Sometimes my friends surprise me. I've got a friend who actually works in the tech industry but is only passingly interested in technology from what I can tell, as we never rarely discuss anything that's happening in the industry. A few years back he purchased a Zune HD, which he loves, and more recently, he snatched up a Windows Phone-based HTC Trophy (he's a Verizon customer) the second it came out. And when Windows Phone 7.5 arrived, he apparently checked for it immediately, and then actually received and installed the update.

OK, this is impressive enough on its own. But he also asked me to call him the other day, which was only odd because we were standing next to each other at the time. But what are you going to do? So I called his mobile phone and then proceeded to hear a custom ringtone that he had created, blare out from the tiny device.

Oh, come on. Even I hadn't played with that yet.

So he sent me a link to the article he used to create the ringtone, and I linked to it in a recent Mailbag article of my own. But after experimenting with the Audacity software mentioned in that original article, I figured there had to be an easier way. And there is. Thus this guide.

Windows Phone 7.5 and Custom Ringtones

With Windows Phone 7.5, Microsoft is finally adding custom ringtone support to its mobile OS. However, the software giant isn't providing a ringtone store on Zune Marketplace or a seamless way to create your own ringtones. I do expect numerous third party ringtone apps and ringtones to appear in the weeks ahead, but in the meantime you can make your own. You just need to know how.

First, the custom ringtone files must be formatted a certain way:

WMA or MP3. The ringtone can be either Windows Media Audio or MP3 format.

Unprotected. The ringtone must be free of DRM (digital rights management), so Zune Music Pass music will not work.

Length. The ringtone must be less than 40 seconds long.

Size. The ringtone must be smaller than 1 MB (megabyte).

In case it's not obvious, these requirements mean that you can't simply use an existing song file but will instead need to edit one so that it is less than 40 seconds. Editing audio files isn't exactly a common activity for most PC users. But that's OK: I've found a reasonably easy way.

Create a Custom Ringtone

While the aforementioned guide uses the free Audacity tool to create a custom ringtone, I think I've found a simpler solution that works well on Windows 7: It's called Windows Movie Maker. No, not the "modern" version of Windows Movie Maker that's part of Windows Live Essentials 2011 and is really called Windows Live Movie Maker. I'm talking about an ancient, XP-based version of Windows Movie Maker that you can still download for free and run alongside Windows Live Movie Maker. It's called Windows Movie Maker 2.6. And you can download it here.

This old version of Movie Maker has one primary advantage over the new version: It can edit and create audio files in addition to video files. And that's why it's such a great choice for create a custom ringtone.

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Anyway, once you've got WMM 2.6 up and running, tap Ctrl + I, or choose Import into Collections from the File menu, and find the music file you'd like to use as the basis for your ringtone. (Enjoy the old XP-style dialog while you're at it.) WMM 2.6 can work with both MP3 and WMA files, so no worries there. (Though the file you create will be WMA format.)

Once you've selected a file, it will appear in the Collection view in WMM.

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You'll need to edit it to be less than 40 seconds long, so you'll need to utilize some long-dead (or never used) audio clip editing skills. To do so, drag the clip into the Storyboard view, which is the pane at the very bottom of the window. When you let go of the clip, WMM will toss up a dialog alerting you that audio clips can only be used with the Timeline view. So the Storyboard view will switch to a different view called Timeline view, and you'll see your audio file represented as a clip within it visually.

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Editing involves a few simple WMM commands, some of which can be accessed from the Clip menu. These include:

Split. This will split the clip into two separate clips at the position marked by the blue position line. So if you wanted to delete the part of the clip after this line, you could use Split, then select the latter portion and press Delete.

Set Start Trim Point and Set End Trim Point let you delineate a portion of the clip that you'd like to work with as a unit, effectively "removing" the rest of the clip. (It's not really gone, but is rather hidden.) When you use both, the timeline will resemble the following:

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From here, you can use Clear Trim Points to remove the trim points and display the rest of the clip, or perform other operations.

Fade In and Fade Out. If your right-click the clip, you can select Fade In and Fade Out commands from the context menu. You should only do this after you've edited the clip down the length you need, and then only if it will aid the sound quality. For example, let's say you simply edit down a music file so that it is the first 39 seconds of the song. You won't typically want to use Fade In on this file, but you may want to use Fade Out.

Playback controls. Note that you can use the little Play/Pause and Rewind buttons in Storyboard view to control playback of the clip, and the Zoom Timeline In and Zoom Timeline Out buttons are useful for detail work.

Once you've edited the file sufficiently, you can save the Project (File, Save Project) and then export the audio file. You do this by selecting File, Save Movie File. I realize that's not logical, but if you are only working with audio, WMM 2.6 is smart enough to export an audio file, not a video file.

In the Save Movie Wizard, select My computer and then click Next. Enter a filename and choose a place to save your file. (I recommend creating a folder inside of the Music library called Ringtones or similar, but obviously you can organize these ringtones however you wish. Just be sure you can find the file later.) Click Next again.

The option "Best quality for playback on my computer (recommended)" will be auto-selected. This is usually what you want, so click Next again. WMM 2.6 will save your "movie" file (really an audio file). Click Finish when it completes.

If you are hitting the 39 second limit, you may want to just ensure that the file meets the other requirements. So find it in the file system, right-click it and choose Properties, and make sure it's less than 1 MB in size. If it's not, you can re-export the file from WMM 2.6, but when it gets to that last quality choice in the wizard, expand the choices and use a lesser quality output format. Repeat until it's under 1 MB.

Now you need to sync the file with your phone. To do that, you need to use the Zune PC software.

Sync a Custom Ringtone with Windows Phone

Launch Zune. If you saved the ringtone to a folder that's monitored by Zune, it will already be in your collection somewhere. Otherwise, you simply drag it into the Zune window.

To locate the file, search for the file name. (In my case, "Jump," with no quotes.) It will appear in the From Your Collection pane.

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Select the ringtone to display it in Collection view.

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Right-click the ringtone in the right pane and select Edit to display the Edit Song Info dialog.

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Here, you can edit a number of properties--the WMM export function unfortunately strips away a lot of the meta data--but the important one, of course, is Genre. You must change this to Ringtone. To do so, select the Genre box and type "Ringtone" (no quotes). Then hit Enter to close the dialog.

To sync the ringtone to your phone, right-click the filename in the right pane and choose Sync with [phone name]. If you are already syncing your entire library to the phone, this isn't necessary, but to make sure it synced, go to the phone view and choose Start Sync.

Assign a Custom Ringtone to a Specific Contact

On the phone, you can visit the Ringtones + Sounds interface in Settings, System. Tap the Ringtone box and you will see custom ringtones will appear on the top, in the "Custom" section. To make the new custom ringtone your general ringtone, simply select it. Or, tap the Play button next to the ringtone to hear it on the phone.

You don't have to use the same ringtone for everyone, of course. One of the neat things about custom ringtones is that you can use a different ringtone for different users. To do so, navigate to the People hub (Start, People), find the contact you'd like to edit, and then tap the Edit button in the command bar. In the Edit Contact screen that appears, scroll down and tap Ringtone. Then, select the custom ringtone from the list.

Voila!

Final Thoughts

Custom ringtones are a neat, if somewhat abused, feature, and I'm glad to see Windows Phone jumping on board and finally offering this functionality. Some kind of integrated ringtone editing functionality would be nice, and a centralized ringtone store in Zune Marketplace would be even better. But at least it's possible to make and sync custom ringtones, and if you've struggled with getting this work, as many readers have, hopefully this guide can help.