MMW-25 -- 4-Voice Ringtones Still Causing Headaches

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on the Week's Music Technology News

Issue No. 25
Wednesday, July 10, 2002



++ FEATURE: 4-Voice Ringtones Still Causing Headaches

- Earthlink to Offer Music Subscription Service
- Liquid Audio Sues InfoSplit Over Geo-Tracking Technology

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++ FEATURE: 4-Voice Ringtones Still Causing Headaches

Over the past few months, the theta group here at Layer-8 has been
working on a software product that will convert a standard MIDI file
into the 20+ different ringtone formats and variations required by
content providers here in Japan. Initially, we had hoped to focus
primarily on the 16- and 32-voice formats, including only minimal
support for the older 3- and 4-voice phones. After all, these older
phones have been all but phased out and soon there will be no demand
anywhere for ringtones of less than 16-voices.

Or so we thought. Turns out that our biggest potential clients for
this tool absolutely require high quality 4-voice support. Although
the market for these older ringtones has shrunken significantly in
Japan, many of the providers here are now creating and selling
ringtones for foreign markets as well, where 16-voice ringtones are
still the exception rather than the rule. The ringtone market in Spain
has shown especially strong growth over the past several months,
driving demand for 4-voice CMX ringtone files, which are used by many
of the handsets there. Accordingly, providers and creators alike find
themselves unable to escape the necessity of making these files.

So what is so hard about making a 4-voice ringtone file? At first
glance, it would seem you could just take the melody and bass lines,
throw in a couple of harmony lines and that's it -- another song
finished and ready to go. Unfortunately, it's not quite so simple. The
differences in capabilities between the 3- and 4-voice models turn out
to be far greater than those of the newer 16-voice phones. Whereas
just about any 16-voice model can support a wide range of instruments
and pitches, the older models are much less uniform. Some only support
narrow pitch ranges (a couple of octaves or less) and few or no
instruments. In some cases, the phone will have many pitch ranges
which differ depending on the instrument. In order to convert a MIDI
into ringtone files for all of these phones, multiple software tools
and a heavily massaged MIDI file are required.

A creator of 4-voice files must not only keep in mind the octave and
instrument restrictions, but must also deal with the challenges of
arranging famous pop and rock (even heavy metal!) songs for just a few
voices. Now that most ringtone producers have become accustomed to
arranging for 16-voices with full drums and percussion, it can be a
real chore to have to make a 4-voice version of the same file. This
can require up to three times as much time for massaging, converting
and tweaking, and the result is nowhere near as rewarding to hear as
the 16-voice version. No matter how skillfully you do the arranging, a
3-voice version of Purple Haze is going to sound a bit thin.

Finally, as 3- and 4-voice phones become nearly extinct in Japan, it
can be a huge headache trying to obtain these older phones in order to
test ringtone files. Some content producers rely upon emulators
provided by the carriers, but of course these can give only a vague
approximation of what the song will sound like on the phone,
especially when the target handset is a foreign model. Fortunately,
there are a few companies around Tokyo who will rent older handsets at
reasonable rates, and we turned to them for testing the functionality
of our MIDI-to-ringtone converter.

So, like it or not, the market for 4-voice ringtones hasn't died, it's
just shifted location. Japanese providers who wants to get in and
establish a foothold in emerging European and Latin markets will
probably have to start their catalogs with 3- and 4-voice songs. In
some cases, they may even need to adapt their arrangements for
proprietary formats not used in Japan. Individuals and freelance
creators doing work for these providers may likewise find themselves
receiving an odd increase in orders for 4-voice CMX or MFi files,
despite the fact that 32-voice models with all kinds of new sound
capabilities are quickly gaining popularity here. While the projected
lifetime for the 4-voice ringtone market seems pretty limited, it
appears that, at least for the time being, the headaches will

-- Steve Myers

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** Earthlink to Offer Music Subscription Service

Extract: Internet service provider Earthlink announced last week that
it will partner with Full Audio and MusicMatch to offer an online
music service that will feature both downloadable and streaming audio.
Called Digital Music Center, the service will allow users to
download up to 50 music tracks per month at a monthly rate of $9.95 or
up to 100 tracks per month for a $17.95 monthly rate.



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** Liquid Audio Sues InfoSplit Over Geo-Tracking Technology

Extract: Despite facing a host of financial problems, Liquid Audio is
suing New York-based InfoSplit, saying the company is using Liquid
Audio's patented technology for determining the physical location of
an online user. InfoSplit has contested the suit, saying its
technology was developed independently and is different from that of
Liquid Audio.


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Written by: Steve Myers (
Steve Myers heads the Theta Group at Layer-8 Technologies,
which specializes in the development of music-related
software applications.

Edited by J@pan Inc editors: (


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