How To Create a Free iPhone Ringtone Using iTunes

Want to make an iPhone ringtone with your own music? Just follow the step-by-step instructions below. Make sure to start out with songs that are mp3s or are otherwise DRM-free. *Updated for iTunes 11*

How to Make an iPhone Ringtone in iTunes:

1. Open iTunes.

2. Open Preferences in the iTunes menu at the top (it may be under Edit for Windows users):

Create iPhone Ringtone Step 1

3. Select the General tab:

Create iPhone Ringtone Step 2

4. Select Import Settings:

Import Settings

5. Click on the dropdown list after Importing Using:

Click on DropDown

6. Select AAC Encoder (it may already be the default):

Set iTunes Encoder to AAC

7. Select OK to go back to the Preferences, then select OK again.

Select OK

8. Select Music in the left iTunes sidebar and find a song you want to make into a ringtone:

Select Music in iTunes

9. You’ll need to find a 40 second or less section of the song to turn into a ringtone. Note (or write down) the starting and stopping point of the section of the song. You can see the time of the song in the play window at the top of iTunes:

iTunes Song Time

10. Right click on the song, and select Get Info:

Right Click and Select Get Info

11. Select the Options tab at the top:

Options Tab

12. Enter the start and stop time of the clip in the corresponding boxes and make sure the checkboxes are checked when you are finished:

Start and Stop

13. Click OK in the bottom right.

14. In the iTunes menu at the top, click Advanced, then Create AAC Version from the drop-down menu (in iTunes 11, it’s File –> Create New Version –> Create AAC Version):

Create AAC version of song

15. You should see a second version of the song appear in iTunes, only with the shorter play time. Click to play to make sure it sounds how you’ll want the ringtone to sound.

A Second Shortened Copy of the Song is Created

16. We aren’t quite finished yet! Now we have to change the file format so that it will appear as a ringtone in iTunes.

17. Navigate to the folder where the new clip is stored on your computer (it will be in the same folder as the original version of the song). To find it in Windows, right-click the clip in iTunes, then choose Show in Explorer. For Mac, right-click and select Show In Finder.

18. Copy the song (press Control and C for Windows, Command and C for Mac), and paste the song in the same folder (Control and V or Command and V) so that a third version appears.

Third Copy of Song

19. Now, change the file extension of the third version from .m4a to .m4r.

Troubleshooting: Don’t see the file extension? Windows 7: click the Start button, Control Panel–>Appearance and Personalization–>Folder Options–>View tab–>and uncheck Hide Extensions for known file types. For Windows XP: in the Explorer window, go to Tools –> Folder Options –> View and uncheck Hide extensions for known file types. For Vista: Organize –> Folder and Search Options and uncheck Hide extension for known file types.

Change File Extension to m4r

20. Rename the file, if you want (for example, CoolRingtone.m4r). Note: If there are symbols such as underscores or hyphens in the name, you must remove them.

21. Important: In iTunes, delete the first AAC clip you made by right-clicking on the clip and selecting delete (if you don’t do this, iTunes might not accept the new ringtone):

22. Go back to the folder with the new ringtone file (.m4r file). Drag and drop the file into iTunes. Or import it by opening iTunes, select File, and select: Windows XP/Vista: Add File to Library, Mac: Add to Library.

Add Ringtone to iTunes Library

23. Now we need to sync the ringtone to your iPhone. Connect the iPhone to the computer.

Connect the iPhone to Computer

24. Click on your iPhone in the left sidebar in iTunes (Note: for iTunes 11, your iPhone can be found under Devices at the top right):

Add Photos to iTunes Step 2a

25. Click on the Tones tab, check the Sync tones checkbox, then check either All tones or Selected tones. If you choose Selected ringtones, make sure your new ringtone is also checked so it will sync:

iTunes 10 select Tones to sync

26. Now click the Apply button in the bottom right (it may also say Sync. Click Sync if it does).

Click Apply or Sync

And that’s it. You’ve done it! The ringtone is now on the iPhone. Got to Settings on your iPhone, tap Sounds, and you can change to your new ringtone. If the ringtone doesn’t show up on the iPhone, follow the Troubleshooting steps below, else go to the Clean Up section for one important last step.


Did the ringtone not appear on your iPhone? Follow these steps.

1. Click on the Summary tab for your iPhone in iTunes:

2. See if the checkbox labeled Manually manage music and video is checked. If not, check it.

3. Click on Tones in the left sidebar (older versions of iTunes may say Ringtones instead) and find the ringtone:

Click on Tones in Left Sidebar of iTunes

4. Drag and drop the ringtone onto your iPhone in the left sidebar. The iPhone should begin synching immediately, and the ringtone will appear shortly on your iPhone:

More Troubleshooting

Problem: I don’t see Tones or Ringtones in the iTunes Sidebar.

Go into Preferences–>General, and under Show make sure the Tones checkbox is checked.

Problem: You get a scary message “All existing songs, movies and TV shows on the iPhone will be removed.”

You likely received this message because you’ve never synced your iPhone with iTunes before and therefore don’t have a back-up of your iPhone data. Cancel the current sync. Unplug your iPhone and plug it back in again. Right click on your iPhone in the left sidebar and select Back Up:

How to back up iPhone to your computer

Now that iTunes has an image of your current iPhone to work from, right click on it again in the left sidebar and select Sync.

Clean Up

You made the ringtone, but there’s one clean-up task to do. We need to fix the Start/Stop time of the original song. Otherwise, the next time you play the song, it won’t play the whole thing. In iTunes, right click the original song, select Get Info –> Options and reset the Start/Stop time by deleting the numbers and leaving the fields blank. All done!


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713 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    So the song segment doesn’t show up in tones… and the original version will now only play the length of the tones segment even though it has the complete length showing. How do I get it to be a tone, and how do I restore the whole song (It’s one of my favourites) without purchasing it again.

    • Charlie says:

      I had the same problem with restoring the song, I unchecked the start and stop boxes and then it played at full length again. Hope this helps!

  2. Anna says:

    Same issue with not being able to change the song back. How does it let you change it once and then not let you change it again? I tried leaving it blank and also tried entering the original length, clicked ok, nothing.

    My ringtone also is not showing up in Sounds. It shows in iTunes under “Tones”, and I manually synced it a million times, also by dragging and dropping it on the iPhone. When I looked at “On this iPhone” in iTunes it lists it there. But doesn’t show up on the actual phone. I’ve restarted the phone, re-synced, don’t know what else I can do.

    It would be nice if the author followed up with people’s comments, especially when they end up worse-off after following these instructions.

  3. katie says:

    It didn’t show up in tones and I now want to bang my head against a wall if it’s .m4r why wont it go into tones even if I try manually?

  4. Pete says:

    I’ve done it. Not the ringtone with the name change as you said and I thought, but the original one. But I don’t care it works!!!! Thanks

  5. KiddieRN says:

    best tutorial on how to get something done that I have ever seen, I was able to understand everything step by step and follow the pictures perfectly, I thank you so much!

  6. Yllota says:

    Thank you! Worked like a charm =)

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