MMW-34 -- Wildseed's Steve Ouimette on Ringtone Creation

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

Issue No. 34
Thursday, November 21, 2002



++ FEATURE: Wildseed's Steve Ouimette on Ringtone Creation

- Roxio Buys Napster Assets
- Pressplay, MusicNet to Offer Songs from Five Major Labels
- Yamaha Invests in Embedded Linux Development Company


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++ FEATURE: Wildseed's Steve Ouimette on Ringtone Creation

In our previous feature, we included a brief report on the recent
alliance between Wildseed and Kyocera Wireless. Recall that in early
2003, Kyocera is planning to release a new phone for the US
market(code-named Delta 2), which is aimed at the "young and fun"
segment and optimized for entertainment. The Delta 2 will feature
Wildseed's "Smart Skin" intelligent faceplates and "Smart Screen"
software. In addition, the phone will be one of the first in the US
to feature 16-voice polyphonic ringtones.

We recently contacted Steve Ouimette, who handles audio creation for
Wildseed and asked him to tell us a bit about his ringtone production
work. The new phone is one of the first in the US to use Yamaha's
16-voice polyphonic MA-2 sound generation chip, which has been the
subject of several past features. The primary characteristic of the
MA-2 is that it uses FM sound synthesis, which allows for stronger
sounds with more "punch." In contrast, Rohm's competing chips
incorporate PCM sound, which is based on digital sampling of actual
instruments, giving them more of a real sound. Here's what Steve had
to say about ringtone creation for the new Kyocera/Wildseed phone.

MMW: How did you come to be involved in ringtone creation?

Ouimette: It was a long, 10-year process! Actually, I've been a
musician all of my life and have done scores for PC games as well as
audio for corporate branding and instructional videos. I have also run
a recording studio for the past nine years here in the Seattle area.
But it was a friend of mine that I had worked with at Microsoft, now
at Wildseed, who mentioned I should come by and take a look at what
they were doing. They gave me an MA-2 developer kit, and I did some
consulting until it became apparent that I needed to take this on full
time. I ended up officially starting with Wildseed last April.

MMW: Do you see polyphonic ringtone download services becoming popular
in the US next year?

Ouimette: Definitely. Now that there are a variety of phones that
support polyphonic rings in the US, I think it is only a matter of
time until we see the market move away from mono rings. There are a
number of high quality providers in the US that I've heard ringtones
from. It will be interesting to see if it takes a similar course to
Japan and Europe as far as the content is concerned. Ringtones right
now are usually versions of popular songs, but I haven't seen a lot of
original content. I'd like to see more of that since there are a
lot of great musicians that could be heard through this medium.

MMW: Do you find it difficult to work within the constraints of
16 voices?

Ouimette: Because I worked for Creative Labs in the early 90s, I
already had some familiarity with Yamaha's FM synthesizer. In fact,
the early Soundblaster cards used a Yamaha chip, which was for all
intents and purposes the same as the MA-2, allowing 16 voices of
2-operator FM synth. Those chips also had a single channel of PCM
audio. In the early days of PC game development, the single channel of
PCM audio was exploited to incorporate speech or other special-effect
sounds that the FM synth couldn't produce. It was amazing what could
be done with such a limited set of resources. That experience has been
helpful in my recent work with the MA-2.

MMW: What are your general impressions of the MA-2 chip?

Ouimette: All in all, the MA-2 has a lot of flexibility to explore.
Though it seems rather simple, it's really quite a deep tone generator
capable of making a lot of very interesting sounds. Besides that,
working with limits like 13mm speakers and low polyphony tends to make
you think outside the box and come up with solutions beyond what you
normally would think of in a more expanded studio situation.

MMW: How do you use the PCM channel in your ringtones?

Ouimette: I look at the PCM channel as a good place to really expand
on the sound of a ringtone. There is only a limited space to work
with, but you can still add a lot of character with ADPCM. Also, since
the default drums are FM-based, I like to supplement them with drum
loops or individual samples to thicken the sound. Our phone also has a
stereo earbud set in addition to the ringtone speaker, so the
difference is really heard when the user listens through them. It also
makes a good case for creating ringtones in stereo.

MMW: Are there any other special techniques that you use in making

Ouimette: One interesting technique is to use the Yamaha FM voice
editor to create a sound that changes over time. With most synths,
there is a filter of some sort that can be swept. To mimic this
behavior with the static FM voices, I create a dozen variations of one
sound, then as the sequence plays, I use program changes to change the
voice every few notes. If the FM voices are edited right, you can get
all sorts of great effects, like pseudo-ring modulation or filter
sweeps. Also, detuning a voice with pitch shift can create a chorusing
effect or a flange if done over the course of time. MIDI delays are
also a big part of making the notes stand out in ringtones.

MMW: How do you find FM-based ringtones compared to the other types?

Ouimette: FM is a great vehicle for ringtones. There are now a variety
of synth engines for mobile devices, but the one type that really cuts
through is FM. The software synths are very flexible, but they don't
seem to have the ability to cut through a purse or a bag as well as FM
does. It's nice because the purpose of a ringtone is to let you know
that somebody is trying to get in touch with you.



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** Roxio Buys Napster Assets

In brief: After considering several offers from different companies,
Napster has agreed to sell virtually all of its assets to Roxio, a
company that makes CD-burning software. Roxio is to receive all of
Napster's patents and technology but will not assume any of the
liabilities, including pending lawsuits. In exchange for Napster's
assets, Roxio will pay $5 million in cash and 100,000 warrants in
Roxio stock.


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** Pressplay, MusicNet to Offer Songs from All Five Major Labels

In brief: Within a few days of each other, both Pressplay and MusicNet
announced separate deals with the few remaining major record labels
they hadn't already signed. The new agreements will give both services
the ability to offer content from all five major recording companies.
MusicNet, already backed from the outset by BMG, Warner and EMI, added
music from Sony and Universal to its catalog, while Pressplay (a joint
venture between Sony and Universal) achieved its goal of signing all
five major labels by licensing music from Warner.

Pressplay article:
MusicNet article:

** Yamaha Invests in Embedded Linux Development Company

In brief: MontaVista Software announced last week that it had
received an investment from Yamaha. MontaVista is best known for its
"MontaVista Linux," an embedded version of the popular Linux operating
system. "With the spread of broadband technology, embedded Linux is
proving an ideal match for digital audio products," said Masatada
Wachi, managing director and CTO of Yamaha. The terms of the equity
investment were not disclosed.



** Wireless Around People networking event

Wireless Around People will be hosting a networking event on November
27th in Zurich, Switzerland, for people active in the wireless
industry. The event includes the following featured presentation on
polyphonic ringtones:

"What's this melody? Oh, my phone!" - Andrea Trasatti, head of
research & development, Bware Technologies

The mobile music industry is going beyond the simple Nokia ringtone.
Andrea will show how players such as Digiplug think they can make
money in this space, the impact of polyphonic ringtones, what the
costs are and the emerging techniques to bill, deliver and download.
Andrea will be sharing his experiences in this fairly lucrative space.
He will provide us with a peek into the future based on his insight
and experiences developing platforms to enable mobile music


SUBSCRIBERS: 1,025 as of November 21, 2002

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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