How to Add Custom Ringtones to an iPhone from macOS Catalina

An iPhone sitting on a MacBook keyboardStudio Monkey / Shutterstock.com

Creating your own iPhone ringtones is not as simple as it should be, but it is relatively simple. You can do this using the new Music app in macOS Catalina, which replaces iTunes.

If you are using a Windows PC or still using macOS Mojave or an earlier version, see our guide to add custom iPhone ringtones using iTunes.

What you need to know about creating ringtones

We will use the new Music app in macOS Catalina to create the ringtone. So the first thing to do is make sure that the song or audio clip you want to use is in your music library. You cannot use DRM-protected files, or use Apple Music songs to create ringtones.

We illustrate this process with an iPhone, but this process will work the same with an iPad or iPod Touch.

You must have a DRM-free audio file downloaded locally to your computer. It could be a song you purchased from iTunes or an audio file that you downloaded elsewhere. Drag and drop the file into the Music app (or onto the Music app icon in the Dock) to import it into your library.

The maximum duration of an iOS ringtone is 40 seconds, but the maximum duration of an alarm or other audio alert is only 30 seconds. We recommend that you stick to the 30-second clips to maximize compatibility, as you will likely answer the call well before the 40 seconds have elapsed.

Finally, don’t worry if your original song is affected by this process. We will cut and convert a new copy of the song, and the original will not be affected at all provided you follow all of the steps below.

RELATED: How to add custom ringtones to your iPhone

First: create your ringtone file

Now you should have a song or audio clip in mind and have the DRM-free MP3 (or MP4, either works) in your music library. First find the file by searching for or using the “Recently added” shortcut if you imported manually.

Find your audio file in the music library

Now right click on the song you want to use and click on “Get Info” and click on the “Options” tab. Now enter the 30-second period in the “Start” and “Stop” boxes. Adjust the start and stop points of your ringtone, but make sure it doesn’t exceed 30 seconds.

Set start / stop points for your audio file

At any time, you can press “OK” to save your changes, then click on play to listen to your clip. When you are satisfied with your work, click one last time on “OK”. Now click on the song to select it, then click on File> Convert> Create AAC Version.

Create an AAC version of your audio clip

The music will create a new version of your song with only 30 seconds of playback. Once finished, it will start playing in the background. In an album, it will be added directly under the original, only the runtime differentiating the two versions.

Important: After creating your ringtone, it’s time to go back to the original song you used and delete these start and stop points. Find the original song (it will be the version that lasts more than 30 seconds), right click, select “Get Info”, then clear the “Start” and “Stop” check boxes on the Options tab.

Next: Export and transfer the ringtone to your iPhone

You can now export the 30-second clip you just created by dragging the file to your desktop or by right-clicking it and choosing “View in Finder”. Put the file in a safe place so as not to lose it. You now need to convert it to M4R.

This is a simple case of renaming the file and changing the file extension. iOS can only use .M4R files as ringtones, even though M4R and M4A are identical in the sense that they are both AAC / MP4 encoded audio files.

Convert M4A to M4R using Finder

Right click on your M4A file and click on “Rename”. Put away the filename and change the file extension from “yourfile.M4A” to “yourfile.M4R” and, when prompted, choose “Use .m4r” in the dialog box that appears. We recommend that you create a “Ringtones” folder in your documents or music to keep your M4R ringtone files, so that everything is in one place.

Now synchronize the file with your iPhone. In macOS Catalina, it’s as simple as connecting your iPhone via its included Lightning to USB cable, launching Finder, and then looking in the Finder sidebar under “Locations” for your iPhone. Click on your iPhone to launch the synchronization window, then click on “Trust” and enter your iPhone password if prompted. While you’re there, turn on “Manually manage music, movies, and TV shows” on the General tab.

Finder iOS synchronization window

All you have to do is drag the .M4R file you just created and convert into the synchronization window. It will synchronize almost immediately because it is so small. If you’re having trouble doing it, you can also sync from the Music app: select the desired iPhone listed in the “Devices” section of the sidebar, drag the .M4R file we just created and release it anywhere in the sync window.

Drag and drop the M4R file into the Finder sync window

Finally: use your personalized ringtone, alarm or alert

If you’ve done everything right, your ringtone is now waiting for you on your device. Head to Settings> Sound & Haptics> Ringtone. Your new custom tone will appear at the top of the list. If it does not appear, try the synchronization process again. (We had to try twice, although we suspect that the ringtone just took a little while to appear in this menu.)

Use the ringtone on your iPhone

You can also launch Clock and create a new alarm with your ringtone, or use it as an alert for your timers. Apply a ringtone to a contact of your choice under Phone> Contacts. You can even create smaller alert sounds and override the system default settings under Settings> Sound and haptics if you want!

Do you want to delete a personalized ringtone?

iOS 13 makes it easy to remove ringtones you no longer want. Now you can simply swipe from right to left on a ringtone in the list to reveal the “Delete” option. To do this, in the Settings> Sound and haptics menu or anywhere you can select a custom ringtone.

Don’t forget to deactivate silent mode

If you want to enjoy your new ringtone, you must first quit silent mode. And don’t forget that as long as you enjoy the song or audio clip you have used, there is a real person on the other end of the phone waiting to talk to you!

ITunes Store Ringtones

In the end, this process is much more complex than it should be, but it works fairly well and doesn’t cost a penny. If all of this sounds like too much work, you can still find ringtones for sale by launching the iTunes Store app on your iPhone, then tapping More> Tones to see them.

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