How to Add Special Ringtones to iPhone from macOS Catalina

How to Add Special Ringtones to iPhone from macOS Catalina

Making your own iPhone ringtones isn’t as easy as it should be, but it’s still relatively easy. You can do this using the new Music application on macOS Catalina, which replaces iTunes.

If you are using a Windows PC or still using MacOS Mojave or older, see our guide for adding special iPhone ringtones using iTunes.

What You Need to Know about Making Ringtones

We will use the new Music application on macOS Catalina to make ringtones, so the first thing to do is make sure the song or audio clip you want to use is in your Music library. You can’t use DRM protected files, you can’t use songs from Apple Music to make ringtones.

We illustrate this process with an iPhone, but this process will work the same as an iPad or iPod Touch.

You must have a DRM free sound file downloaded locally on your computer. This can be a song that you bought from iTunes or an audio file that you downloaded elsewhere. Drag and drop the file into the Music application (or above the Music application icon in the dock) to import it into your library.

The maximum length for iOS ringtones is 40 seconds, but the maximum length for alarms or other audio warnings is only 30 seconds. We recommend sticking to the 30-second clip to maximize compatibility because you might answer the call long before 40 seconds are finished.

Finally, don’t worry about your original song being affected by this process. We will cut and convert the copy of the new song, and the original will not be affected at all as long as you follow all the steps below.

First: Create your Ringtone File

Now you need to have a song or audio cut and have MP3-DRM-free (or MP4, both of which work) in your Music library. First find the file by searching or using the “Recently Added” shortcut if you import it manually.


Now right click on the song you want 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 starting point and stop for your ringtone, but make sure it is no more than 30 seconds.


At any time you can press “OK” to save your changes, then click play to listen to your clip. When you are satisfied with your work, click “OK” one last time. Now click on the song so it’s selected, then click File> Convert> Create AAC Version.


Music will create a new version of your song with just 30 seconds of play time. After it’s finished it will start playing in the background. In an album, it will be added directly below the original, with only the runtime that distinguishes the two versions.

Important: After you compose a ringtone, it’s time to return to the original song you used and delete the starting point and stop it. Find the original song (this will be a version that is longer than 30 seconds), right-click, select “Get Info,” and then disable the “Start” and “Stop” check boxes on the Options tab.

Next: Export and Transfer Ringtones to your iPhone

You can now export the 30-second clip that you just created by dragging the file to your desktop or right-clicking on it and selecting “Show in Finder.” Put the file in a safe place so you don’t lose it. Now you need to change it to M4R.

This is a simple case of changing file names and changing file extensions. iOS can only use .M4R files as ringtones, although M4R and M4A are identical in the sense that they are AAC / MP4 encoded audio files.


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, select “Use .m4r” in the dialog box that appears. We recommend creating a “Ringtones” folder in your Documents or Music to save your M4R ringtone files, so everything is in one place.

Now sync files to your iPhone. On macOS Catalina, it’s as simple as connecting your iPhone via the included Lightning-to-USB cable, launching the Finder, and then looking in the Finder sidebar under “Location” for your iPhone. Click on your iPhone to launch the synchronization window, and then click “Trust” and enter your iPhone’s passcode if asked to do so. While you are there, enable the “Manually Manage Music, Movies and TV Shows” option in the General tab.


Now all you need to do is drag the .M4R file that you just created and convert it to the synchronization window. It will be synchronized soon because it is very small. If you have trouble doing this, you can also synchronize from within the Music application: Select the desired iPhone that is listed in the “Devices” section in the sidebar, drag the .M4R file that we just created, and release it anywhere in the synchronization window.


Finally: Use Your Special Ringtones, Alarms or Alerts

If you have done everything correctly, your ringtone is now waiting for you on your device. Go to Settings> Sound & Capture> Ringtones. Your new custom tone will appear at the top of the list. If it doesn’t appear, try the synchronization process again. (We have to try twice, though we suspect the ringtone will only appear briefly in this menu.)


You can also launch Clock and create a new alarm with your ringtone, or use it as a warning for your timer. Apply ringtones to the contacts of your choice in Phone> Contacts. You can even make a smaller warning sound and change the system defaults under Settings> Sound & Haptics if you want!

Want to delete special ringtones?

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

Don’t Forget to Disable Silent Mode

If you want to enjoy new ringtones, you must leave silent mode first. And don’t forget that as much as you enjoy whatever song or audio clip you are using, there is a real person on the other end of the phone waiting to talk to you!


In the end, this process is much more involved than it should be, but it works quite well and doesn’t cost a penny. If all this seems like too much success, you can always find a ringtone to sell by launching the iTunes Store app on your iPhone and then tapping More> Tones to see it.

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