” they shill. Yeah, the fine print tells you all about the monthly fees, but you gotta pay to stay cool. Or perhaps one searched their network’s services and plunked down three or four dollars to scroll through a catalog of clips, choosing one on which to dispense said cash. Nelly today, Outkast tomorrow.

And that f*cking frog. THAT FUCKING FROG.

You know, when I first heard that goddamned frog ringtone, it wasn’t even a ringtone yet. It was a flash file. It was the Crazy Test: if you could stare at this flash file for thirty seconds without laughing, you weren’t crazy. Then you would see the picture of a racecar with that silly high-pitched racecar sound overtop. There was no f*cking frog. I don’t know who made that noise into a frog and marketed it all over the world but I would like to personally shoot them in the face.

Ahem.

My first foray into phones wasn’t until the polyphonic days. I remember being disappointed that my phone didn’t have the option to program in my own tones. I was recalling the olden days, you see. I was not up to date on the latest technologies. I didn’t have a phone so I didn’t care enough to be educated. But now I had a phone, the LG VX10 to be exact. I had Verizon and their “Get It Now” program. I had some generic rings, but I could download more. More! Real songs! Or something that resembled real songs!

Over the next two years that I owned my trusty VX10, there was a good chunk of money spent on ringtones and quite the lovely variety to burst from the phone’s speaker at any given moment. The theme to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Lots of Cure, lots of Depeche Mode, lots of New Order. The funeral march. Evanescence. Ozzy. Zeppelin. Salt-n-Pepa. Deep Purple. If it sounded remotely halfway cool, I plunked down the cash for it. They were relatively cheap at first — $8 for 10 tones. By the time it was time to retire the beast, the ringtone phenomenon had gotten so out of control that the price for tones had doubled and I stopped being so interested in them.

Then I got a new phone. A phone with mp3 tones, YES!

Along with these updated tones came updated prices… $3.99 per tone? OUCH. But I couldn’t just have a normal ring, you know? So I shelled out a few bucks at first so I could have Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” and a chunk of “Dig” by Mudvayne. Hey, it was cool. Quite the expense, but the look on people’s faces when my phone would start screaming, “ALLL ABOOOOOAAAARRRRRD, HAHAHAHAHAA…. IIIIIIII!” was worth every penny.

But there’s a hax0r in me that has never died, and I didn’t want to pay the money anymore. I knew I could find a cable, find some trickery, make my own sounds and save them directly to the phone. Somehow, somewhere. It took effort though and I wasn’t really feeling like effort. Luckily for me, Verizon was nice enough to strike a deal with some company for free use of their ringtone-creation program that other networks sold to their users for $20. Sure, you could only make four-second clips, but they sent directly to your phone for the mere cost of a Pix message. Oh no, not a whole QUARTER.

Thus began my phone’s reign with a chunk of “Getting Smaller” by Nine Inch Nails. Yay, I made it myself!

But it was the only one I made.

FOR SEVEN MONTHS. Even I was dreading hearing my phone ring by that point.

Never before had I slacked on my ringtone coolness. In fact, I outright apologized on numerous occasions for my ringtone being so repetitive and out of date. I mean, this was my phone, my ringtone. It was an accessory. But my stale ringtone was like wearing white shoes after Labor Day, like pairing black and navy, like using a Scrunchie. I kept talking about getting a new ringtone, but I just never got around to it.

It finally took four days of boredom due to wisdom teeth removal to actually get me to the point where I literally had nothing else to do but make new ringtones. I’m still not sure why I had put it off so long aside from just sheer blonde forgetfulness. But once I got started, it was really difficult to stop. Sure, it’s just a quarter to send them to my phone, but quarters can pile up pretty quickly. Soon, my ringtone library grew to include everything from The Gathering to Rammstein to The Project Hate MCMXCIX. Oh you know, a metal girlie like me should have had a clip from “Godslaughtering Murder Machine” on my phone ages ago.

But I’m not done yet. I can’t possibly be done yet.

I can’t stop myself. I must have a ringtone for every possible occasion, every possible outfit, every single person on my phone. AhahahahahAHAHAH! I AM WINNING, PHONE! TOGETHER WE SHALL BE THE COOLEST DUO IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORRRRRRRRRRRLD!

…ahem.

Now there’s this other thing: Ringbacks. You call someone who has a Ringback tone installed, and instead of hearing a phone ring, you hear a song clip. Not all networks have implemented this yet, but Verizon sure does have the selection. Thirty-one Dream Theater clips, to be exact. It costs $1.99 to buy the tone and $0.99 to keep it in use each month. So far I have resisted its grip and stuck to the things only I can hear, but wow, it sure is tempting when your favorite song of all time could be playing anytime someone calls you. Except, you know, you don’t get to hear it, so what’s the point?

Hence why I’m holding out for “Bananaphone” in Ringback form.

Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring…

–gloomchen