The Ringtone Market
A quick Google search will produce countless
articles trying to understand the popularity of 'ringtones';
hundreds of bloggers waxing lyrical on the benefits of personalising
their cell phones. Interviews with “experts” profering sexy
theories about ringtones and identity construction lend an
academic seriousness to the Crazy Frog phenomena. The figures
are pretty serious too, in the U.S.A. alone, the Yankee Group
predicts, ringtones will be worth $500 million. That’s roughly
the GDP of Fiji.
Obviously our cell phones needs a voice,
but does that voice need to be a polyphonic adaptation of
'Living on a Prayer'?
The latest figures indicate that young
people are the greatest consumers of mobile music. According
to one UK survey, 15-24 year olds account for 80% of ringtone
spending. Studies by Nick Anderson of Sussex University show
that young people are far more aware of the "brand personalty"
(the particular identity affiliated with certain brands) than
older generations. Anderson suggests that teenagers can deduce
a person's character, likes and dislikes, by their branded
possessions. Considering the amount of branding in the music
industry, it's not unreasonable to say that popular musicians
have their own “brand personality”. So, your 50 Cent ringtone,
for example, communicates not only a your taste in music,
but also your compliance to the whole ‘Fiddy’ meme. Ultimately,
for brand savvy youth, this says something about your personality,
which, you hope, everybody within earshot understands.
If a cell phone rings in the woods but
nobody is around to hear it, are you still down with 50 Cent?
Ringtones are about personalization, and about public performance.
The publicness of the ringtone is an integral part of its
appeal. It's unlikely that anyone would have a ringtone on
their landline. In a noisy urban soundscape like the city,
silence is an anomaly. Personalised ringtones are simply another
irritating sound in the hullabaloo. Most of us manage tune
out the sounds imposed on us: muzak, hawkers, traffic, the
O'Reily factor, so why try and impose yet another squawk?
Perhaps the ringtone is the audio equivalent of territorial
pissing; thirty seconds in which YOU pick the soundtrack.
For a few moments when your cell phone rings the 50 Cent meme
is the most powerful in the sonic environment. Where “Fiddy”
is relatively redundant as a social force, certain ringtones
allow citizens to demonstrate their dissatisfaction or support
of a cause. Independent radio station WFMU have created a
variety of anti- George W. Bush ringtones available for download,
allows users to choose their preferred presidential candidate
ringtone. Condemning other commuters to several cycles of
50 Cent, the theme from 'Star Wars' or a Dubya quote demonstrates
your individual tastes and allows others distinguish you as
either nemesis or brethren.
In our efforts to relieve poverty, impede
environmental disaster or cure the global AIDs epidemic, ringtones
are totally and utterly useless. When it comes to enforcing
the myth that every individual is special, the artificial
uniqueness of a personalized ringtone is just the ticket.
Paradoxically, this demonstration of individualism is only
really effective in a crowd. As far as this writer's concerned
the real purpose of ringtones lies in their ridiculousness.
A recent gathering of sensible adults turned to hilarity thanks
to an improvised game of "Name that tune". Using Foovely's
ringtone preview function, those gathered took turns choosing
snippets of songs for the party to guess. Recognising a song
in 30 seconds is SO much harder in monophone!
Emily Sims is the word person at the cool ringtones (www.foovely.com)