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Culture

Ring-Tone Maestros

Ring tones can be heard just about everywhere in our modern world. While some would like them outlawed, they generate big revenues and even jobs, since someone has to write the bleeping melodies.

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The repertoire is growing by leaps and bounds

They pop up everywhere, on the street, in the office, in the cinema, during a performance of the adagio section of your favorite Chopin concerto. To some, ring tones from mobile phones are enough to drive someone to commit murder. But to others, like the Munich-based band SuperSmart, they're beautiful music.

That's because the musicians in SuperSmart compose only for mobile phones; they're the first band in Germany to do so. They create ring tones of no more then half a minute in length, which can be downloaded off the Internet. A complete album of the mini melodies can be bought for 1.99 euros ($2.59).

"We're a good combo who has fun with music and we don't want to run after the labels," said Good Cut from SuperSmart.

Stand der Popkomm Messe in Köln Musikmesse Popkomm 2003

The all-mighty record labels came close to spoiling the fun for SuperSmart, and they criticize the current state of the music industry. Most songs today are consumer products, developed and even co-written by market researchers and trend consultants. None should be longer than three-and-a-half minutes; the chorus should arrive within the first 45 seconds, and if it’s a ballad, throw some violins in there, please.

The four guys from SuperSmart know this first hand since several of them play in other, better-known bands. Some of their contracts forbid them from participating in side projects, so in their SuperSmart manifestation they prefer to remain anonymous. The band exists only in the Internet and, of course, on the mobile phone. They consider their ring-tone compositions a bit of creative freedom outside of the confines of the mainstream music industry.

Symphony for the cell

Despite the sometimes grating aspect of them, ring tones can be difficult to compose, as the commercial ring-tone providers know all too well. Hubert Weid is with the Cologne-based Mobile Entertainment Factory, a company which produces ring tones for the sector's market leader, Jamba.

"We generally only work with musicians who have a classical training," he said.

Andreas, a music student, is the chief composer in Weid's firm. His job is to make ring tones out of current chart hits. It's not as creative an endeavor as, for example, SuperSmart's original work, but it's probably just as challenging. The difficulty lies in the fact that mobile phones cannot simply play a song like a CD player.

Musik aus dem Computer

Because of the sound limitations and the reduced number of sound tracks available on a mobile phone, Andreas has to essentially "compose down," simplifying songs without losing their essence or making them unrecognizable. It might be compared to writing a piano version of an entire symphony.

Most of the time, he decides on what part of the song to focus on for the ring tone, usually the chorus. Then the real work starts. He must listen to every voice -- vocal, bass, strings -- extremely carefully and enter them into a computer note for note. After about an hour and a half, the song has generally been combed through; the ring tone is ready.

Laptop jamming

SuperSmart works somewhat differently. The members usually jam together late into the night like other bands, but instead of have guitars slung across their shoulders, they're sitting on a couch with laptop computers on their laps.

Klingelton - Symbolbild

Even after they've completed a ring tone and put it online, there's generally more fiddling around with it, but this time by Internet users.

"We learn from our fans. There's a little community out there that is incredibly creative and really helps us out," said Good Cut. "They tell us when, say, their Siemens mobile phone will allow us to push the pitch of one part a little higher." In a few weeks, the band will release a ring-tone album, complete with videos to every track, specially filmed to be displayed on mobile phone screens. That's because SuperSmart is sure that some day, maybe soon, the mobile phone will not only have replaced the record and CD player, but the television as well.

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