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How to Add Custom Ringtones to an iPhone from macOS Catalina

An iPhone sitting on a MacBook keyboard
Studio Monkey/Shutterstock.com

Creating your own iPhone ringtones isn’t as easy as it should be, but it’s still relatively straightforward. You can do it using the new Music app in macOS Catalina, which replaces iTunes.

If you’re using a Windows PC or still rocking macOS Mojave or earlier, check out our guide to adding custom iPhone ringtones using iTunes.

What You Need to Know about Creating Ringtones

We’ll be using the new Music app in macOS Catalina to create the ringtone, so the first thing to do is to make sure the song or audio clip you want to use is in your Music library. You cannot use DRM-protected files, nor can you use songs from Apple Music to create ringtones.

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

You must have a DRM-free sound file that’s downloaded locally on your computer. This could be a song you’ve purchased from iTunes or an audio file you’ve downloaded elsewhere. Drag and drop the file into the Music app (or over the Music app icon in the dock) to import it into your library.

The maximum length for an iOS ringtone is 40 seconds, but the maximum length for an alarm or other audio alert is only 30 seconds. We recommend sticking to 30-second clips to maximize compatibility since you’ll likely answer the call long before the 40 seconds is up anyway.

Finally, don’t worry about your original song being affected by this process. We will be trimming and converting 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

By now you should have a song or audio snippet in mind and have the DRM-free MP3 (or MP4, either works) in your Music library. First find the file either by searching or using the “Recently Added” shortcut if you manually imported.

Find Your Audio File in the Music Library

Now right-click on the song you would like to use and click “Get Info” and click on the “Options” tab. Now enter the 30-second period in the “Start” and “Stop” boxes. Tweak the start and stop points for your ringtone, but make sure it’s no longer than 30 seconds.

Set Start/Stop Points for your Audio File

At any point you can hit “OK” to save your changes, then click play to listen to your clip. When you’re happy with your work, click “OK” one last time. Now click on the song so that it is selected, and then click on File > Convert > Create AAC Version.

Create an AAC Version of Your Audio Clip

Music will create a new version of your song with only a 30-second playtime. Once complete it will start playing in the background. In an album, it will be added directly below the original, with only the runtime differentiating the two versions.

Important: After you’ve created your ringtone, it’s time to go back to the original song you used and delete those start and stop points. Find the original song (it will be the version that’s longer than 30 seconds), right-click, select “Get Info,” and then disable the “Start” and “Stop” checkboxes on the Options tab.

Next: Export and Transfer the Ringtone to Your iPhone

You can now export the 30-second clip you just made either by dragging the file to your desktop or right-clicking on it and choosing “Show in Finder.” Put the file somewhere safe so you don’t lose it. Now you 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’re both AAC/MP4 encoded audio files.

Convert M4A to M4R using Finder

Right-click on your M4A file and then click “Rename.” Tidy up the file name 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 creating a “Ringtones” folder in your Documents or Music to keep your M4R ringtone files, so everything is in one place.

Now sync the file to your iPhone. In macOS Catalina, this is 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 sync window, and then click “Trust” and enter your iPhone passcode if asked to do so. While you’re there, enable the “Manually Manage Music, Movies, and TV Shows” option on the General tab.

Finder iOS Sync Window

Now all you need to do is drag the .M4R file you just created and converted into the sync window. It will sync almost immediately since it is so small. If you have trouble doing this, you can also sync from within 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 M4R File Into Finder's Sync Window

Finally: Use Your Custom Ringtone, Alarm, or Alert

If you did everything correctly, 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 doesn’t show up, try the sync process again. (We had to try twice, although we suspect the ringtone just took a little while to show up in this menu.)

Use 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 could even create smaller alert sounds and replace the system defaults under Settings > Sound & Haptics if you want!

Want to Delete a Custom Ringtone?

iOS 13 makes it a lot easier to delete ringtones you no longer want. Now you can simply swipe right to left on a ringtone in the list to reveal the “Delete” option. Do this from the Settings > Sound & Haptics menu or anywhere you can select a custom ringtone.

Don’t Forget to Disable Silent Mode

If you want to enjoy your new ringtone, you’ll need to abandon silent mode first. And don’t forget that as much as you enjoy whatever song or audio clip you used, there’s a real person on the other end of the phone waiting to speak to you!

iTunes Store Ringtones

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

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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