Worth a Listen: The Story Behind That Ringtone

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Like license plates, phone covers and wallpaper, a mobile phone user’s ringtone can tell you quite a bit about the user’s personality and preferences. The mobile phone industry changed the spelling and meaning from “ring tone,” the tonal variation of a mechanical bell inside rotary phones, to “ringtone,” an audio recording of almost anything a mobile phone user desires. Though ringtone purchases have sharply declined since the mid-2000s, almost everyone with a mobile device remembers three distinct ringtones – and many versions of one ring tone.

The original telephone ring tone, still used on landline phones today, is from actual bells inside the phone. When an electric signal is sent to the phone from an incoming call, the electromagnetic clapper strikes the bells (originally, with a solenoid controlled hammer) and produces a ringing sound, similar to what happens when someone rings a doorbell.

The Nokia Grande Vals ringtone – or Grande Valse on older phones (“yada da da, yada da da, yada da da daah”) – is possibly the most well-known one, chosen in 1994 and heard worldwide an estimated 1.8 billion times per day. Inspired by two versions of “Gran Valse,” from Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin and Spanish guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega, the song snippet was one of several played one night by a bored Nokia engineer at the office, trying to find the most annoying frequency of a song. The Nokia ringtone was chosen because it was the only song played that night whose composer had been dead at least 75 years, which meant Nokia didn’t have to pay royalties for using the tune.

Nokia ringtone: [ca_audio url=”http://www.phoneboy.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/nokia-tune.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player” autoplay=”false”]

Years later, Apple’s Marimba ringtone for the iPhone was created – at least in part – because Apple CEO Steve Jobs didn’t like the Nokia ringtone, according to Brian Roemmele at Forbes.com. Instead of lower-quality beeps and MIDI ringtones synonymous with previous ringtones, Jobs wanted to integrate high-quality iTunes music files into the initial 2007 iPhone, but there wasn’t enough time before the phone’s release date to fight the record labels over revenue rights. So, Jobs approved 25 original ringtones and sounds for the first version of the iPhone, with Marimba being one of them. Dr. Gerhard Lengeling, a music application executive at Apple and Jobs’ personal friend, helped create Apple’s GarageBand applications, which hold software instrument libraries. Part of GarageBand Jam Pack 4: Symphony Orchestra Instruments, the Marimba tone is from the African and South American marimba instrument, which is “like a warmer, mellower xylophone.”  It’s widely believed that Dr. Lengeling influenced Jobs to select the Marimba ringtone for the iPhone’s default ringtone, and Jobs thought it alluded to cultural sophistication and distinction.

Marimba ringtone: 

The “Drooooid” text message notification sound effect is a registered trademark of Verizon and LucasFilm LTD. George Lucas, the former head of LucasFilm Limited and writer-director of the Star Wars movies, owns the term “droid” and is paid a fee by Verizon, Motorola and/or Android, Inc., to use his trademarked term. Only Android devices purchased from Verizon have the sound effect, though you can download it for from Zedge, a store with millions of free ringtones, themes, wallpapers and games for mobile phones.

Droid text notification:

 

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