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Ringtones. No, I’m not kidding. Ringtones.


Major labels are not ALWAYS idiotic, you know…

I’ve noticed in the last few years that people seem to think marketing/sales channels are either for major labels or for indies. Like, if the majors do it, then it’s not cool for indies to do it. And if the indies do it, then it’s small time.


I will agree that the majors tend to try to make revenue streams out of things that should be free. And that there are many folks who have worked in the major label structure for so long that their judgment about what is promotion and what is commerce is quite clouded. But just because majors choose to charge for things doesn’t mean that indies should completely disregard them and exclude them from the marketing suite.

Ringtones are a great example. Yes of course Hip Hop and Country music from major labels have dominated the ringtones offered by AT&T and Verizon. Yes of course indie companies like GroupieTunes have made it possible for independent musicians to distribute their music via ringtones. Yes Apple iTunes has made it possible to buy ringtones on their site and push them to your iPhone. But WHY DO THAT? I mean, why not just edit your MP3 yourself and make a ringtone if you want wan from the band you love that bad?

People – make your ringtones free. And while you’re at it, don’t freaking put your whole song or even your voice in your ringtones. How vain! Think about the sounds on your album – the elements that would be cool if someone’s phone was ringing in your house. Was there lapsteel or slide guitar? A drum roll that was catchy? Piano solo?

Think about why people might want to use your ringtone – what it says about THEM not you.

People set ringtones as an expression of their identity to the immediate world around them. This is vital to understand when you go about making and offering ringtones. And also vital to understand why ringtones are actually perfect for indies, not as perfect for major labels.

People change their ringtones because they want to express something different about themselves and their preferences. I love Folk music. So when I change my ringtone to be part of a song by John Gorka, I’m not just trying to say I love John Gorka’s music. I want people to know that the vibe he creates in his music is one I feel inside. I am trying to express that the way I feel is acoustic in nature, and it kinda feels like a warm sunny room with the windows open and a slight breeze, a thoughful and approachable and articulate kinda feeling – it feels human. Or when I change my ringtone to be Bonnie Raitt’s slide guitar, I’m not doing that because I’m such a huge fan of Bonnie Raitt. I’m doing that because I want people to know that I feel that lazy, twangy, bluesy thing – it’s part of me. And especially, that’s how I feel that day, or that week, or that month, and that’s how my ringtone sounds.

If the big labels/artists only knew…
  • On some days, I feel electric and eager, rowdy like I want to party. And on those days I might change my ringtone to be Dave Matthews Band or Wilco or Ani Difranco.
  • On other days, I feel tormented, dark and intense. And on those days I might change my ringtone to be Tori Amos or Dolores O’Riorden or Evanescence or Lucinda Williams.
  • On other days, I feel lazy, slow and dazed. And on those days I might change my ringtone to be Norah Jones or Lyle Lovett or Feist.
  • On some days, I feel retro. I mean I don’t know, either I’m reminescing about a time when I was alive or I’m thinking about where the music I love derrived from. And on those days I might change my ringtone to be Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash or Paul Simon or Carole King.
But the point is, they don’t know. Or they do know but haven’t caught on.

So that means YOU can know. You can be the artist who gets ringtones and why people use them. You can be the artist who creates ringtones people actually like and are not annoyed by. Really. You can.

When you make a ringtone, think about who you are to your fans, what about their own personalities you might represent. Is it your connection to the environment and the earth? Is it your kickass instrumental skills? Is it your dark and creepy voice? Is it your dry wit and humor? Is it your rock out vibe?

Take that thing and make that your ringtone. Even if it’s not music.
  • Make it available on your web site for free.
  • Host it on a page/location that is easy to type into a mobile browser, and easy to remember so people can tell others verbally and IM and email around easily.
  • Make the file size small so people can download it right from their phone if they need to. (some phones have max filesizes for downloads)
By all means, continue to let iTunes sell your ringtones. If people want to pay, they will. No need to stop them. But remember, when a fan uses your music as an expression of who they are – you should take that as a compliment not a an act of commerce. And you should encourage that behavior, because ringtones are conversation starters. And conversations about you are helpful to your cause. And most of all, if they compliment you by using your music as their ringtone… welll… It means you’re doing your job well!