The Playlist: Ring Tones Are Music Too

"The carrier decks are generally limited to the Billboard Top 50," says Jason Kadlec, the director of Business Development at Ingrooves, which distributes ring tones and other downloads for indie labels worldwide. Through multicompany technical and licensing agreements, Ingrooves works to get indie music ring tones on major carrier sites such as Cingular and Verizon as well as sites such as Zingy, Napster Mobile (which debuted last month through a partnership with Ericsson), and Source Mobile. These sites provide music to carriers and sell content on the Internet and via WAP networks.

The complex distribution system is currently unfriendly for start-up bands looking to distribute their own ring tones, but there is hope. A company called Xingtone charges artists $10 to $40 per month to set up an online store to sell ring tones using a revenue-sharing sales model. (There is a free option as well that lets artists upload up to three songs as ring tones.)

"The goal is to create an experience very much like iTunes, if you will," says Jonathan Schreiber, CEO of Xingtone.

Xingtone also makes Xingtone Ringtone Maker ($20), which lets consumers make unlimited ring tones from personal audio content. Consumers can create a ring tone that works specifically with their phone and carrier, taking the guesswork out of resampling and compressing the audio for the correct file format.

Xingtone supports about 400 models, or about 80 to 85 percent of the mobile phones that can play master tones. A new version of the software, due out in time for the back-to-school season, is expected to support ring tones that play in conjunction with images and video. One disclaimer: I haven't tried out the software myself, but a colleague, PC World Senior Editor Yardena Arar, liked it.

One thing I can tell you, though, is that the ring tones that your phone came with make you look dated. "Those are, at this point, irrelevant," says Schreiber.

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