MMW-04 -- The Making of a Ringtone, Part 2

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on the week's music technology news

Issue No. 4
Tuesday, February 5, 2002



++ Feature: The Making of a Ringtone, Part 2
++ Noteworthy News
- MMO Japan Under Pressure to Suspend File Exchange Service
- New Music Subscription Service for Mac Users
- Kenwood Music Keg for the Car


++ FEATURE: The Making of a Ringtone, Part 2

Last week, in the first part of this feature, we looked at the
initial stages of the ringtone creation process. This involves
transcribing a song from a recording and arranging it into a standard
MIDI file. This week, we'll examine the work involved in converting
the MIDI file into one or more ringtone files.

Due to differences in the various models, a single ringtone file
rarely sounds acceptable on all handsets. Even among the 16-voice
503i series of phones, some of the handsets use Yamaha's sound
generation chip, while others use a chip made by Rohm. There are also
differences in the internal software used by the chips to interpret
the ringtone file. Some handsets contain software which allow various
"extensions" to Faith's MFi (Melody Format for i-Mode) format,
enabling much more expressive and smoother sounding ringtones.

In order to make the most of the individual features of each handset,
many of the larger ringtone providers create several different MFi
files for each ringtone they offer. In general, there are five
variations needed for the 503i series alone, and several more
required for the 3- and 4-voice models. And of course, the MFi
variations cover only i-Mode ringtones. Most providers must also
handle conversion into a different format (Yamaha's SMAF) for J-Phone
ringtones. And that's just for the Japanese market.

Not surprisingly, it is this conversion process which is the real
bottleneck for most providers. A large part of the problem lies in
the fact that most of the tools currently available are still in
fairly early stages of development. Even the most advanced conversion
tools (some of which are developed internally by the larger providers
and not offered to the general public) require the user to prepare
several MIDI files, one for each handset variation.

Once converted, the creator can test the ringtone on a special
emulator box to check the sound, but most changes to the ringtone
file must be made by hand, as there are also no reliable MFi or SMAF
editing tools readily available. Much of the artistry in making
ringtones lies in the usage of these "after-touches" to create musical
effects such as bends, slides and such. It is also possible to embed a
very small amount (about 2 seconds max) of WAV data into some MFi

So, to summarize, a ringtone creator must first create one or more
MIDI arrangements of a recorded song. Each of these MIDI files must
be set up so as to allow for easy conversion into a ringtone file for
a particular handset. After conversion, the MFi files are checked
using special hardware. Finally, the MFi files are adjusted by hand
to correct errors and add expressive effects.

Considering how much effort is required to perform the conversion
from MIDI to MFi or SMAF (not to mention the various proprietary
European sound formats), one would expect a common standard format to
emerge, something like MIDI for mobile devices. In fact,
specifications for such a format (called General MIDI Lite) were
announced last May at a special AMEI conference, but little has been
said about the proposed format since that time, and it appears that
Yamaha and Faith will each continue to push their respective
proprietary formats. For the time being, ringtone creators will just
have to deal with the differences and hope for the speedy release of
an "all-in-one" MIDI-to-ringtone conversion tool.

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** MMO Japan Under Pressure to Suspend File Exchange Service

Along with the almighty JASRAC, a group of 19 Japanese record
companies are suing MMO Japan for providing a service which they say
infringes on copyrights. MMO Japan makes the controversial
Napster-like exchange program File Rogue, which is widely used in
Japan to exchange MP3 files. The record companies and JASRAC are
seeking suspension of the MP3 file exchange, and filed for a
provisional injunction against MMO Japan Ltd. with the Tokyo District
Court on January 29. MMO Japan launched File Rogue in November 2001.
Like Napster, the service operates from a centrally-based server
(making it easier to shut down) and requires the user to install a
client program for exchanging files.

** New Music Subscription Service for Mac Users

San Diego-based MusicMatch has launched a new music subscription
service for Mac users. The MusicMatch Radio MX service allows users
to access ad-free music and create their own customized jukeboxes.
While similar programs (for example MusicNet and Pressplay) have been
available to Windows users for some time now, MusicMatch is one of
the first to make this type of service available to Mac users. In
addition, the company intends to widen the selection of available
songs, through deals with five major U.S. record companies.

** Kenwood Music Keg for the Car

Kenwood has announced the Excelon Music Keg, a new digital music
system for the car. The Music Keg allows users to play MP3, WAV and
OGG Vorbis files in the car. The system has a removable 10GB hard
drive and a 24-bit digital-to-analog converter and will display MP3
file names and ID3 tags on the receiver's CD text display. The system
is expected to ship this month and will list for US$900.

SUBSCRIBERS: 134 as of February 5, 2002

Written by Steve Myers (
Edited by J@pan Inc editorial team (

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