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Develop your DAW skills by making a ringtone using edits and crossfades

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 29, 2016
Sometimes it is good to develop and practise your skills on a simple, unimportant task. Here we will make a ringtone using editing and crossfading.
Develop your DAW skills by making a ringtone using edits and crossfades

I recently needed to help an associate celebrate a 20-year anniversary. The phrase, "It was twenty years ago today..." came to mind. If it doesn't come to your mind as easily as it did to mine, I'll tell you that it's the first line of The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which many would consider to be among the finest albums of the 1960s. "Wouldn't this make a nice ringtone?" I thought.

Well, I made sure that all of the traditional methods of celebration were taken care of, then I got down to work. I didn't think that much in the way of editing skills would be needed, but as I pieced the ringtone together, I realized that what I was doing took me a lot of learning and practice, many years ago (more than twenty!)

Raw material

The raw material for my ringtone was simply my CD copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the USA it is, apparently, entirely legal to make ringtones for personal use from music that you own a copy of, unless the terms of use under which the copy was sold prohibit you from doing so. In other jurisdictions the situation may be different so please make your own decision whether to proceed. This tutorial itself falls under items 1, 3 and 4 of the four factors to be considered regarding fair use in the USA from where this web page is served.

The first step, considering that I already knew which section of audio I wanted, was to import the album's title track into my DAW, which in this case is Pro Tools. It looks like this...

Whole track

It is interesting to see how much dynamic range content there is in the waveform, compared to modern, heavily-mastered music where the waveform is pretty much a featureless rectangle when zoomed out like this. Notice too how different the channels are - that was what stereo was commonly like in the 1960s in comparison to the more even balance of today.

The beginning

The section I wanted is approximately this...


In my imagination, all I wanted was the, "It was twenty years ago today" line, but I decided to keep the four preceding drum hits. This is the edit point...

Edit start

It is usually easy to find the edit point on a drum hit, simply by looking at the waveform. Get it as close as this and you can be pretty sure it will work. So far then we have this...


To make an edit at the end of the line, my first thought was to cut right on the start of the second line, "Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play". But finding that exact point is a little more tricky. The 's' of 'Sgt. Pepper' is somewhere in here. Can you spot it?

Second line

The trick is that 's' sounds, and 'f' to a certain extent, make fuzzy waveforms due to their high-frequency content. That patch of fuzziness, if I can call it that, in the center of the right (lower) channel would seem to be a good candidate. So that's where I placed my edit point, like this...

First try

If I play from the edit point everything sounds fine...


But if I play up to the edit point I hear this...


Oops, I've edited just after the start of the 's'. This demonstrates how difficult precise editing can be when you don't have a defined transient to aim for. Pro Tools is very helpful in that you can press the '7' key to play from the edit point, which you can do anyway with the space bar. But also there is the '8' key which plays up to the edit point and stops. The combination of these two keys is extremely useful in fine tuning the edit point until it is perfect. Other DAWs should have a similar feature and it is well worth looking it up in your manual.

With the edit point fine-tuned, the first line going as close as possible up to the 's' of the second line sounds like this...


The middle

OK, so there are some editing skills here. But it doesn't sound finished. That isn't something that I'd really want to use as a ringtone. So my next thought was to extend it with some material from later on in the track. This part...



So once again the trick is going to be to find the right edit points without having much in the way of useful transients as guides. The end is actually easier so I'll show you that first...

Horns end

In the screenshot above I have chosen my edit point using the method I described earlier. I then shifted the part I didn't want to the right so that you can see all of the waveform still. If you have the CD you can try this yourself. My first attempt was to cut exactly on the vocals when they come in. However there is a breath just before that and I found that to leave it in created a sense of expectation that wasn't fulfilled. So I placed my edit point a little earlier and ended with a fade. The end of the horns section sounds like this...


For my purpose this is clean enough.

Start of the horn section

The next step is to join the horn section onto the end of the first line. I edited directly at the start of the first horn note and butt-edited it onto the first line. Oddly enough, I wasn't expecting it to work...

Join first attempt


The end

Clearly this isn't going to be a satisfactory ringtone if left in this state. Anyone who was new to editing might just give up at this point because the task seems impossible. Well, with pure cut-and-splice editing then it might be quite hard to get a good result. But I know because I've had years of practice, trial and error (lots of errors!) that there is a way. Here I have separated out the two sections onto different tracks...

Crossfade preparation 1

What I would like you to notice is that there is a bulge in the waveform for the last guitar chord of the first section which is where Ringo plays his snare drum. There is another snare hit just a little way into the horns. If I line these two up, then the rhythm has a good chance of handing over smoothly from one section to the next. This isn't something you can always be certain of, but the prospects are good. You can see the alignment, as close as I can get it, here...

Snares aligned

And it sounds like this...


Timing-wise this is good, though clearly the ins and outs of the sections need work. I could have used fades, but in this instance I decided to use automation in the form of Pro Tools's clip-based gain. You can achieve the same with automation in any DAW.


Now I have to say that even in a relatively simple crossfade there are a million options and somewhere among them is the very best one. My view is that for many professional purposes then unless you are striving to be the No. 1 in any particular task in the entire world, then if you're 90% satisfied then that's good enough. This crossfade works for me...


What I like is that the rhythm is smooth, the first line is complete and the horns punch in without obliterating the word 'today'.


At this point we are ready to hear my complete ringtone in WAV format (or your browser may choose to play one of the compressed files linked from the player)...


But I know that when I transfer this to my phone it will sound quiet. A quiet ringtone is about as useful as (insert your favourite metaphor here...) So I've applied a little bit of mastering to it. Yes, mastering ringtones is a thing.

Today my choice was the Slate Digital FG-X mastering console, although I could have chosen a different mastering limiter and achieved equally good results.

Slate FG-X

Not wanting to overcomplicate things, I used only the center level section to add 8 dB of gain. As you know, the more gain you add in a mastering limiter then the greater the subjective loudness. But the downside is that too much gain makes the end-result sound rather unpleasant. Since this is going to be heard on my phone, not my hi-fi or studio monitors, then I am prepared to trade off a bit of quality for the ability to hear when someone is calling me! (If you ever meet someone who can hear inter-sample peaks on a phone, then please introduce me because their ears must be amazing.) The final WAV file sounds like this...


Transfer to phone

The final step in this process is to convert the ringtone into a format suitable for a ringtone and transfer it to your phone. Since I'm not a phone expert I shall hand you over to the vast knowledge resources of the Internet. But basically I converted the WAV to AAC with the file extension .m4a. I changed the extension to .m4r and dropped it onto my iTunes window. A quick sync of my iPhone and there it was, ready to use.

You might know from previous tutorials that I often provide a .zip archive of the WAV files I have used. In this instance I can't do that, for reasons that should be pretty obvious. But the Internet can help...

Happy ringtone making! Remember though that making this ringtone was just for fun but the editing skills involved are vitally important in professional audio.

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 29, 2016
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)